Why ‘Camp’ Was Every Actor’s 1st Film: ‘No Cast Member Knew Anything’

Before Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick mastered the cup song, she was an awkward teen trying to sing and dance her way through theater camp.

In 2003, Kendrick was 16 and about to become a senior in high school. She spent her summer working on the film Camp, which was to become her first of many movie roles. The story revolved around a group of misfits who find their home on stage as they develop unsuspecting friendships while performing peculiar musical productions at summer camp.

'Camp' cast members
(L-R) Anna Kendrick, Robin De Jesus, Alana Allen and Sasha Allen | Bruce Glikas/Getty Images

The Into The Woods star recalls her experience working on the set of Camp, where she claims everyone, including herself, was young and unsure of what they were doing.

The premise of ‘Camp’

The film, written and directed by Todd Graff, is based on and filmed at Stagedoor Manor, a famous theater camp in upstate New York. A group of high school kids embarks on an adventure away from their outcast lives at home to attend the fictional Camp Ovation. The summer musical-theater camp is filled with kids that don’t know the first thing about sports but can sing every line of their favorite Broadway shows.

Every two weeks, the group is tasked with putting on a theatrical stage production as they let their talents shine. The characters come to life with the one-hit-wonder camp counselor Bert (Don Dixon), Michael (Robin de Jesus), a teen figuring out his sexuality and gender, and Jenna (Tiffany Taylor), who has her jaw wired shut to avoid going to fat camp.

Kendrick plays the role of Fritzi, an insecure teen who follows around the popular girl in hopes of gaining notoriety among the other campers. According to The New York Times, the Simple Favor actor recalls her character as “a weird girl with greasy hair and terrible clothes.” She explained, “Fritzi was the camp loser, and she was obsessed with (and probably in love with) Jill, the hot, popular girl at camp. The Up in The Air actor claims, “Today, I would be thrilled to play such a twisted little character.”

While Kendrick was the biggest star to evolve from the teenage drama, IMDb reports some of the most notable stars of Camp include Sasha Allen of Blue Bloods fame, Dequina Moore from Rachel Getting Married, Ryan Fitzgerald of Hot Shots!, and Brittany Pollack who recently played Mack in Steven Spielberg’s West Side StoryEven legendary composer Stephen Sondheim made a cameo appearance.

Non-Union films are often full of emerging actors

Camp was a non-union film and the first experience for many of the actors. Kendrick was paid a mere $75 a day for her performance.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Kendrick said there “was a lot of anxiety” but shared that it was a blessing because “no cast member knew anything.” The Dummy actor explained, “You were allowed to ask questions, and be an idiot, and not feel quite as much shame.”

According to MovieMaker, non-union films are full of inexperienced cast and crew members. Mistakes are not uncommon, but it is a great place to hone skills and learn the craft of movie-making. They claim, “ultra low-budget and student films usually favor non-union because they can’t afford to pay anyone.”

‘Camp’ has gained a cult-favorite status

Camp became a cult classic, with many people calling it life-changing as they related to the movie’s central theme. What makes the film unique is the highly inappropriate material performed by the campers during their stage productions.

Kendrick, for example, performs a show-stopping rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a song from the Sondheim musical Company. The piece depicts the middle-aged angst of a woman disillusioned by her Manhattan lifestyle and is not your typical teen tune.

Common Sense Media says, “One of the movie’s strengths is the way that the love for theater gives these kids so much in common that other differences, including race and sexual orientation, are warmly embraced.”

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