Interview: Fred Savage from “Daddy Day Camp”
Interview: Fred Savage from “Daddy Day Camp”

The Massie Twins recently got the chance to sit down with Fred Savage, the director of “Daddy Day Camp,” to chat about wild kids, filming in Utah, and a little about “The Wonder Years.”


The Massie Twins: What was it like on set with all those kids? Chaotic? Controlled?

Fred Savage: It was both. I think it was controlled chaos. We had a whole bunch of kids and some scenes required two or three and others required a hundred. It was definitely a lot of fun, but for me it was most important that the kids were enjoying themselves, and that they brought that fun, excitement and spontaneity to the scenes. They were running around and goofing off and having a good time but I liked that, because if they could bring that sense of fun to their work then I was really happy. So we did keep some order, but we didn’t bark at them. It was more about transferring that excitement and energy into their scenes.

MT: It definitely felt very authentic and looked like they were really enjoying themselves.

FS: That’s the idea and exactly what we were going for.

MT: Does your repertoire with young actors come from your experience as a child star?

FS: I think that my experience as a young actor, and as an actor period, helped to inform the way I work with actors and the choices I make, and particularly with young actors it’s very important to me that they have a good experience on the set. So I definitely think my past experiences have helped shape that.

MT: Did you have any camp experiences of your own?

FS: I did. I never went to sleepaway camp, but I did go to day camp like the movie and from about 5 or 6 to 8 or 9 I went to Tamarack Day Camp outside of Chicago, which is where I’m from, and I actually borrowed the Driftwood colors, the green, yellow, and white from Tamarack. That was my little nod to my past in day camp.

MT: Was it a good experience or were there crazy events like in the film?

FS: No, no. It was probably what Driftwood would be next year. It was really outdoors and focused on sports and campouts and cookouts.

MT: Was their any rivalry between other camps?

FS: There wasn’t. There was another camp called Sunfun that some kids went to, but it wasn’t to the extent…

MT: So there wasn’t an intercamp Olympiad?

FS: No, no, there wasn’t. We didn’t really interact with a lot of other camps, we kind of kept to ourselves I guess. But we didn’t have anything like that. I would have loved that if we did. That would have been awesome. (laughs)

MT: The antagonist Lance is such a crazy character. Was he based on anyone you knew?

FS: No. Lochlyn Munro brought a lot to that part and the character on the page did not nearly have the depth that he brought to it. He really made him so compelling and I don’t know another actor who could make you detest a villain as much as he could while at the same time finding him hilarious. So I think that he really did a great job making you hate him, but not to such an extent that you don’t find him funny – you still like him and laugh at him.

MT: You’ve been doing a lot more directing than acting lately. Do you have a preference for one over the other?

FS: Right now I’m really enjoying directing. I find it so much more engrossing and energizing than acting, at least for right now. When you’re acting it’s kind of a solitary pursuit. You’re kind of on your own quite a bit. You go home and learn your lines, you go to work and sit in your dressing room until they call you and when they do you go to the set, and then you go back to your dressing room. You’re really just involved in that one little aspect of the movie or television show. But as director, you’re constantly involved. You’re sharing ideas with so many other creative people and it’s such a collaborative job. There’s no downtime. You’re either shooting, or talking to the costumer, or the set designer, or the writer, the actor, the composer, the cinematographer, the editor, and all these other talented people sharing ideas and having this wonderful back-and-forth creativity and I just love it. It really energizes me.

MT: Do you have any plans to act in a film you direct?

FS: No plans to put myself in a movie. I resisted any temptation to put myself in this one…

MT: No cameos…

FS: No, no cameos, so you don’t have to look to see if I’m one little head in the back because I’m not. Right now if I’m shooting I want to focus on that. There are some great examples of actors who directed films they starred in and made phenomenal movies. Everyone from Warren Beatty to Kevin Costner to Clint Eastwood. So there’s definitely a tradition of that, but for me I’m going to focus on staying behind the camera for now.

MT: What about other genres?

FS: I really enjoy comedy. I want to stay in that world for sure, but I think for the next one it would be great to age it up a bit and maybe do a romantic comedy or something more my age. You can explore other themes and other sides of comedy. It doesn’t all have to be so family friendly. I love doing this. I love family comedy and kid stuff and I’ve been working in that world for a long time over at Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and I’m really comfortable with the subject matter and I love those gags. I think I have a very immature sense of humor sometimes, so I’m uniquely suited to shoot these kinds of movies. I definitely want to stay in the comedy genre and do family movies that everyone can enjoy and that would appeal to the widest possible audience. You look at careers like Christopher Columbus or Shawn Levy, guys who make these wonderful comedies with a nice emotional undercurrent and heartfelt story underneath – those are the kinds of movies I want to make.

MT: How much control did you have over the cast and casting process for the kids?

FS: We cast the whole movie except for Cuba who was on board before I came on. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better job. I knew Eddie wasn’t going to do it and I wondered who they’re talking to, and they said we got Cuba and I was like “oh my god, that’s awesome!” Every other character I cast and the kids were wonderful. We shot the movie in Park City, UT, and so all those kids, with the exception of Spencir who plays Cuba’s son, are all local kids from Salt Lake, and a lot of them didn’t have a ton of experience and some of them this was their first or second job as actors and I think they were just great. It was so important when casting the movie to get real kids. Not kids that were too polished or too Hollywood. A lot of these kids came in to audition and they were pissed. They were like “I could be at Little League practice right now,” or “I missed a day at camp,” and I loved that. I loved that they were real kids and they brought that to the role. The movie is for kids and kids are a really savvy audience and they can smell a rat from a mile away. I think they would know if it didn’t feel authentic or if it felt phony so it was very important that the kids acted like real kids. And they were.

MT: Did you notice any major differences, high points and low points between directing a film as opposed to TV?

FS: I think that directing TV really prepares you well. The schedules are so tight and particularly doing kids’ television, minors can only work a certain amount of hours, so your days are even shorter. It really forces you to be incredibly economic on the set, to come in with a great plan and to improvise when things go wrong – because in television you can’t sit back and wait for the sun to be just right before you shoot. You have to shoot until you pass out. (laughs) I think that if you can succeed in that world then you can start to feel comfortable on a movie set. There’s more time, the page counts are much smaller for each day, and you get bigger and better toys to play with technically, so I mean it definitely opens up your options a bit more when shooting a feature. Ours was still a tight schedule but I feel television was a great training ground in preparing me to work really efficiently and coming in with a great plan. And I feel that I really benefitted from those experiences doing television.

MT: So now that you’re doing film, do you want to keep doing film, or do you want to go back and do more television?

FS: I want to be able to go back and forth for sure. The next thing I’m doing that’s coming out next month on FX is a show called “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” which is a comedy for that network. I hope I can bounce back and forth. I love television, I love the crazy schedule, and it pumps me up.

MT: What was it like filming in Utah? Was it your decision to film there?

FS: The decision was made to shoot in Utah before I came on board. We made this initially for Screen Gems, which was a division of Sony, and they had shot a lot of films in Utah and for us we needed a location that was appropriate for the setting. We wanted it to feel like camp with the hills, the mountains, the green. We needed to go to a place that was lush and hilly so Utah worked out great.

MT: Any weather problems because of when you shot the film?

FS: We shot from late August to late September and that was one of the bigger things to contend with. It got rainy and it snowed one day, so you can imagine how difficult it was to shoot a summer movie in the snow. There’s definitely a couple scenes that if the camera didn’t hit its mark or was a little to the left or a little to the right you’d see snow.

(There’s a bit of a pause because both of us started to ask a question at the same time, so Fred jumped in with a question of his own.)

FS: How do you guys split up the questions?

MT: It’s rather unplanned, but we do use telepathy so we aren’t asking the same things.

FS: (laughs)

MT: You mentioned the next thing you’re doing for TV. What’s next for you in film?

FS: There’s nothing definite yet. There’s a couple things that might be starting this fall, but I go back to shooting television in November for the Disney Channel on a show called the “Wizards of Waverly Place” and I’ll be shooting some new shows in September and October. The nice thing about going back and forth between television and film is that something’s always shooting.

MT: I did have one Wonder Years question.

FS: Go ahead. (laughs)

MT: It is ever going to come out on DVD?

FS: I don’t think so…

MT: Do you get asked that a lot?

FS: I do and I usually say “I don’t know,” but I got asked enough that I went to find out and I think that because the music was such a big part of the show, and apparently it’s too expensive to license the music, I think that will keep it off of DVD.

MT: There was a “Best of the Wonder Years” and “Christmas Wonder Years” that were released a while back and now they go for a lot of money on places like eBay because that show was so popular.

FS: No way. I have those on tape. I should start copying them and get a little business on the side. (laughs)