Adrian Grunberg has made his directorial debut this year with How I Spent My Summer Vacation - which is released on DVD & Blu-Ray next week.
I caught up with the filmmaker to chat about the movie, working with Mel Gibson and what lies ahead.
- How I Spent My Summer Vacation is about to be released on DVD so can you tell me a little bit about the movie?
Well, in a nutshell, it’s a ‘fish out of water’ kind of story. An American criminal ends up in a Mexican prison.
A universe away from the type of prisons he has known. He learns to survive and make it out of there.
- You are in the director's chair for the movie so how you first get involved with the film?
I’ve known Mel for over 6 years. I was his assistant director on Apocalypto. We struck up a friendship, and soon after it came out, he told me how he had this idea about putting an American in a Mexican prison, and he wanted me to direct it.
That was how it all began. Soon after, we got together, along with my partner, Stacy Perskie, and began to come up with the story and write it.
- The idea for the story came from Mel Gibson originally so what did you like about his initial story? And how then did you push that forward to develop a screenplay?
Well, having worked with Mel, we had similar sensibilities, and similar tastes in many things. I think maybe that is one reason why he decided to give me this movie to direct. The rest was easy.
With no studio or other people involved, it was up to the three of us to chew out the story. We would meet every month or so, around Mel’s kitchen table and review what Stacy and I had written.
Tear it apart, deconstruct, reconstruct, go back and write, and repeat the process for about 2 years. It was a lot of fun. We would act out the scenes and ideas among us, and build on them.
- What sort of research did you do to make the world of the movie seem real?
Extensive. We researched prisons all over the world, until we stumbled across El Pueblito. That was a real breakthrough. The place was amazing!
We interviewed ex-cons, ex-workers then the real problem was deciding what to take out!
In only an hour and a half, there’s only so much you can tell, and the stories, annecdotes, history, life of this place could fill a mini series.
- The movie also marks you directorial debut so how did you find that whole experience?
AMAZING! I had wanted to direct for a while, and to begin in this way is luxury. I loved it.
- You have worked on movies for many years and first and second assistant directors but what did you find was the biggest challenge as you stepped out on your own?
I have to admit, the first couple of weeks were the hardest. Switching into this new gear and new view on things took some time.
After that, it all flowed perfectly. Mechanically, I have been in movie sets enough to know how to do it. After that, it’s a matter of doing it, and making your own voice.
- So having had this experience how much is directing now where you want to be?
It is the only place I want to be. I loved ADing, but I wouldn’t want to go back to it ever.
- How did you find working with Mel on this movie seeing that he had been there with you to pen the script and develop his character from the very beginning?
It made everything very organic. We came to the set having ‘rehearsed’ for almost 2 years.
We wrote the character thinking about him, and he was there to play it out if we needed to! Imagine.
- Kevin Hernandez is great as the 'Kid' so how did you go about casting him? And what were you looking for in the young actor for his role?
We knew all along the kid would make or break this movie, so finding him was a huge deal. We opened a nation wide casting here in mexico.
Actors, and mostly non actors. We saw literally thousands of kids, and I was getting desperate because we couldn’t find him.
A week before the start of the shoot I called a friend of mine, a casting director in L.A., Carla Hool, and told her my plight.
She told me about a kid she had video taped a few days ago who was great. She sent the tape along, and immediately we fell in love with him. We flew him to Mexico, met him, and signed him. A real find.
- The world of How I Spent My Summer Vacation looks very real and it was shot on location. How much of it was authentic and how much was production design?
We shot in a real prison. One which had been active until the day they gave us the key. The authorities decided to paint the walls white, and give us our location in pristine conditions.
The art department had to come in and wash that paint away and leave us with the decades of shit, dirt, salt, erosion with which I had fallen in love.
What this means is that we had an amazing canvas to begin with. The spaces, the cells, the grime was all there. Then the art department had to come in and ‘design’ the place as our sets.
They had to build, from scratch, what the El Pueblito quarters looked like. One, two, three storied houses built by the inmates themselves to make this town within four walls.
A place where criminals form the outside would come in and hide within the maze of housing and streets in order not to be found (true story). Bernardo Trujillo, the production designer and his crew did an amazing job of making this happen.
- The film is quite violent but there is a lot of humour in there as well so was mixing these two elements always the plan? And how did you find striking that balance?
Well all three of us have a similar sense of humor. We knew that for this type of movie, we had to pepper in some humor.
Allow the audience to laugh once in a while. To make it more entertaining. We never stopped and discussed the issue, It just flowed that way.
- Finally what is next for you?
Reading a lot of scripts, writing a couple as well, and hopefully soon I’ll have news for you on that respect
- Many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
On the contrary, thanks to you for asking.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation is released is DVD & Blu-Ray 24th September
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw
Tagged in Mel Gibson