“I’m a learn-by-doing kind of guy.” In today’s conversation, Jeff tells me how he plunged in to writing Camp Abercorn with his partners Matt and Meg. We talk about the theme of the series—“coming out,” in the sense of sexual identity but also in the larger sphere to self-discovery and self-actualization. Jeff talks about his 16-year-tenure in Scouting and the experience of camp, particularly when he was working there as a counselor, as a world apart from the everyday world, where the individual is forced to learn by doing, sink or swim.
(The transcript for today’s video is below.)
Steve: I’m a big believer that something has to be about something; that there’s a theme to it. What was it about the camp concept that hooked you and that made you say, “I really want to put in all this incredible amount of effort?”
Jeffrey: I was a Boy Scout for 16 years. I started when I was 5 as a Tiger Cub, and I went to summer camp every year. I was an Eagle Scout by 16, and then the big life changing thing for me was when I started working at camp. I guess I like to think of working as camp staff as being a freshman in college early. So at 15 I was away from my parents living basically on my own and I got to decide what I did.
S: Sort of a coming of age process?
J: Yeah. It was a place where I got to figure out who I was and it became a big part of my identity. What’s interesting about camp to me is that camp is this place that you go to, especially if you’re working at a camp, where you’re separated from the rest of the world. It’s like a little mini practice world. You’re forced together in these forced interactions with other staff members that you may have never met before, and in another world would probably never talk to. So you have these new people, in nature, and you’re forced together to do all of this incredible amount of work for a period of time that is bound to change you. And you’re allowed to reinvent yourself.
S: What’s the theme of Camp Abercorn? What’s it about?
J: Camp Abercorn is about coming out.
S: Coming out in a gay sense or what?
J: More than that, I think. You can be whoever you want to be at camp because they don’t know you from before and…
S: …and you’re also discovering yourself, aren’t you?
J: Exactly, and in a way it enables you to come out. For me it was coming out of the closet, but for everybody I think, and certainly for all the characters in our show, they’re coming out about something in their life.
S: So is that the theme? Coming out and self-discovery in this petri dish kind of of world that’s safe and sort of apart from society?
S: Well that’s pretty cool. That’s what drama is about; people changing and people evolving and people becoming who they were. So that was the theme that really made you want to commit to this and to do this.
S: Did the three of you agree to this? Did you all say, “oh yeah, that’s what we want to do, too.”
J: Matt and Meg and I all got there together, I think. We knew we liked the idea of camp long before we had narrowed down our theme quite as rigidly, so it’s been a year’s worth of working it and working it until whatever it was really going to be about came to the surface.
S: Did you guys have writing backgrounds? Training or anything like that? Any of you?
S: Well that’s what’s interesting to me because when I came out to LA, I came out here to be a screenwriter and I’d been writing for years, beating my head against the wall, and I thought to get to the level of being able to sell something you really had to get to a high level whereas you guys just said ya know, “hey let’s just start with this. Let’s just write it!”
J: I’m mostly talking about myself, I guess. I should give Matt and Meg more credit. Matt has a film degree and he’s studied film production. He’s taken lots of film writing courses and he’s always known he wanted to write.
S: Alright, so there’s one guy who knows what he’s doing. Alright, that’s good!
J: The rest of us are hacks!
S: Matt’s behind that camera there.
J: And Meg has worked with Second City and done comedy writing and she’s the comedic touch if you will.
S: Were you, Jeff, intimidated at all by the writing process? We know how many people on the blog deal with issues of resistance and stuff like that, I mean, I certainly do. Did that affect you, or did you just plunge right in no problem?
J: I’m a learn-by-doing guy, I guess, and so for me…that’s how I taught myself how to web design and that’s how I feel I’ve taught myself a lot of things in life. So I figure, I know the first few drafts are gonna suck, but if I keep going and keep going they’ll get better. Our pilot is on draft 11 right now.
S: Good for you.
J: Hopefully it will be on 20 by the time we actually film it.
S: Great, great. Did you take any classes? Did you take Robert McKee’s class or anything to teach yourself anything?
J: Well, I read all the books, and I certainly have learned from your website and from you.
S: It’s great for me, just from the outside, to see you guys were thinking in terms of theme and you had a unity to the whole concept. You weren’t just saying, “oh camp is a great idea! Let’s do this…”
J: I was a Boy Scout 16 years. You can be a gay youth, but you cannot be a gay adult leader. It’s a big shame that I can’t still be involved. I want to be able to give back to the organization that I feel gave me so much.
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I like the theme. Yesterday at work a co-worker was bringing her granddaughter to work before she left for Camp. I overheard her discussing her thoughts, and could sense the uncertainty in her voice, the fear. I had to go talk with her about the beauty of the camp experience.
Coming out is a good theme. Self discovery is impossible to avoid in a camp setting. I look forward to the stories, see how much I identify with each of the characters. Good stuff.
Steven it is so evident by your smiles how much you enjoy learning from Jeff, the interaction between both of you is rich.
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