You might be able to quote 2001's Wet Hot American Summer word for word, but even the most diehard fans of Coop, McKinley, and the rest of the Camp Firewood crew probably don't know these 15 "gournal"-worthy facts about the movie's making.
1. The writers were inspired by their own camp experiences.
Director David Wain, who penned the script alongside longtime pal and collaborator Michael Showalter, remembers what a big deal Skylab was during the summer he spent at Maine's Camp Modin in 1979. "Kids like us were like, 'Oh my God, do you think Skylab's going to fall on our camp?'" Wain told Details. "And then we'd see a piece of metal and it was like, 'Do you think that's a piece of Skylab?'" The hour-long trip to town was inspired—sort of—by Showalter's camp experience. "That was something you did at my camp sometimes," he shared. "It was considered a big, awesome thing, kind of like going off campus in high school." Presumably, though, his sojourns didn't involve a crack den.
2. Showalter and Wain spent three years finding financing.
"Over and over again, we were told, 'We're giving you the money!'" Wain has said. "Then these people would disappear. I remember trying to track someone down in their office in the East Village to confront them. And the ‘office’ was someone’s house, and there was no one there by that name.” Ultimately, getting Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce—at the time, two of the cast's biggest names—to sign on helped their cause.
3. The entire budget was just $1.8 million.
Paul Rudd, who plays Camp Firewood's resident bad boy Andy, says no one was really in this for the money. In fact, "I'm not sure I got paid," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I'm not kidding … it was such a small production, and stuff fell through the cracks."
4. It launched the careers of a couple of people you may have heard of.
Before Elizabeth Banks scored the part of Lindsay (a.k.a. Barbecue Girl), she was working as a cocktail waitress in New York. Bradley Cooper, meanwhile, missed his graduation from The Actors Studio because of Wet Hot American Summer's production schedule.
5. The cast lived at the camp where the movie was filmed.
Everyone bunked together at Pennsylvania's Camp Towanda for the month-long shoot. Rudd told Details that the experience was "definitely like camp, only we were allowed to have beer." Amy Poehler (who plays talent show director Susie) joked that the shoot felt like a necessary do-over: "We were being given the chance to take one more shot at summer camp, only we were wiser, better drinkers, and more sexually experienced."
6. Yes, they ate their meals in the cafeteria.
The fare didn't really hold up, according to Michael Ian Black (McKinley). Pizza bagels "every day when you're 11 is a dream. When you're 30, and it's pizza bagels every day, you wanna kill somebody."
7. Chief Wiggum went to Camp Towanda.
Garofalo called Hank Azaria after seeing his name on a plaque by a bunk. "She said, 'I'm staring at your name right now. What gives?'" Azaria, who spent every summer at Towanda from the time he was six years old until he was 15, told Entertainment Weekly, "It was fantastic, some of the happiest times of my life."
8. When the cast wasn't shooting, they were drinking. A lot.
"Everybody stayed up late. Everybody partied," Rudd told Details. ("There were totally random hookups," Wain admitted.) One night the group even decided to have a camp dance. "They hired this DJ, Mr. Blue, who was friends with the guys from The State, and we had a rave on the grass of the camp," Poehler told the magazine. "He played great '80s music, and we all went into the wardrobe department and put on outfits and had sparklers and danced."
9. The weather was terrible.
It rained 25 out of 28 shooting days, turning Camp Towanda's grounds into a giant (freezing) mudpit. "We were wearing three layers of clothing at all times, unless we were shooting, when we were wearing basically nothing," Marguerite Moreau (Katie) revealed to Details. Luckily for the already cash-strapped production, the crew was (mostly) able to work around it. "The one thing about the rain is, even when it's pouring, unless you light for it, it doesn't fully show up on camera. So a lot of times we just shot in the rain," Wain said. It was, for example, pouring for the campfire intro. After a crew member tried and failed to get a fire going, Camp Towanda's director had to intervene and start a fire for them.
10. When it came to entertaining themselves, the cast got creative.
Filming took place during the pre-smartphone era, and the nearest attraction was a Walmart a half-hour away. So to amuse themselves, the cast turned to games, including Stratego, backgammon, and stickball, and spent time decorating their cabins. "We would go to Walmart and buy posters and put them in people's rooms," recalled Poehler. "I remember having a lot of *NSYNC." Another popular wall art option: Britney Spears. Ken Marino (Victor) carried around a portable TV "'cause he wanted to watch Juliana Margulies's last ER or something," Poehler said. "I remember him running around, crying, being like, 'She went back to Clooney! She went back to Clooney!'"
11. Almost none of the movie was improvised.
Despite the cast's impressive sketch comedy chops, for the most part, they stuck to Wain and Showalter's script. As Black explained, "The script was pretty locked in. When you have a budget that small, and you have to make your days, and you're fighting the weather, there isn't time to f--k around that much."
12. Christopher Meloni looked to Rambo for inspiration.
To play deranged camp cook (and Vietnam vet) Gene, Meloni—who had just started on Law and Order: SVU—grew a beard and put on weight. At his audition, he did his best to channel film's most iconic Vietnam veteran. "I saw him as a whacked-out, cuddly Rambo," Meloni told Details.
13. The film was a financial flop.
Wain and Showalter struggled to find a backer at Sundance, and the film raked in just $300,000 at the box office.
14. Critics hated it.
Although Entertainment Weekly's film critic, Owen Gleiberman, gave it an 'A', he was one of the few who seemed to enjoy it. The Oregonian called it "agony on a stick," and in his review, Roger Ebert decided to parody "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," writing, "Wow I hate it something fierce/Except the astrophysicist David Hyde Pierce.”
15. Today, it's considered a cutting-edge classic—and is an experience Bradley Cooper won't soon forget.
Of all the stars he's locked lips with, Cooper told Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa in 2010 that Michael Ian Black is his favorite onscreen kiss. A flattered Black responded via Twitter, with one correction:
Bradley Cooper just said I am his favorite on-screen kiss. That wasn't kissing; it was lovemaking.
— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) June 10, 2010