The new Freeform series Dead of Summer is set in the late 1980s, when school is out for the summer and the counselors – former campers Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), Jessie (Paulina Singer), Cricket (Amber Coney), Joel (Eli Goree), Blair (Mark Indelicato) and Blotter (Zachary Gordon), along with new girl Amy (Elizabeth Lail) and mysterious outsider Drew (Zelda Williams) – have arrived at the seemingly idyllic Camp Stillwater, ready to explore first love and first kisses. What they aren’t prepared for is Stillwater’s dark, ancient mythology that turns their summer of fun into one of unforgettable scares and evil at every turn.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, showrunners Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis and Ian Goldberg talked about why Dead of Summer is their “mid-life crisis show,” what led to the horror/’80s teen mash-up idea, casting, taking an anthology approach to the series, making Camp Stillwater its own character, that they’re a supernatural show and not a slasher show, and the biggest challenges of this particular production.
Show creators Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis and Ian Goldberg consider Dead of Summer their mid-life crisis show, as they were all campers in their youth. This show originated from a conversation at New York Comic-Con, when they were talking about summer camps and horror, and it all just stuck in their heads. They were thinking about their youth and the movies that they love and they realized that the archetypes in horror and teen films of the ‘80s were the same, with the jock, the stoner and the leader, and how with camp, you can be anyone that you want to be.
- When they started talking about the idea, they were interested in mashing up ‘80s John Hughes films and the John Carpenter horror stuff that they love. Thematically, it became a show about identity, so they decided to use the flashback structure to look at who these people were before they came to camp and then see who they’re trying to be at camp.
- Freeform felt like the right fit for the show because it’s about identity and it’s a coming of age story, with the leads being 18-20. There are limitations, in the sense that they can’t show anyone inhaling and there’s no nudity, but they’ve been given pretty free reign and have pushed things as far as they can.
- When it came to casting, they always had Elizabeth Mitchell and Elizabeth Lail in mind for their roles. It’s Horowitz & Kitsis’ third time working with Mitchell, after Lost and Once Upon a Time, and their second time working with Lail, after Once Upon a Time. Their characters were always central to the show, and they’re grateful that the two actresses said yes to being a part of the show.
- For the other characters, they looked at all of the different archetypes from the movies they grew up on in the ‘80s and saw the commonalities between them, whether it was the jock, the stoner or the good girl. So, they took those archetypes and are presenting them to show that there’s something else going on beneath the surface with all of them.
In Episode 6, you’ll learn about why Deb (Mitchell) is now the owner of this camp and what her backstory is. You’ll also see a taste of what the camp was like in 1970. In Episode 7, you’ll see what the camp was like in 1982.
- Tony Todd’s character appears at the beginning of the pilot episode, and the mystery of who he is and what his intentions are at the camp will be dolled out across the season. He’s such an iconic presence in horror movies, so they’re playing to that in the show.
- They’re taking an anthology approach to the show, with each season being a different year at camp, and the 10-episode structure has worked to their advantage in telling a very streamlined, close-ended story. For example, Season 1 is 1989, and Season 2 may be 1970, and there may also be links between the characters. The mythology will be spread out over five seasons, but every season will have a beginning, middle and end.
- No matter which year or which season they’re in, Camp Stillwater will be a character in the show. There is a lot of mythology and history to unpack, for how it’s affected different people, over the years.
- Even though this show resembles Friday the 13th, this is not a slasher story, it’s a supernatural one. As a result, the show is more like The Shining. Because they’re dealing with identity, the horror comes from a thematic place, where the characters are literally haunted by their secrets and demons.
- The ‘80s setting allows for these kids to have no phones, no cars and no weapons. Without all of the kids looking at their phones or having internet access, it forces them to deal with each other and who they are, and leads you to the root of their characters more quickly.
- The biggest challenges unique to this series are production related. They’re shooting with an ensemble of young actors, out in the middle of a camp with no electricity, and they’re also doing flashbacks with every episode, which is a specific recreating of varying time periods.
Horowitz, Kitsis and Goldberg run the show together. Horowitz & Kitsis have worked together for years, but they’ve also previously worked with Goldberg on Once Upon a Time.
- Horowitz and Kitsis also directed the pilot episode because they had a really specific vision for what they wanted the show to be. It was important to them, because the show is so personal, to establish the look and feel of the show and create the template for what the series would be.
- By the end of Season 1, viewers will have all of the mysteries answered about this particular set of characters. There are also some larger questions about the nature of the camp and the lake that they are diving into, but will explore further in possible future seasons.
Dead of Summer airs on Tuesday nights on Freeform.