With the construction of Apatow World underway in Dubai, we as fans, critics, and consumers should back up and examine where it all began for Judd. Before Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, and Superbad, rewind to 1995; the year of Waterworld, Batman Forever, and Goldeneye, but who remembers those throwaway, dollar VHS bin blemishes? 1995, brothers and sisters, was the year Disney released Heavyweights. Written by Apatow and Steven Brill (who also directed), Heavyweights is an affectionate, rude, and hee-sterical validation of the camp-comedy genre.
The movie revolves around Gerald Garner (Aaron Schwartz) and his summer at a fat camp, Camp Hope. Gerald is assigned to the Chipmunk Bunk and befriends the dopest group of bunkmates a young man could ever wish for (especially if you’re a Mighty Ducks fan). But their summer of go-karts and candy caches quickly becomes a summer of hell when the Godzilla of fitness takes over the camp, Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller – his image and name mysteriously absent from the movie poster and DVD cover). Pushed to the brink of insanity and hunger, the campers flip the script on Tony by farting in his face followed by duping him into falling in a tiger-pit. What did you do at summer camp? Make a bird feeder out of pinecones and peanut butter? These kids lock their counselor in an electrified cage, play recordings to remind him how skinny his weiner is, and throw the bombest bonfire party E-V-E-R.
While most movies in the camp-comedy category come off as parodies of themselves and age like Madonna’s arms, Heavyweights remains timeless; sitting in the camp counselor’s chair, eating success for breakfast with skim milk (if you don’t get that reference, pause, Netflix Heavyweights, laugh yourself stupid, and finish reading this later). Despite its enthusiastic cult following that grows with each “you seriously haven’t seen this movie?,” there remains an inexcusably pathetic amount of behind the scenes juice. After watching this diamond for 13 years, I could no longer stand being clueless about what went down at Camp Hope. Little trivia tidbits exist on Wikipedia and IMDuhB, sure, but they only get a fan’s palette wet, leaving him drooling and only more curious. Using a tool usually reserved for seasoned private detectives (MySpace), I tracked down some of the actors who played campers and asked for interviews. Two true gentlemen replied.
Los Angeles native Cody Burger (who had starred previously in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Mel Gibson’s Forever Young) was 12 years old when he scored the role of, well, Cody. Max Goldblatt, also of L.A. and 12 at the time of filming, landed the role of Phillip Grubenov. Get on the bus (first time campers drive) and let’s return to Camp Hope…
Just to get this out of the way…Heavyweights 2, would you do it?
(Max): I would definitely do Heavyweights 2, if such a thing existed. The campers from the original could now be the counselors and there’d be a new batch of kids and some new Tony Perkis-type character in charge. Maybe it’s grown-up Gerry Garner, or something like that. Could be cool, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
(Cody): Without a doubt. In fact, me and a buddy have thrown around the idea of writing a script for HW2. That never materialized however. Laziness prevailed.
How did you get involved with the film?
(M): I was in fifth grade and I was a total ham. I had somehow convinced my parents to let me get an agent. I had done a little theater and TV, but no feature films. So I remember getting the Heavyweights script and I thought it was going to be about a bunch of kid boxers. Then I read it and thought it was totally insane and I desperately wanted to be in it. I auditioned, got called back and finally had a screen test, where all the kids competing for the roles came at once. I remember being really nervous, not thinking I was going to get it, as there were a bunch of seasoned chid actors there. Lots of Mighty Ducks and Nickelodeon kids, and I had never been in a movie before. But pretty soon afterwards my agent called with the good news and a month later my mom and I were in North Carolina.
(C): I had been in a few movies and television shows before hand and got called on an interview. I believe the original part I was interviewing for was Sims’ part (played by Robert Zalkind) but they felt I was not appropriate for that part and actually wrote in a part for me, hence my name in the film is my real name.
Is it crazy to see what an empire Apatow now is?
(C): It is pretty crazy to see what Apatow has done. I knew he had it in him, just had to catch the right break and get on with the right people. He was fantastic to work with and was a very funny guy.
(M): It’s pretty wild for sure, but it’s not a surprise. Even back then, Judd’s work ethic was huge. He was on set all the time and had a lot of input. It was his first feature as a writer/producer so he was understandably under a lot of pressure. And look at him now! Obviously he’s been doing something right.
How crazy is it that you made it onto the movie poster/cover?
(M): It’s funny, because those aren’t our bodies. They had some photos of our heads from God knows where and I remember seeing the poster right before the movie came out and just being baffled. Why are we floating in the sky? Why are our socks all pulled up evenly? Why is my belly so big? Why is it Lars in the bun and not Tony Perkis? Where’s Keenan’s other arm? Why is my other arm just sort of waving? Is it supposed to be a hamburger or a hotdog? If it’s a hotdog, why is there lettuce in there? Who puts lettuce in a hot dog? A lot of questions. The funniest thing is if you look at the spine of the DVD, you see the movie’s title and then a little picture of my face. It’s like they made a mistake, like it should’ve been Gerry or Lars on the spine, but some guy in the graphic design department at Disney screwed up. You don’t see me complaining though.
What were you doing before the film?
(M): Being a kid, going to school, annoying people. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was a real film freak at the time (and still am) so having the opportunity to go work on a real film set was an amazing thing for me. I learned a lot more there than I did in fifth grade.
(C): School and sports. Anything a 12 year old would do pretty much.
Was the Metallica “Ride the Lightning” shirt yours? Or did they give it to you to wear?
(C): It was part of the wardrobe. I did keep the shirt though since Metallica is one of my favorite bands (old stuff only).
Did you all sleep at Camp Pinnacle (actual camp used for Camp Hope), or were you transported there everyday?
(C): We stayed at a Holiday Inn in Hendersonville, NC and were transported in every day to the camp via a van.
(M): There was a pool and sauna and a little arcade and pool tables. On the weekends we would run around and get into trouble and cause grief for our parents. It was, in a way, sort of like summer camp.
What happened to all of the candy that was “downloaded”?
(M): I’m sure most of it was eaten.
(C): Not too sure, some of it was eaten. I’m sure the majority of it was thrown away however.
(M): If I remember correctly, kids were constantly snacking on props.
Do you recall anything that was cut from the movie?
(M): There were a couple funny things in the bunk that didn’t make the final cut. When Perkis is raiding the bunk, there was an exchange where he comes up really close to my face and remarks about a big bulge in my pants. After a moment I unzip and pull out a 3 Musketeers bar I’ve been hiding in my crotch. It was a great moment and Stiller and I kept cracking each other up while he was staring me down, but I guess the joke wasn’t a PG joke, so it was cut. There was a lot of other dirty stuff that had to be cleaned up to get the PG rating. In the same scene is the infamous “Who’s Seymour Butz?” bit, where the dialogue has obviously been dubbed over. The name was originally “Peter Fitz” and Stiller is going “Who’s Peter Fitz? Who’s Peter Fitz?” and Shaun’s punchline was “No one’s Peter Fitz as good as yours, Uncle Tony!” But, yeah, they had to change it and it’s pretty obvious.
The majority of people around my age (26) know and love Heavyweights. What do you think it is about this movie that makes it so special?
(M): Yeah it’s a weird little movie, pretty dark at times. We had a lot of fun making it and I think that it rubs off when you watch it. Stiller’s performance is something special, it really holds up, I think. It’s a lot of the same schtick he’s still doing years later, but you have to remember that this was just after The Ben Stiller Show and he wasn’t the household name he is today. I think they were hoping that Heavyweights would be his star-making vehicle, but Disney decided instead to tone down some of the darker humor and sell it as a kids movie. Notice that Stiller’s name is nowhere to be found on the DVD.
(C): I’m not too sure. I think when the movie came out people our age were at the age where rebellion is a big part of their life and a big part of the movie is about rebelling. Not to mention there are some great parts to the movie.
Has there ever been any talk about a Special Edition DVD with commentary?
(M): I haven’t heard anything, but there are plenty of deleted scenes that I think a small but dedicated audience would freak out over. So yeah, I’m all for it. Let the Criterion Collection put it out!
(C): Not that I have heard of. I am not privy to that stuff unfortunatley.
Were the kids from Camp MVP really douchebags?
(C): Some of them were indeed douchenozzles. But most of them were cool folk.
(M): I think they were probably fine, I don’t really remember. The MVP counselor was played by David Bowe, a really funny guy and longtime character actor. I just saw him on an episode of Mad Men.
Philip Grubinov seems like a normal kid. Then at the inter-camp dance, he is wearing the craziest shit. (Beret, Les Mis shirt). Was he supposed to be a thesbian?
(M): It’s funny because in the script his name was written Philip Rubinoff. I think someone entered it into IMDB wrong. Anyway, yeah there was more Philip stuff that got cut, little bits about his character. Something about him beating all the levels of Prince of Persia and something else in the Apache Relay where he has to thread a 16mm movie projector. I guess he was supposed to be this uber-geek, but watching it without knowing all that just makes the beret and Les Miserables shirt come off as random. There’s a strange moment at the end of the dance where you see two extras by the punchbowl and one is wearing my Les Miserables shirt, but it’s obviously not me. There was more musical theater stuff too. A scene where the campers are rehearsing a performance of Cats was cut, which is a shame because they had us wearing these ridiculous skintight catsuits. I don’t know why they took that scene out.
Did they literally bring in a bus-load of girls for the dance? Or were they from a nearby camp or something?
(C): They were extras paid daily I believe. I do know one went on to be a Playboy centerfold, so that’s cool.
Speaking of the dance, were the Saturday Night Fever moves your idea?
(M): I think the script probably just noted that Philip starts to lose it on the dancefloor, but I interpreted that to the best of my abilities. A little Travolta, a little Madonna voguing… cinema gold. That moment, captured on film for all to see, was the moment I realized I was born to dance.
Are the residuals still pouring in?
(C): They indeed are. I ask that everyone go out and buy a copy of the DVD or tune in when it is on TV. My daughter’s college account thanks you.
(M):Every once and a while there’s a nice surprise in the mailbox, yes.
Philip had the most bizarre reactions throughout the film. Was that all you?
(M): On the set we’d always have reaction contests, trying to outdo each other. Sometimes I look at my performance and cringe. There’s a lot of overacting going on, a lot of scenery-chewing. But it’s an over-the-top movie, so I guess it was appropriate.
Have you ever pulled the Heavyweights card to get women?
(C): Nah. In fact my wife didn’t know until 8 or so months after we were dating and her friend called and said your boyfriend is on TV. She thought I was on Cops or something. I try not to let anyone know about my acting career as it seems to draw people that only want to be your friend because you were semi-famous. I would prefer people be my friend for who I am as a person and not what I have done.
(M): Funny story. I was a sophomore in college and one night I was hanging out with a group of freshmen. Out of the blue, a girl says “I heard there’s someone at this school who was in that movie Heavyweights.” She had no idea, so I go “Let’s rent it and figure out who it is.” We go to Blockbuster, we come back, we cram into a little dorm room and we watch the movie. My name comes up in the opening credits and NOBODY NOTICES! So we sit through the whole movie and, again, nobody has a clue, nobody recognizes me. Granted I was older and thinner and had a full beard. So the end credits start and I say something like “I feel like like I recognized Philip, let’s see who played Philip.” Then everyone read my name aloud and the whole room went wild. So that was funny, though it did not get me laid.
Was filming the bonfire scene the craziest shit ever?
(M): It was fairly insane. I had always wanted to hit myself in the face with a pie and I got to do that, which was exciting. That night Aaron Schwartz, who played Gerry, was running with a bucket of chicken and he slipped on some food and fell. He broke his arm or fractured it or something, so they took him off to the hospital and they covered his stand-in’s face with marshmallow fluff and chocolate and kept filming the scene. If you look closely, you can tell that it’s not actually Aaron in a few shots.
(C): It was crazy nuts. The part that sucked however was doing touch up shots a week or so later and having to sit in makeup while they got the chocolate syrup and ice cream just right for continuity sake.
How long did filming take?
(C): It was about 3 solid months, then some time afterwards doing voiceovers that didn’t take well.
Did you get to keep your Perkis uniform?
(M): I did not, but I do have a Camp Hope pennant and I have the Les Miserables t-shirt.
(C): No, I did not want that piece of shit, uncomfortable, itchy garbage.
What’s your fondest memory from being involved with Heavyweights?
(C): I think it’s this type of thing, where 13 years after the movie I’m getting interviewed about it. I think that’s some cool shit. To know that many people like something that I had such a small part in is cool.
(M): Lots of fun times. Filming the hamburger on the toilet scene was a lot of fun. I’m a vegetarian so the prop guy had to find veggie burgers for me, which was apparently a difficult task a decade ago in North Carolina. Hanging with the adults in the cast: Leah Lail, who I see all the time these days, Paul Feig, Jerry Stiller, Tom Hodges, Tom McGowan. Allan Covert who played Kenny The Cameraman. He was a chain smoker and had all these great lines. I’d say to him “you know, secondhand smoke causes cancer.” And he’d say “then get away from me or die.” The whole thing was a fantastic time. I remember getting a little gang of friends together to go see the movie on opening weekend. I was really proud.
After Heavyweights Max acted in a couple more movies and then decided to focus on school. He went to Wesleyan University, Connecticut and majored in Film Studies. He did a lot of theater and acted in some friends’ short films that went on to win awards at Slamdance and Sundance. After school Max moved back to Los Angeles and since then has written a few screenplays (one of which he actually got paid for!), directed some music videos (for artists like MGMT, Sunny Levine, and Robert Francis), traveled with musicians as a tour videographer (for Pete Yorn and a great LA band called Hello Stranger) and he recently finished editing a feature length documentary that has been in the works for a year. He says he hasn’t been in front of the camera for a while, but thing may change soon. You never know.
Cody resides in Tallahassee, Florida with his wife and daughter.
CODY WITH DAUGHTER
MAX WITH CONGREGATION
AN ILLOGICAL MOVIE POSTER
THE MYSTERIOUS EXTRAS