How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” an Icon Production starring Mel Gibson, is an explosive action film infused with dark comedy directed by Adrian Grunberg and produced by Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey and Stacy Perskie.
It’s been a bad day for Driver and it’s not getting any better. He just made a big haul of millions that would give him a nice summer vacation on easy street. A good idea that went south – literally.
During a high-speed car chase with the US Border Patrol and a bleeding body in his back seat, Driver flips his car smashing through the border wall, tumbling violently, coming to a stop … in Mexico. Apprehended by the Mexican authorities, he is sent to a hard-core prison where he enters the strange and dangerous world of “El Pueblito.” Not an easy place for an outsider such as Driver to survive, unless it’s with the help of someone who knows the ropes -- a 10 year-old kid.
Filmed in Mexico, the multi-lingual film stars Mel Gibson, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Jesus Ochoa, Roberto Sosa, Dolores Heredia, Kevin Hernandez, Fernando Becerril, Mayra Serbullo, Mario Zaragoza, Gerardo Taracena, Tenoch Huerta and Peter Gerety.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
It was called the worst prison in all of Mexico, “la universidad del crimen” crime university -- nightmare of that symbolized violence, corruption and overcrowding that plagued many of Mexico’s prisons. It was “El Pueblito,” a society behind bars where inmates were in control, drugs were openly sold from stores within, and anyone could visit anytime– just as long as they paid off the guards.
Officially named el Centro de Readaptacion Social de la Mesa, El Pueblito was constructed in 1956 in Tijuana to accommodate 2,000 prisoners as a new experiment in corrections – one that went very wrong. Allowing families of those incarcerated to join them and remain close to them in prison would facilitate inmates’ eventual readjustment to the outside world … or so it was thought. Wives, children, girlfriends, entire families would live inside the prison walls, some staying there full time while others came and went at will. Children headrf off to school each morning return to El Pueblito in the afternoon. Inside, ouples were married; babies were born; old people died.
Alejandra Cuervo, a member of the production team, was hired by the producers prior to the commencement of principal photography to do extensive research, a living history, on El Pueblito which also included talking with a number of its ex-inmates for first-hand experiences.
El Pueblito, meaning “Little Town,” was just that -- a crowded shantytown with over 700 ramshackle homes and stores build around the prison’s main courtyard. Shops sold almost anything that was needed, and anything and anybody could be bought for a price.
There were restaurants and food stands selling tacos, pizza, hamburgers, juices and more; stores renting videos and pay phones; a barbershop and peluqueria; lawyers and doctors on the premises themselves incarcerated for crimes committed; a casa de cambio giving some of the best exchange rates in all of Tijuana; and a kiosk selling stolen goods – so popular, in fact, it attracted a stream of townspeople looking for bargains. Sports teams from outside would come into El Pueblito to compete with inmate teams in football, basketball and volleyball.
Prison labs made their own crystal meth for sale inside and out. Any kind of drug imaginable was openly sold including heroine, cocaine and marijuana all operated within El Pueblito by mini cartels whose leaders lived a life of relative luxury within the prison walls basically having free reign to conduct their lucrative business. It was a world where only those prisoners with money and connections could enjoy a more privileged life while other inmates lived in fear and squalor, sleeping in crowded areas and in the open, and suffering from hunger and other deprivations.
Money was power. It bought anything and everything especially protection from the violent world within – and from the prison authorities. Being a career criminal took on a whole new meaning with professional inmates committing crimes inside and out, and retreating into their protected world of El Pueblito.
The rich and powerful criminal elite of El Pueblito were called Maizerones meaning “pigs who eat corn,” a fitting description. And they had their own personal security squad – forces armed to the hilt with all sorts of weapons, from 38’s to Uzis. The Maizerones and their security ruled and controlled the prison including the 400 or so prison guards who took bribery to an art form. Everyone had to pay off the guards to have things happen or not happen in El Pueblito, to look the other way in the trafficking of arms and drugs, or for brining in a new refrigerator or Jacuzzi for the Maizerones duplex homes within.
On August 20, 2002 in the wee morning hours, over 2,000 units from the Mexican Army laid siege to El Pueblito clearing out the prisoners relocating them to the new el Hongo facility. In a few tumultuous hours, El Pueblito became no more. At the time of the siege, there were about 80 U.S. citizen inmates and 600 women, children and other family members living among the nearly 6,000 prisoners, many of those prisoners being organized crime leaders and some of the most dangerous criminals in the Mexican prison system.
“How I Spent My Summer Vacation” spent two months filming in the city of Veracruz primarily in the shuttered Ignacio Allende Penitentiary which served as the setting for “El Pueblito.” . This was the second time Mel Gibson and his company Icon Productions filmed on locations in Veracruz, the first time being 2006 when Gibson directed “Apocalypto.”
The Ignacio Allende Penitentiary was built over 105 years ago to replace the old jail located in the basement of the Municipal Palace of the Port City, and the prison became a model for other penal establishments of its kind in Mexico. In January 2010 the remaining 300 prisoners were relocated from the building to more modern facilities.)
It was the assignment of Bernardo Trujillo, production designer to design and create the realistic sets, the world of El Pueblito inside the Ignacio Allende Penitentiary. And with the creative vision and tireless work of art director Jay Aroesty and set decorator Julietta Alvarez, they re-created an astonishingly real world of El Pueblito.
“The prison in Tijuana, El Pueblito, was a very chaotic place built out of the inspiration and money of the inmates without regulations imposed upon them by the administration inside the prison,” said production designer Bernardo Trujillo. “There was a lot of corruption and also a lot of spontaneity going on there.”
The biggest challenge of the Art Department was to create production design for the movie that came from this sort of chaotic mixture of materials, architecture and makeshift structures and homes that the inmates built from their own ideas and manpower in the real El Pueblito.
“This created a very specific aesthetic that was not organized at all – and we started with a very organized canvass here at the Allende prison,” continues Mr. Trujillo. “Fortunately we had the freedom to tear down walls, to take over empty spaces and to create empty spaces. The shanty town that you see in our movie El Pueblito began with four empty walls, and we opened up that big wall in the prison and stated building from scratch.
A large part of Art Director Jay Aroesty’s job was the construction of the sets coordinating the carpenters, painters, and working hand in hand with Set Decorator Julietta Alvarez.
Basically we had a non-orthodox way of production design, aid Mr.\ Aroesty. We constructed a cardboard model of El Pueblito and the prison an then we bean to build it – with wood, brick, concrete -- with all sorts of real materials and objects you usually don’t use in a film.
When Penal Allende was closed, the authorities thinking they were doing the production a favor, painted all the interior walls white. “ So we had to go back to the original walls and bring out the old textures on the walls and make it look like it was before the walls were painted white,” said Mr.. Aroesty. “Also, we had to deconstruct a lot because it was very cramped. We didn’t have a real main square so we had to open up the big wall to get the two courtyards and we had to take down a couple of buildings.
When we came in the first couple of days after they had just emptied what was left of the prison, it wasn’t a nice place to be in,’ he continued. “It’s an improvement, maybe not visually, because it probably looks more run down than when we got here. But the interiors were pretty intense – definitely. The real titanic labor was done by decoration.
Said Jay: Deconstruction of the prison started on 1/22 – about one week after the prison was emptied. The Art Department worked for five weeks on deconstruction and construction, and Set Decor tin a total of three weeks – and the results are amazing considering all the work and minute details that went into re-creating El Pueblito with the realism that you would swear people had been living in those homes, walking in those courtyards, and eating at the kiosks just moments before the director yelled Action!
Julietta Alvarez remembers first entering the prison. “Actually, we had to add everything. We had to take everything out because it was in complete in really, really bad conditions, he smell; we had to throw everything out,” she said. “When my team came already half of the prison was cleaned out of things that were left behind like TV sets and their things. And the other half was with some things and in really bad conditions so we couldn’t use it for putting people inside and things like that.”
The construction, art and set dressing departments created every detail that you see,” said Mr. Trujillo. “You walk into each one of the cells you see things that look and smell real because they had the privilege to walk in the prison when it was recently emptied so you could still see traces of the real life, how the inmates lived here. So they got to see pretty amazing stuff of how people could actually make a house out of 4 feet by 2 feet space. All the love you can put into a small bunk to create universe that represents your small space. We had a lot of inspiration definitely but what you see is a lot of work form a lot of people. The spontaneity of people even in the worse conditions is amazing. They make a house out of the most depressing space you can imagine and that is to me beautiful even in the saddest place in the world which I think is jail,” he concludes.
“All the paintings on the wall, we did it. You have to do it new and then we have to go through them and make them old, to make to rundown,” said Ms. Alvarez.
There was a few graffiti drawings on the walls but not even 5% of what you see in the production’s set,” said Mr. Trujillo.. The production hired mural and graffiti artists to create all the art seen throughout the prison in the film. “Everything was created. It’s hard to find the originals here. It’s been amazing and tremendous work from a lot of people,” he concluded.
“Adrian said just go real and that’s how we researched it, looking a different videos at different jails similar to this one, talking to people who were here. I am not sure what the camera will be seeing so I want to cover as much as I can. Everything is a set. And that’s why it’s a big challenge because it’s huge and it has a lot of details.”
“A lot of what we do is for environment for the crew and the extras to feel as if they are in jail or in a real place, not a set,” said Mr. Aroety.“ A lot of the decoration of what we do is for the crew, for Adrian to feel in a real place, for the extras not to feel like extras but really in a jail. “
“Basically the aesthetic was to have enough authenticity in the film so people could actually witness what had happened in this prison but also enhance it in such a way that it’s interesting for the audience meaning the real place actually had a chaos of colors and a chaos of textures and a chaos of everything – and in film’s that’s too distracting,” said Mr. Trujillo. “You have to narrow it down to a smaller color palette and those sort of decisions but definitely based on some sort of reality. It’s like an enhanced reality from a film perspective but it’s definitely based on reality.
“How would the people and the production design blend together in a believable way without creating such a chaos that the audience would be too distracted,” he continued. “It’s a thin line between becoming too stylized and becoming too realistic. You have the find the right spot in the middle. We all saw a very sweaty, a very colorless space even though color is there – there’s a hint of color everywhere but it’s sort of faded away. And it’s allowed in certain items but only in little details but not in the overall look of the walls or the wardrobe. And in reality we’re stretching it a little bit be cause in reality someone could wear a fluorescent color t-shirts and still be in jail but we decided to stay away from those colors; I think it’s too distracting for the audience. We pretty much narrow it down to a small color palette and started working with those limited colors to try to create chaos out of that. And I think that’s more interesting.
“And there was humor everywhere in the prison,” reflected Mr. Trujillo. “All the research we’ve done -- from Mexican prisons to Latin American prisons to African prisons – one of the things that was repeated over and over was exactly that – how people find humor in every situation and how people find beauty in the hardest situations that you can imagine. And in a way, the Third World is very similar whether you’re in Africa or in Indonesia or Central America or in Mexico – there are so many similarities, especially like in jails, in jail life, in what people ending up doing trying to lead a normal life even in those conditions is actually beautiful. They find a way to make their monotonous life not so monotonous and beautiful and colorful. “
Following filming in Veracruz, the production then moved to the town of Perote, 90 minutes outside Puebla and half-way between Veracruz and Mexico City. Salado, a dry lake bed in the municipality of Tepeyechualco just on the borderline of Perote, was the isolated and barren setting for the high speed car chase and heart-pounding crash through the US-Mexico border wall. Solado is surrounding by mountains and lies at an elevation of 7875 feet or 2400 meters. In nearby Perote, stands the volcano Cofre de Perote or Mauhcampaepetl in Aztec, standing at 14,049 feet or 4282 meters in elevation. The California Highway was filmed outside Puebla less than an hour from Mexico City with the legendary and majestic volcanoes Popocatepetl (17, 802 feet o4 5426 meters in elevation) which last erupted in 2006, and Iztaccihuatll (17, 342 feet or 5286 meters).
Following, the cast and crew moved to Mexico City for locations around the city and stage work at the Churabusco Studios. Production’s final wrap location was Brownsville, Texas, secondin the border area of between San Diego and Tijuana in Baja California.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
ADRIAN GRUNBERG (Director, Co-Screenwriter) is making his feature film directorial debut with “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” on which he also shares co-screenwriting credit with Mel Gibson and Stacy Perskie.
Grunberg previously worked with Mel Gibson as 1st Assistant Director on “Apocalypto” and led the second unit on “Edge of Darkness” which starred Gibson. Among the many feature film credits as 1st Assistant Director are “Wall Street 2,” “The Limits of Control,” “The Legend of Zorro,” “Conejo en la Luna,” “Man on Fire,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” “Nadie Regresapor Tercera Vez,” “Recuerdos,” “Vera,” “El Amor de tu Visa” and “Besame en la Boca.”
He received his college degree at the School of Visual Arts. He was raised in Spain by Argentine parents, and the family moved to Mexico where he has lived for the past 15 years. Adrian resides in Mexico City.
MEL GIBSON (Producer) was born in upstate New York and moved with his family to Australia when he was 12 years old. Gibson attended the National Institute of Dramatic Arts at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. His stage appearances include “Death of a Salesman.”
Gibson was eventually brought to the attention of director George Miller who cast him in “Mad Max,” the film that first brought him worldwide recognition. This was followed by the title role in “Tim.” Gibson’ s portrayal of a handicapped young man won him an Australian Film Institute Best Actor Award.
He was further established as an international star by the two hit sequels to “Mad Max” – “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” – along with Peter Weir’s “Gallopili,” which brought Gibson a second Australian Best Actor Award. A few years later, Weir and Gibson again collaborated on “The Year of Living Dangerously.”
Gibson made his American film debut in “The River.” Also, he starred in the worldwide record-breaking “Lethal Weapon” (1, 2, 3 and 4) franchise. Gibson’s other film credits include “The Bounty,” “Mrs. Sofel,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Bird on a Wire,” “Air America” and “Hamlet.” When Gibson starred in “Hamlet,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli, the film was the first to be produced by Gibson’s production company Icon Productions. The role brought him the William Shakespeare Award from the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. Also, he starred in the Icon produced “Forever Young” and “Maverick.” Gibson made his directorial debut and starred in “The Man Without a Face,” another Icon production. The company has also produced “Immortal Beloved” and “Airborne,” among many others.
In 1995, Gibson produced, directed and starred in the critical and box-office success “Braveheart” which was the recipient of five Academy Awards® including Best Picture and Best Director after receiving 10 nominations. Gibson received a Golden Globe® Award for Best Director as well. Also, he received a Special Achievement in Filmmaking Award given by the National Board of Review and was honored as the 1996 NATO ShoWest Director of the Year, as well as being the recipient of the Best Director Award given by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
In 1996 Gibson starred in “Ransom,” directed by Ron Howard for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures. A remake of the 1956 MGM picture tells the story of a New York millionaire who must employ daring tactics to retrieve his kidnapped son. He received a Golden Globe® nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama) as well as wining the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Actor.
In August of 1997, Gibson starred in the romantic-thriller “Conspiracy Theory” co-starring Julia Roberts and directed by Richard Donner for Warner Bros. In July of 1998, Gibson starred in “Lethal Weapon 4” grossing more than $300 million worldwide
In February of 1999, he starred in the hard edge thriller “Payback,” an Icon Production based on Donald F. Westlake’s (writing as Richard Start) novel The Hunter. “Payback” was distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Paramount Pictures and internationally by Warner Bros.
In 2000, Gibson became the first actor in history to star in three $100 million films (domestic gross) during the same year. In the summer, Gibson starred in the emotionally charged adventure “The Patriot” as Benjamin Martin, a reluctant hero who is swept into the American Revolution when war reaches his home and threatens his family. The Columbia Pictures release was written by Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”) and directed by Roland Emmerich. Also, Gibson lent his voice as the all-American rooster named Rocky in the critically acclaimed DreamWorks SKG animated adventure comedy “Chicken Run.”
Later that year, Gibson starred in “We Were Soldiers,” a film based on the book We Were Soldiers Once … and Young, telling the story of the first battle between U.S. and Viet Cong troops in which 400 soldiers were helicoptered in and surrounded by 2,000 enemy troops, as told from the vantage point of Harold Moore, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary, and Joseph Galloway, a reporter who was in the scene for the 34-day battle. It was directed and written by Randall Wallace who was nominated for an Academy Award® for writing “Braveheart.”
Later that year, Gibson starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller “Signs” for Disney which opened to a Gibson-starring opening weekend record of $60 million and grossed an all-time individual record of over $400 million.
In 2004, Gibson producer, co-wrote and directed “The Passion of the Christ” starring Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci. The Ash Wednesday release on February 25th grossed an industry-record average of $41,295 per screen (3.043 theatres) totaling a five-day gross of $125.2 million giving it the best five-day opening ever, at that time, for a film with a Wednesday opening. The previous record-holder had been “The Lord of the Rings” The Return of the King” ($124.1 million). The opening three-day weekend numbers totaled $83.848.082 (Friday: $22.9 million, Saturday: $33 million, and Sunday $27.8 million) making it #8 on the all-time opening weekend box-office chart at that time. “The Passion of the Christ” had a worldwide box-office gross of $610 million making it the highest grossing R-rated film and highest grossing independent film in history. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards®.
In 2006, Gibson brought life to his latest epic, visceral action thriller “Apocalypto.” Gibson produced, co-wrote and directed the thriller that follows one man’s heart-pounding race through primeval jungles to rescue his family during the fading days of the mysterious, ancient Mayan civilization. “Apocalypto” opened at #1 in it’s opening weekend grossing $15.2 million and generated three Academy Award® nominations.
Gibson returned to acting in 2009 with GK Films “Edge of Darkness” in which he starred as Thomas Craven, a Boston detective who uncovers sinister government conspiracies when he investigates the brutal shooting death of his only daughter. The psychological thriller was directed by Martin Campbell.
Up next, Gibson will be seen in “The Beaver,” directed by Jodie Foster, about a man who finds unusual solace in his beaver hand-puppet.
Following his location filming on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” Gibson will once again step behind the lens and direct Leonardo DiCaprio in a yet-untitled Viking project.
BRUCE DAVEY (Producer) The Academy Award® winning producer began his career as an accountant and business manager for actors and musicians in his native Sydney, Australia. He met Mel Gibson in a professional capacity in 1980. When Gibson was putting together “Hamlet,” Davey moved to L.A. to work with him as his production partner and became Chairman of Icon Productions, the company he founded with Gibson in 1989.
In addition to “Hamlet” (1989), Davey produced the Icon motion pictures “Forever Young” (1992); “Immortal Beloved “ (1994); ‘The Man Without a Face” (1993) which marked Mel Gibson’s directorial debut; “Maverick” (1994); “Airborne” (1993) ; the multi-Academy Award® winning Best Picture “Braveheart” (1995) for which Davey won his Oscar(s) as a producer; “FairyTale: A True Story” (1997), recipient of the 1998 BAFTA Award for Best Children’s’ Picture; “An Ideal Husband” (1999); “Payback” (1999); Atom Egoyan’s “Felicia’s Journey” (1999); Wim Wender’s “The Million Dollar Hotel” (2000); “What Women Want” (2000); “We Were Soldiers” (2002); “The Singing Detective” (2003); “Paparazzi “ (2004); the Academy Award® nominated “The Passion of the Christ” (2004); “Seraphim Falls” (2005); the Academy Award® nominated “Apocalypto” (2006), also directed by Gibson; and “Push” (2009).