It starts right here in cyberspace. During 1998, Horror Movie buffs Jeff Hayes from Massachusetts and John Klyza from Australia joined forces to make the original "Sleepaway Camp: The Website". The duo were huge fans of the "Sleepaway Camp" movies and wanted to create an online campground for horror fans all across the world. They figured there must be other "Sleepaway" fans out there and the website would give everyone a place to celebrate these classic movies and also introduce a whole new generation of horror fans to the series. They also knew that the idea of a website was the greatest publicity they could give these movies as it would be accessible to people all across the world. The duo started by writing articles, gathering publicity materials, and scanning photos from the movies. Then, while Klyza went to work designing, Hayes went digging for cast and crew from the original movie. It seemed as though they had all disappeared from the business and nobody knew what they were up to...
After months of digging, Hayes finally located actor Jonathan Tiersten who played feisty camper "Ricky" in the original Camp classic. Tiersten had left the movie business and was in the process of establishing himself as a singer/songwriter in Colorado. In a cosmic alignment of fate, it just so happened that Tiersten was coming to Massachusetts to do a show with his band, Bambi's Apartment, in May of 1999. Hayes and Tiersten made plans to meet at the show. Hayes did an interview with Tiersten and learned some unknown information about “Sleepaway Camp” and a clue that he would use to help him track down Felissa Rose "Angela". Hayes discussed the prospect of trying to get a new sequel going and asked Tiersten if he would consider playing "Ricky" again if he could somehow get it off the ground. Tiersten agreed and Hayes moved onto phase 2. Tiersten had recalled Felissa Rose's real last name and provided Hayes with the information. Hayes reformulated his search, did some more digging, and sent out a letter to an address that he found as a possible lead.
Meanwhile, the Jonathan Tiersten Interview had become a huge hit on the website. Fans were ecstatic to finally hear some recollections from a cast member of this mysterious cult classic. Hayes and Klyza received numerous emails from fans who were thrilled with the interview and wanted to know who Hayes was going to track down next.
A few weeks later, Hayes got a phone call from Felissa Rose. Apparently his letter ended up in the right mailbox. Rose, who was working on off-broadway productions, was amazed that "Sleepaway Camp" still had an audience all these years later and thrilled at Hayes' proposal to get a sequel going with "Ricky" and "Angela" back in action. Numerous discussions between Rose and Hayes ensued and they made plans to meet for a weekend in March of 2000. Before leaving for New York, Hayes asked Rose to dig out anything she could find from 1982 when she worked on the original movie. Rose and Hayes started the weekend off by recording a multimedia interview for the website.
The following day, they began going through Felissa's memorabilia which included a few scrapbooks of on-the-set photographs and a "memories" book which various members of the cast had written messages to her in. Rumors were rampant online that writer/director Robert Hiltzik had died years earlier and nobody knew if that was true or where he was. One of the entries in Rose's "memories" book was written by the sister of Associate Producer, Michelle Tatosian, who was Hiltzik's girlfriend throughout the production, and the entry contained a phone #. Hayes decided to call the # from Rose's apartment and this clue ended out eventually leading him to Michele Tatosian. Tatosian informed Hayes that she was now Mrs. Hiltzik and the duo were alive and well in New York with 3 daughters.
Hayes had his first conversation with Hiltzik that weekend and made him aware of the resurgence of 'Sleepaway Camp' online. Hiltzik found it hard to believe at first but was soon delighted and excited. Hayes explained how he had tracked down Tiersten and Rose, and was trying to get a "Sleepaway" sequel going with Tiersten and Rose returning as their characters from the original. Hayes wanted to know if Hiltzik would also be interested in putting his creative genius back to work by Returning to Sleepaway Camp. Hayes elucidated how he wasn't sure who now owned the rights but was researching.
Hiltzik explained that he had in fact written a script in 1986 entitled: "Sleepaway Camp 2," which was another murder-mystery set at camp but didn't contain any of the original characters. After a few meetings in 1986, Hiltzik decided not to pursue it; he started a family and began a career in Law. Hiltzik also explained that the rights for the "Sleepaway Camp" title and characters had reverted back to him years earlier, as he had only sold the rights for Part 2 and 3. After a few more discussions with Hayes and Rose, Hiltzik decided that they should "go for it" and try to make a new "Sleepaway" happen.
Hiltzik decided to dust off the old script and use it as a foundation for the new sequel: "Return To Sleepaway Camp." Hayes was adamant that the new sequel needed characters from the original film to Return and fortunately, Hiltzik obliged. Hilltzik also made sure to add a lot of the elements that fans like so much about the original into the new script.
During the 4th quarter of 1999, Anchor Bay Entertainment announced "Sleepaway Camp" as a title they had acquired and intended to release on DVD. After Hayes tracked down Rose and Hiltzik in early 2000, he got in touch with the studio to see if they were interested in putting some bonus features on the dvd. Although they didn't plan to add anything to the disc except for the movie, the news of Hayes tracking down reclusive writer/director Robert Hiltzik interested Anchor Bay's William Lustig. Lustig called Hayes and let him know that they were going into production with the discs very shortly, but said that if Hayes could somehow arrange a commentary with Hiltzik within a week, that would leave just enough time to make the cut. He asked Hayes to write-up a proposal for the commentary project and gave him a 1 week deadline to arrange it and get it recorded. In the proposal, Hayes indicated that he would like to get Rose and Tiersten to appear on the track as well. Lustig agreed but the short amount of time left made it impossible for Anchor Bay to set up accommodations for Tiersten to come in to NY from Colorado.
On April 3, 2000, Hayes met with Anchor Bay's sound recordist at the hotel where he was staying and took him over to Rose's apartment where they would record the commentary. Just as exciting was the fact that this would be the first time Hiltzik and Rose would see each other since they made "Sleepaway" back in 1982. Hayes caught this moment on camera and you can watch a video clip of that reunion right here. It was during the commentary that the trio leaked their intentions of making "Return To Sleepaway Camp".
Hiltzik finished the "top secret" first draft in October 2000 and sent it to Rose and Hayes. The news of the script was announced on the website that Halloween. Shortly after interviews with Tiersten, Rose, and others launched on the website, Hayes was contacted by another cast member, Tom Van Dell (who played "Mike").
Van Dell was amazed at the response to the website and the way it revitalized the franchise that had been thought "dead" since the late 80's. Furthermore, all the hype in the interviews about the prospect of a new sequel really peaked his interest and he told Hayes that he would possibly like to get involved in it as a producer. Hayes got together a meeting between Van Dell and Hiltzik.
Van Dell and Hiltzik met to discuss the project shortly thereafter and Van Dell came on board as Executive Producer, helping to raise financing for the proposed project. Hiltzik and Van Dell began meeting with prospective investors. Armed with a stack of hot curling irons, they convinced some financers to invest in the movie.
During December 2000, Fangoria Magazine contacted Hayes and asked him if he would be interested in reuniting Rose and Hiltzik on stage in New York City for a "Sleepaway Camp Reunion" at their popular Weekend Of Horrors convention. Hoping to reach out even deeper, Hayes asked Fangoria if he could assemble a much larger Sleepaway Camp Reunion and bring in all the cast members that he was now in touch with.
Fangoria agreed and allowed Hayes to assemble the "Sleepaway" guest list for the show. Hayes was able to get 8 cast members to attend as well as writer/director Robert Hiltzik and his wife Michele Tatosian. It was here at the Reunion that the crew launched the first word that "Return To Sleepaway Camp" was a go.
Auditions began during the 2nd quarter of 2001 in New York. Hiltzik met with a variety of young actors and actresses for various camper and counselor roles. Rose also sat in on some of the auditions, working as a casting assistant. In fact, a couple of the actors were flown out to Los Angeles to get their faces cast for some of the gruesome fx. However, after the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and a fall in the money market, some of the initial investors backed out and the movie was temporarily put on the burner.
Some people got nervous and some lost faith in the project. Despite this, Hayes and Rose just kept on promoting the movie with the realization that it was eventually going to happen. Hayes made arrangements for 3 Midnight "Sleepaway Camp" screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin TX in October 2001 and for another theatrical screening at the "Flashback Weekend Sci-Fi & Horror" convention in 2002. Both events were big draws and the "Sleepaway" momentum continued growing.
Finally in 2003, Van Dell was able to raise the funds through a new group of investors and the movie was set to start shooting in September 2003. Some of the actors cast during the initial auditions were called back to come shoot the movie while some others were recast. A couple actors were sent out to get casts made of their heads for various deadly effects and the boat finally rowed the rest of the way to the campgrounds. In September 2003, Hiltzik, Rose, Hayes, and Tiersten packed their "Sleepaway" bags and headed to Camp...