Saturday, April 6, 2013

Jacob Roebuck Talks about His New Film, CAMP

The movie CAMP is screening in theaters nationwide and should be on screens through May. CAMP is the story of Eli, a ten-year-old child who has recently entered foster care. He attends a week at Royal Family Kids Camp, where counselors try to provide children in foster care with a week of safe fun and unconditional love; unfortunately, Eli’s counselor Ken signed up for the wrong reasons. Ken is exasperated at Eli’s behaviors, but as he comes to understand Eli’s experience, his heart softens and he begins to form a bond with Eli. While Ken transitions from selfish ignorance into true caring, Eli transitions from mistrust to trust. In my recent review of CAMP, I recommend it for adults involved with or considering foster care, and their friends. CAMP is playing at select theaters, so check to see where it’s playing closed to you.

Adoption at the Movies’ Addison Cooper spoke with writer and director Jacob Roebuck about the stories he drew from while writing CAMP and his hopes for the film.

Addison: Jacob, you said in a press release that there’s no other medium like a movie that can entertain
and inspire people to become engaged. My website, Adoption at the Movies, is based on the thought that movies can help families more easily broach important conversations about adoption. What are your hopes for CAMP?


Jacob: As a filmmaker, people are paying me ten dollars or eight dollars, or whatever, and they’re paying us to entertain them for two hours, and that’s my job. If I do my job well, I get the opportunity to discuss something that is important to me, with my audience. We really hope that the film causes people to dig a little deeper, and to say, “What’s going on in my community with these kids, and what can I do to help?” The first time that I sat down and watched this film with a group of people who weren’t already involved with Royal Family Kids Camp, there were a couple of people who came up to me afterwards, almost immediately, and said, “Hey, I want to go to camp.” I think that the great thing about Royal Family is that a lot of people get involved with camp and lots of people don’t [otherwise] get involved with foster kids.
The film is primarily from the perspective of – and we journey with – Ken, and that is somewhat on purpose, because we want the audience to admit we’re like him in some ways. I don’t know if you know anybody, but very few people who I know did Royal Family because they were just awesome people, at first. We all got our arms twisted, especially some of the guys. Someone dragged us along; we knew it was the right thing to do, yadda yadda yadda, but our hearts weren’t really into it. That’s true of my story, and some of the guys I’ve met through the film. The first year, somebody made me go, or my wife made me go, or my friends were in, so I went. But it becomes part of their life, part of their rhythm every year going to camp. And I think going to camp is huge in so many ways.

Obviously, it’s a huge benefit for the kids. It’s one week, and you can’t reverse years and years of abuse in one week, but you can mark a turning point, you can give a kid hope, you can give a kid a new perspective, a different handle, a different way to view the world. I think one of the most telling things, and I’ve heard this story so many times, is that a kid will ask a counselor, “How much do you get paid?” Because the kids know, whether they’re well meaning or not, their social workers are getting paid, their teachers are paid, their foster parents get money, you know, everyone who cares about them gets paid. If you think about it, what’s the most important thing that our parents give us? It’s unconditional love. You know – that you are worth something. When they find out that the counselors are there, just for them, it shows them that they have meaning to somebody – that they’re more than just a way for somebody else to make money.  So it’s huge for the kids, of course.

But the other thing I think is really important, especially if you look at the overall challenge of adoption, and I know that varying places have various success and not success with kids who’ve been abused or neglected and kids who are in the system, but the reality is, if you look at the numbers, if you want to look at tomorrow’s prison inmates, go look at foster kids. That’s just the reality of it.

The other thing is something that happens to the adults. It’s very difficult for me to go and sign up to be a CASA, or a Big Brother / Big Sister, or major programs. Those programs are huge commitments. I’ve actually wanted to be a CASA for some time; I still haven’t figured out in my schedule, how to make that happen. But adults can say, “I can do a week,” if they can’t meet a kid every other Sunday. Camp is a week. What happens is – and this is why camp is important to the kids and the adults – is it opens the adults hearts to the kids, in a way that you can’t do otherwise, except by spending a week with them. And out of that, and it doesn’t happen every time, but tons and tons of volunteers end up taking the next step. They become mentors, they end up as foster parents, they end up adopting the kids. They do more because their hearts have been opened. Ultimately, we want kids that can be adopted, to be adopted into loving homes. That’s the best thing for them. That’s the top of the funnel. You go down, and there’s mentors, etcetera. I view Royal Family Kids Camp as the wide end of the funnel. It’s a way to get a lot of people involved in these kids’ lives. Some of them can only do a week, and that’s great. But it does open their eyes and open their hearts to what more can be done for these kids. We want more camps to get started, we want more volunteers to go to camp, so more kids can go to camp. And it’s not just Royal Family, there’s other great organizations that work with kids, too.  Everyone that works with this demographic can relate to the film, because they can relate to the kids. That’s a long answer to your question…

Addison: No, that was wonderful! So, Ken came in as an investment advisor, Samuel’s a retired sergeant. In the credits, the volunteers were from all sorts of walks of life. In your experience, what makes a good counselor?

Jacob: Oh gosh. I guess the most important thing is, at Royal Family, once you realize that you’re not their parents, you don’t have to be their teacher, you just get to be their friend. We get a lot of teachers as volunteers, and they think it’s great; in the school year, they don’t get to play with these kids. To make a good counselor, that’s the first thing you’ve got to let go.  You have to realize you can’t fix this kid in a week. And that’s not your job; your job is not to fix them. 

Because you can’t. And the most important thing in a counselor is that they’re someone that has this understanding, that I can’t fix this kid’s life in a week. And a lot of people want to. We’re over-achieving Americans, and they want to go in and fix the problems, you know? Availability is important; I think the other thing that makes a good counselor is that you can’t go into it with a lot of your own baggage, wanting to get something out of the relationship. I think a lot of people are like, “I’m going to go, and be really nice to this kid, and then I’m going to get a lot of affirmation; I’m going to be a hero to this kid.” That happens sometimes. But a lot of times, it doesn’t. In fact, this one girl came back and worked at her camp, and she’d been a kid there.  And she told the story that she’d never said “thank you” to her counselor. She was angry at her counselor the whole time. It was a protection mechanism for her. She didn’t want to get close to people. Now, camp had a profound effect on her, but her counselor didn’t know it at the time, because she was mean to her!

We have the story of Samuel in there, based on a true story, as part of his back-story – that he spit on his counselor when he was a kid there, and never said thank you to his counselor.  So if you go as a counselor expecting to get something, you know, kudos from kids, they will sometimes, but if you’re counting on that, you might be in for disappointment. A lot of times, these kids just can’t trust anybody, so they automatically don’t like the focus, and they push you away, or they’re mean to you. That’s why it’s important to be able to say, as a counselor, “Hey, we’re just here to have fun and to love them.” When you start to try to mold their behaviors like a teacher or parent is supposed to do, then you have an adversarial relationship and it makes it difficult.

Addison: One of my favorite scenes was how Ken was talking to Tammy about Eli, saying, “You can’t just throw out right and wrong, there’s rules that you have to follow,” and Tammy coming from a spot of understanding where Eli is coming from is able to kind of scale back and say, “Well, no,” and be more lenient.

Jacob: Yeah; he’s not working from the same set of experiences. But if you understand their motivation… I’ll tell you this story real quick… The first time I went to camp, there was a kid there named Jose, and he was mean! He was like a bully. He bullied the adults and he bullied the kids, and I said, “I hate this kid.” I didn’t say it out loud, just to myself. And midweek, we’re in the pool with them, and I’m talking to him, and I noticed marks on his legs, and I almost said it out loud, “Hey, what are those marks on your legs?” Then I realized they were cigarette burns. And in that moment, my whole worldview changed, because how quickly I was to label this guy, “I hate this kid; he’s an annoying little brat;” but then I understood, the people that were supposed to love him, like your parents love you… They screwed him, and in ways you can’t imagine. You have no idea what this kid has gone through. You’re not in a place to judge this kid. It really broke my heart. It also broke my heart for me on one level, because I can’t believe I was such an idiot.

We tried to put it in the movie – in the scene with the magic blanket – that sometimes something happens, and it triggers some fear, and all of a sudden it’s like it’s out of left field, and you understand that seriously bad things have happened to these kids.

Addison: Yeah; one of the things that I would counsel the foster parents that I worked with was that, yeah, this kid’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, but from within their world it does, and as a parent, or a counselor, or a social worker, or a teacher, part of your job is to really enter that kid’s world, and understand the meaning of everything they’re doing.

Jacob: Yeah, there’s usually a reason for their behavior, especially the extreme behavior.  There’s usually a reason for it. And it’s not just, “fair’s fair.” But when you have an understanding it gives you the ability to have compassion and a way to respond to the kid in a way that’s positive. It’s not like, “Jose, you can go and bully those other kids because you’ve always been bullied by your parents,” But at the same time, [when you understand,] you approach that situation a lot differently.

Addison: I think sometimes people worry that if they try to understand why a kid’s doing what they’re doing, they’ll be making excuses for him and condoning his behavior, but really, making excuses and understanding are two definitely different things; one encourages irresponsibility, and one actually allows for responsibility.

Jacob: Yeah. Yeah.

Addison: Many of the characters in the film pray, there’s an allusion to the story of Joseph and his brothers, and I’ve seen as a social worker that many foster parents who navigate the system with the least amount of stress are those who view what they’re doing as ministry or at the very least, as something selfless. What’s your experience of the role of faith in camp, care, and kids?

Jacob: My main experience with kids is through camp, so I can only tell you what I’ve seen, but I think a pretty interesting thing is the faith aspect - in some ways, it’s harder. And we touched on it in the movie a little bit. Because if you believe in God, then you have to ask hard questions, “Why do you let this happen?” For the adults, it really forces you to confront your faith...  What do you really believe? Which I think is great! It’s important for people to understand what they believe and why they believe it. That’s one of the good things about camp. And certainly, the people I’ve worked with, the faith that everyone can be redeemed, I think is important. I think that every human is in the image of God and has a quality that can be redeemed no matter how badly they’ve been damaged. There is hope for them.

When I talked about it with a church group, I said, “Hey, these kids have been marked by darkness, they’ve been marked by the enemy – they’ve been marked with abuse and marked with neglect, and their marks are due to their experience of evil in the world. And what we do at camp is we try to mark them with life and mark them with hope.  We try to give them a different mark and help them have that chance. I always get a great laugh in the credits when the lifeguard says, “It’s like you’re punching the devil in the nose.” I think we all struggle with evil in this world – what is evil? I think if you have faith, in the Christian faith, the belief is that there is evil – and well, OK, this is something we can fight against. I think that’s an important concept, versus if you don’t have a faith it’s like, “Oh, this is just a human system, it’s just cause and effect,” then there’s no way to win.

Addison: One thing I wanted to ask really quickly, I know in the film, Eli’s birthparents were negligent and abusive, and even the father showed up unauthorized at camp. Have you experienced any redemptive stories involving birthparents, or is that good news yet to come?

Jacob: My wife worked at a pregnancy center and a lot of the girls in these situations and the guys with them are from messed up places, or they got pregnant when they were fifteen or sixteen. When I got to meet some of these kids – they’re just kids, and they’re scared. It’s a very challenging thing when someone who’s not equipped to be a parent becomes a parent. If you don’t have the proper tools, if you don’t have a model, how can you be a parent? No one taught you to be a parent. We all learned to be parents from our parents, and people around us. But these moms have been in abusive situations with their own parents, and now they’re having a kid, and they have all these things that they want to be doing, so I have a lot of compassion on those parents. I’ve seen a couple times when these kids have given up their babies for adoption, and that to me is the most courageous thing. If you’re in that state, you don’t have strong, developed character to make hard decisions that hurt you, but they’re for the best. But those that were able to do that, and make the decision, and say, “I think this kid will have a better life. I’m not at a place to be a parent, I can see that. I can see how that’s going to be bad for me and bad for the kid.” I think those are the amazing stories that I’ve seen. I’m not a social worker, I don’t interact with a lot of caseworkers and parents, but I spent a lot of time with my sites at camp. One thing we do want to do in the film is say, “Hey, even the parents – at one time, they were kids, too, and they were in that situation, and this problem has a cyclical nature.” I think it’s about 35% of foster kids grow up to abuse their own kids. That’s a damning statistic. With the film, we don’t want the parent to be a stereotypical, drunk dad.  In the first scene with Dad, he comes up and hugs the kid.

Addison: Oh, yeah, and Eli responds to him with happiness and joy.

Jacob: And even though he beats him, Eli still calls him. Kids want to be loved by their parents. The 
parents were in similar situations that the kids are. The Mom character was interesting. I don’t think she was inspired by it, but one of the stories I thought about was - in Southern California, there was someone on our church staff who was a foster parent, and they had foster kids, and the mom died in a terrible way. For some reason, she jumped out of a moving limousine on the 405. Think about these stories – what was his mom doing in a limousine?  You realize that, wow, these people have complex issues. And now these kids, their mom’s gone, because she was out partying, or high, or committed suicide – we don’t know. Just trying to deal with life. I guess for me, that’s one of the things with the parents, we didn’t want them to be just evil people. There’s more sides to them.

Addison: I think you captured that – they’re people with feelings and histories too. So, last question, after families watch the film, how can they connect with Royal Family Kids Camp?

Jacob: There’s a website we’re doing right now called – and we’re also adding other organizations local, because a lot of places don’t have a Royal Family Kids Camp. I think the important thing is, the first step, is I really want groups to come to the film, even if it’s a Bible study group or whatever, then they dialogue about it, then they do something about it. If it’s a couple or an individual, the reaction is internal and they don’t dialogue about it, and if you don’t verbalize it, you won’t do something about it. You’ll just think about how the film affected you. Hopefully groups go see it, and they say, “Hey, what are we going to do about it now? Are we going to go to camp? Are we going to start a camp? How are we going to help? And that’s what we want people to do – first dialogue, and then, as a group, take action, whether it’s a family, or a church group, or whatever.

Addison: On my site, I usually end my reviews with questions for families to wrestle with, and I think that’s a great one for families and groups to wrestle with after seeing CAMP is, “What can we do to help, and what’s our responsibility?” Jacob – I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.

Jacob: I’m always to help out in any way I can.

Jacob Roebuck is the writer and director of CAMP, currently screening in theaters nationwide.   Learn more about CAMP at and more about Jacob at Roebuck Media's website

Addison Cooper is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist. He writes Adoption Movie Guides at Adoption at the Movies (

*Most photos from The CAMP Movie's Twitter feed @CAMPMOVIE
*Photo of Jacob Roebuck can be found @JacobRoebuck


Find this interesting? Make sure to check out Adoption at the Movies' review of CAMP.
You might also like Adoption at the Movies' interview with Nia Vardalos about her book, Instant Mom.

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