‘Kings of Summer’ movie set: A DIY castle for kids

The concept art for the kids' ramshackle DIY house in "The Kings of Summer" shows a second-story sleeping loft and a front entry made from the door of a portable toilet. Click to the gallery to see what the production crew ultimately built for the movie.
(Jonathan Wilcox)

School’s out, your parents are annoying and suburban Ohio is totally boring. For the three teenage protagonists in “The Kings of Summer,” there’s only one antidote: Build a house in the woods.

For the CBS Films coming-of-age comedy, which premieres in Los Angeles and New York on Friday and will roll out across the U.S this summer, director Jordan Vogt-Campbell envisioned a scrap-pile sanctuary -- one that young people could have realistically built on a bare-bones budget. The result is a charming, patchwork example of ingenuity and craftiness.

To create the house, production designer Tyler Robinson referenced a wealth of films: the scavenge-and-survive environments in “Waterworld” and “Mad Max,” the Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) shack from “The Jerk” and the tree houses in “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Stand by Me.” But his biggest inspiration was personal: the home his father built by hand in the 1970s in Northern California.

PHOTOS: ‘The Kings of Summer’ house in the woods


“He was in construction and saved scrap materials from job sites,” Robinson wrote in an email. “He added these scraps to a trailer that eventually became our home. We had walls made of boards with knotholes and salvaged bay windows for walls. Oil lamps, outhouses and a watering can on a rusty nail for a shower are all realities of my early life that I drew from in designing this house in the woods.”

The 30-by-30-foot house was built in about a week with store-bought lumber using an elementary skeleton known as balloon framing. Everything else, the production designer said, was scrounged by the construction team of Mike Shepley and Jason Johns.

“They pulled lumber from deteriorating shacks, gathered pallets from alleyways and rusted tin from an old power house for the roof,” Robinson said.

Construction and decoration of the house cost less than $5,000. The largest chunk was devoted to equipment rental and labor. Art director Carmen Navis scoured Craigslist, estate sales, flea markets, thrift shops and roadsides in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where the film was shot.

“And we all picked through trash,” Navis said. “For a low-budget independent film, you Dumpster dive.”

These low-cost items, castoffs and found objects created a home, Robinson said.

“It’s no different than a lot of people’s first time moving out. You’re poor and you spend your money on ramen and beer,” he said. “You are happy with old worn-out furniture, milk crate shelves, an air hockey table someone got at Costco and put it in the garage and forgot about it until their 15-year-old kid carried it into the woods to use as a dinner table. The statement, theme and color palette are all the same: affordable necessity.”

Seeing suburban kids repurposing materials just might inspire some of those who see “The Kings of Summer,” Navis said. When the final scene was shot, there was a happy and appropriate ending. “All the metal got scrapped and recycled,” she said, “and framing and materials were donated to people building houses.”



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