From Cancun to Harvard

David Ingber '07 Gets 'Real'

He has a publicist. His first movie opens nationwide today. He’s sworn to secrecy, forbidden by his nine-month contract from divulging any plotlines in the widely publicized release.

Sarah Hughes, forward cross-step aside. This prefrosh weekend, another prospective undergrad could rival last year’s Olympic figure skating champion for the distinction of the most famous member of Harvard’s class of 2007.

David W. Ingber ’07 of Cohasset, Mass. will be moving into Harvard Yard this fall as an established movie star. He appears in The Real Cancun, which opens today in theaters nationwide.

Acting on a whim, Ingber responded to an open casting call publicized in the Boston Globe last fall. Soon, he had landed a ticket for an eight-day spring vacation to a beachfront Mexican villa along with fifteen other students. And in exchange for sunshine—an alluring option for any Massachusetts resident—Ingber agreed to have his life filmed 24 hours a day for the duration of the trip. The creators of MTV’s The Real World and Road Rule auditioned 10,000 students from around the country, whittling 500 hours of film footage into a 90-minute feature film that could be the first of a new genre of movies—the “reality” film.

“I am a pretty open person, and they want that. They want people who are willing to show themselves,” Ingber says.

Although the casting directors were aware that Ingber had gained early admission to Harvard, he says he wasn’t “pigeonholed” into the stereotype of the overachieving but inexperienced Ivy League student.

Ingber says he “stayed relatively in control” throughout the filming. But, as Ingber implies, everything is relative—especially when in the company of what he calls the “veteran partiers” who made up much of the Real Cancun cast.

The Real Cancun marks the first major attempt to bring reality footage to the big screen. Ingber sees a lot of potential in the new genre, saying that people will be drawn to the movie because “it has all the components of a good college movie, but, in this case, the emotions and reactions are real, not scripted.”

The unscripted nature of reality television genre intrigues Ingber, who calls himself a “big fan” of Survivor 2. He had seen The Real World prior to auditioning but was no fanatic of the long-running MTV series.

Once on the set of his own filmed reality, Ingber recognized the producers’ ability to shape storylines and create skewed characters. He admits that interviewers were “very adept at shaping their questions to elicit particular responses,” and he says he made an effort to stay on his toes, ensuring that he was “in control of what comes across.” Ingber had no control over the editing process and no say into what went into the final product, which he says he finds “nerve-racking.”

But he says he has faith in his producers, who he feels will create a film reflective of the spring break experiences the cast shared.

“At some point you just have to trust the producers that they know how to make the best project,” he said. “They want the movie to be the funniest it can be, the most dramatic it can be, and bottom line, the most entertaining.”

Asked if there is anything he wishes the class of 2007 wouldn’t know about, Ingber laughs. If anything in the final cut causes him embarrassment, he says he will simply remind himself that his sacrifice was all in the name of entertainment.

“It might be embarrassing but…I will get over it,” he said.

The movie’s producers designed a vacation that included all the hallmarks of the MTV-style spring break—lots of alcohol, lots of parties and plenty of scandalous beach behavior.

The cast and crew took up the entire Baccara Hotel, which is on Cancun’s famous “Hotel Strip.” While Ingber and his best friend were the two high school seniors selected to be members of the cast, they quickly adapted to the lifestyles of the college-age members of the cast. However, the experience revealed to the natural performer what goes on behind the scenes of reality programming.