Several films and television shows have been filmed in New Jersey. City By The Sea starring Robert DeNiro and Frances McDormand was probably one of the best-known films to be shot in the Asbury Park area. And while the movie was pretty much a dud, the location was a natural. As I have read, the filmmakers apparently used Asbury as a substitute for Long Beach, New York, due to its already dilapidated visages, which were intentionally made to look much more dilapidated than either town ever was in real life, if that is possible.
Kevin Smith has also used the area pretty extenseivly, shooting Chasing Amy and Dogma in the coastal area. Dogma actually has a great scene where Alanis Morrisette (she plays God) takes human form so that she can get in some skeeball time on the Asbury Boardwalk. And who could blame her? Even before the onslaught of redevelopement, the decomposing landscape and surrounding boardwalk area had maintained a pull on people hungry for its past mysteries, triumphs, and tragedies. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the area and it continues to draw memory hunters from all walks of life.
Exit 102 is the creative end product of Peter Dobson and Ran Ballard. Director and actor Peter Dobson is a natural in this environment, kicking his dual role as leading man and director like it was a walk in Monroe Park. Dobson’s works include roles in Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Marrying Man, Forest Gump, The Big Squeeze, Drowning Mona, and my personal favorite, Protecting The King, where he plays a crazed ‘70s Elvis with such conviction it sends chills down the spine. I especially like the interpretation of Elvis towards the end of his life and drugged out of his mind. Thinking that his own cousin had stolen some money, Elvis brandishes a fully-loaded M-16 at his head backstage at the Garden. Classic.
Ran Ballard has long been a name associated with the entertaianment industry, working first in the movie business straight out of high school on shows like Welcome Back Kotter, Good Times, The Gong Show (my favorite) and so many others. His grandfather and his father were special effects men going all the way back to the golden days of Hollywood and working on legendary projects like Deen Martin’s Matt Helm movies and many TV shows. As a musician, he worked with monster names like Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Elton John, just to name the top of rock and roll’s royalty. His role as both producer and writer (along with Marc Clebanoff) was well formed for this movie, bringing a pure and accurate portrayal of 1974 in Asbury Park. Exit 102 can be best described as West Side Story-meets-The Warriors and American Graffiti. Very retro and period correct.
Other key players for this film include Danny Jouett, former security guy for the Stone Pony and working actor. Danny’s role as line producer and East Coast liaison is invaluable and came about from his longtime friendship with Dobson. Danny is another New Jersey guy who is on the acting fast track, having had roles in Carlito’s Way and just finishing a brand new flick with none other than Lauren Bacall (the film is entitled Zenith and due out next year).
And of course photographer Mike Black, whose key role as still photographer and assistant producer on the film were instrumental in getting the right “still” vibe visually here on the coast. Mike told me how he got involved in the movie: “Asbury Park is an obsession of mine, I photograph the place constantly, and Peter and Ran told me they were able to use my photos of Asbury Park to sell the movie, which was cool, and they found I knew a bit about the place, different locations, local history, and they asked me aboard as an associate producer, and here I am.”
Set in 1974, Exit 102 is a breezy and well-recreated step back in time to a place that, while it struggled with its identity, was still theh melting pot of the most original characters in the East, melding biker gangs with club kids (way before the phrase was born) rockers and greasers, as well as local organized crime all existing within its fragile small town balance. The synopsis for Exit 102 starts with a middle-aged guy (Dobson’s character) sitting on his porch, waiting to get picked up for work and reminiscing about the old days. His mind takes him back to this raucous times of Asbury’s heyday and director Dobson wastes no time grabbing you by the collar and yanking you right into the film.
The viewer gets hit with the opening flourish, a ‘73 GTO roaring down the GSP, period correct, full-throttled and badass. The storyline takes you to the brand new Stone Pony Club taking over the area of Pagan’s motorcycle gang hangout Mrs. Jays and the friction it creates between the bikers, rockers and the greasers as it escalates to the boiling point.
Conflict also arises between the business and the mob, with club owner Jack, played by Costas Mandylor (Saw 3, 4,5 Payback and Beowulf) going up against underworld bookie Charlie Trimboli, played by the awesome Frank Vincent (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Sopranos and many more). Vincent’s inclusion in the film not only lends to the authenticity, but is a great sign of a project that has longevity as he doesn’t sign onto just anything. I met him at the premier last month and he told me, “I’m 100 percent happy to be part of this film. I’ve known Peter for awhile and I have faith in this movie and everyone involved in the production. It’s been a lot of fun.” And of course he plays Trimboli like a seasoned pro, pulling up to the curb on Ocean Ave in a ‘69 suicide door-equipped Lincoln Continental to tell the Dobson to take care of that “thing” tonight. Classic stuff as Trimboli and Jack use the gang factions to get their dirty work done in town and on the streets.
Exit 102 is a gritty gem of a film that takes the viewer back to the golden years when loyalty and honor was the code and meant way more than carrying a glock and wearing your baggy pants down off your ass. It showcases a better time for many and is centered on the vibe of a close knit community on the brink of life changing turmoil.
The premiere took place in November at the Paramount Theater and was an outstanding success. Peter and Ran told the packed house that they had received full funding (14 million dollars) and are ready to go full bore. Madison Marquette’s Meagan Olivera told me that attendance numbers were around 1,000. It was great to see that the whole town turned out to support and cheer so wildly as the screen lit up. To me it represented a triumphant sounding for a town that’s weathered everything and survived. I’d like to think of the representation of the film as Leonardo made its mark with Clerks, and now Asbury Park looks to have its own new hit with Exit 102. Filming for the final full version will take place this spring in the Asbury Park Area. For further information go to myspace.com/asburyparktribute.
Photo Credit: Mike Black