The Jersey Shore is an odd place. Old and new at the same time, cutting edge and old fashioned co-existing somehow. It is the place where summer vacations were born and the heartbeat of rock and roll was first really heard. In the crashing of the waves and the lubrication of tanned bodies lies a lot of what makes America a fascinating and enduring place. There is truth and magic in this place that is evident as soon as you head down the Garden State Parkway. Here you find old and new woven into a unique and vital tapestry that is both so beautiful and strong. It is a place of deep paradox. It breeds people that find themselves moving forward with a strong sense of where they have been. It is a place that many in America feel died alongside with Atlantic City….but this is not the case. The shore includes Southern New Jersey, Delaware and Northern Maryland and is a unique culture onto itself.
For the last two weeks I had the honor of teaching a two week intensive on low budget film making at a Mid Atlantic University. My past experience in teaching generation Z’s and millennials has been more than frustrating . In classes of fifty I would be lucky to encounter two students who had the fire in their belly and a love of movies that would transport them into some level of personal success in this often demanding and brutal industry. Usually I would walk into a classroom, in some Ivy encrusted pillar of primarily Mid West post secondary education. The students would slowly saunter in, grasping some form of coffee, baseball caps adorning their heads and their faces painted with months of hard won cynicism. They would sit down look at me briefly, in an effort to size me up and would either wait for me to entertain them in some way or they would dispense with me and slowly descend into some form of stupor. Sometimes they would use the opportunity to catch up up on some sleep. At the end of my lecture, a couple would approach me and that would be that. I would leave the University shaking my head and wondering why I did this.
This was the first time I would engage with students over an extended period of time. I walked anxiously into a lab on the first floor of the University. Some students were already waiting for me. I was impressed ….over the next half hour the rest arrived. It was different looking group, not a single baseball cap, none had a cup of coffee and they all seemed to be pleased be there. When it was apparent that they were all there I started talking and asking questions they would answer intelligently and with a lot of passion. I was floored by their knowledge of cinema. They knew the giants of Italian Horror, were more than well versed with the classics of the 70’s and the 80’s and much more.
Now many of my contemporaries are of the opinion that film students really know no film made before 1997. I was one of those and these young filmmakers just shattered both my perception and my prejudice. What I was expecting was the same mediocre response I had witnessed before but what I saw in front of me were passionate young filmmakers and what I saw develop in front of me instilled within me a renewed hope for the movies.
The bulk of the two weeks was spent making a trailer for a movie based on an idea that one of the student’s had. It was a good idea based on the popular amusement known as The Escape Room. They all pitched in offering ideas and suggestions for scenes. They debated passionately for the inclusions of shots and scenes they thought would add to the suspense and the execution of the trailer. It was joyous to witness. The passionate and vital debate over ideas and concepts evolved into a working script that they all had authored. They produced the trailer using various locations on the Jersey Shore.
They all took on technical roles with the process of production, conceptualized shots and blocked actors. They recorded ambient sound with aplomb and anguished over lighting and camera movement. The vitality they brought to the process was intoxicating. The innovation and creativity exploded out of their cinematic souls and they brought forth a movie which was entertaining, polished and drew upon a body of cinematic precedent.
When they brought up movies which were made before they were born it made me realize that maybe movies were not dead, maybe I was witnessing the next generation of the torchbearers of cinema. These students were not polluted by either cynicism or doubt. After a couple of days they began to function like a well oiled machine which I feel with more practice could easy turn out market ready movies.
When the course ended, I wanted to let the students know how special they were as a team and how they had changed my perceptions and taught me much. They showed me that movies could be fun again and cinema could grow and prosper outside of the often cool and bitter world of world of Hollywood. They reminded me of the passion and joy I first had going down this road.
There is often a quiet joy in realizing that thankfully you were wrong about something. What these students taught me is that there is hope for the movies…..and that hope lives among the cool breezes, the crashing waves, and the burning sand of the wonderful Jersey Shore.
Who da thunk it….