Ocean City Monster Building (playing all day online at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival) focuses on a small sleepy town in upstate New York in 1984. The former mayor of the city is found dead on the backseat of his car with a local 15-year-old girl. In the aftermath, his wife of 30 years and his adopted daughter have to make sense of this difficult situation, while a detective from out of town is sent in to try to solve the case together with local law enforcement. Here is my interview with Ocean City Monster Building director Chris Lane:
Nigrin: Your very timely suspense thriller Ocean City Monster Building is about a former mayor of a sleepy town in upstate New York who is found dead with a local 15-year-old girl. Tell us what motivated you to make this film.
Lane: You know it’s interesting because this script is actually the first time I have ever finished a feature length screenplay in my whole life. Growing up with dyslexia and having moved to the US from Asia after graduating high school means I have always felt this distance between how I feel inside and what I’m able to articulate through language, especially written English language, which is possibly why I have always been drawn to film as a format. The only reason I was able to finish writing this script is because I knew I was going to make this film. For me the motivation is as simple as providing an answer for myself regarding the question of whether or not I can make a movie. I’ve always had a hint that I probably can, but to know the answer for sure in the sea of self-doubt I live in I have to actually make the movie. And that movie is Ocean City Monster Building.
Nigrin: Your whole cast ensemble is great. Especially Julie Joy Shin who plays Sally, the Mayor’s adopted daughter and Evelyn Maria Dia who plays the detective. Tell us more about them and how they came to be in your film.
Lane: I completely agree. Ensemble is just the word for it. I have always had this belief and I have vocalized this previously to the cast, that I look at actors as professional athletes, I’m a huge Manchester United and premier league fan and I’ve always made this analogy that putting together a cast is just like putting together a football team, you need players with different set of skills, different profiles playing in different positions coming together under one tactic, one principal of play and one overarching philosophy. The football players show up knowing how to play the sport already, they are experts in their roles and the reason why they are selected is because their profile fits the position the team needs to fill. So cast the best person for the role and let them do their job. I think the result in the final film speaks for itself, as much as I couldn’t possibly take even one ounce of credit for it, I can honestly say as a movie nerd that the performances in our film are some of the best I’ve seen in recent memory.
Nigrin: I was sorry to learn of the passing of Tory De La Hunt as there is an "In Memory" credit to her at the end of your film. She played a pitch perfect Amy Miller, the mother of the 15-year-old daughter Megan, in your film. What happened to her?
Lane: Again, I completely agree. Pitch perfect is the exact words I would use to describe her performance. Tory’s performance shines in every scene she’s a part of. I'm so proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together on this film. Tory was one of the first performers casted in the film, cast director Shelby is a longtime collaborator of mine, who went to film school around the same time I did, and I remember the moment we got her audition tape in, we knew we had hit the jackpot. Tory was incredibly involved in the rehearsal process both online and in-person as she made herself available not only on the days where she needed to work but also on the days where her scene partners had the majority of the pages. While on set she was brilliant and selfless on camera & easygoing and caring off camera, I consider it the honor of my professional career to have had the opportunity to work with her and the privilege of my personal life to have had the chance to meet her. The last communication I had with her was when she sent me a kind thank you email a week after production wrapped. I told her in my response that “the privilege is all mine and we did great work together!” I still remember the day I learned of her passing. I was working on postproduction coming home from the studio, I got an email from my producer and a few members of the cast informing me of the sad news. It was the worst day I had working on this film. Watching her memorial service was the only solace I was able to take. I really connected with her father’s speech about seeing the clouds in the sky, and when I was in San Diego doing a Q&A after screening the film, a question was put to me about her character. While answering the question I saw the screen behind me brighten up. I have never been someone that likes to read into things but if given the option I choose to believe, in some way, she was able to see just how incredible she is on the silver screen! https://memorialstream.online/tory-victoria-delahunt/
Nigrin: The washed-out cinematography and shaky hand-held camera work are really amazing and set the queasy tone of your film. Tell us about the look of your film and why you decided to make it this way.
Lane: Right, so the film is inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto, and we tried our very best to follow all the rules while adhering to our very limited budget. Actually, many of the official Dogme 95 films break the rules themselves. For me it’s not about the letters of the law, it’s more about the spirit of do-it-yourself filmmaking, even though ironically, many of the famous Dogme 95 films are studio backed million-dollar projects with big name actors and directors attached to it. Our film is shot for $65,000 completely self-produced, with a minimal crew and a few locations but it looks just like the films that went to Cannes or starring Mads Mikkelsen. Having been planning on making a film without any company backing for years, I had this debate over a thousand times with myself, way before I even wrote the first word of the script. What is the best approach when it comes to the look of the film when all I have is $65,000? To me there is no way to achieve the look of a 2-million-dollar movie without the correct camera, the correct frame, the correct lens and the correct lighting equipment. All things we couldn’t afford. So I’m left with two choices, make a movie that looks like a cheap imitation of the real thing, or make a movie that looks cheap but is supposed to look cheap. I’m not a huge fan of the postmodernist approach of self-referencing mockumentary so that’s not going to be an option for me. I am a huge fan of Sion Sono’s Love Exposure and the Dogme films, so I thought a combination of the two would be my best bet. I want the spirit of the Dogme films but because I’m a first-time filmmaker I cannot make the film look as jarring as the films of LvT or Thomas Vinterberg, because they have credits as established filmmakers, that people watching their films are gonna know they meant it for it to look like that. Whereas someone like me blind submitting it to a film festival is going to make all the screeners and programmers think I’m making Birdemic. So, I must smooth it out by adopting the camera movement and editing technique of Love Exposure to make sure there’s no illusions of my filmmaking competency.
Nigrin: Why did you decide to set the film in 1984?
Lane: Because one of the main themes of the film is how we humans learn no lessons from our history and gain no wiser from our mistakes. Just like Taylor Swift wrote in her lyrics “I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser.” Aren’t we all? 1984 is a time and a place that is not so far removed from our own but is just far enough removed from our own that we can sort of look at our world through this skewed lens. To me, everything is in the subtext and in order to achieve that I must employ the power of nostalgia and intertextuality.
Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?
Lane: I guess I would like our audience to know that our film is a deadpan dark comedy combined with a mystery thriller, so I hope on one hand you would have a few chuckles in the theater, while on the other hand you would be invested in the characters enough to dig a little deeper from the surface of the story. In regard to memorable stories, there are far too many to count, happy and sad, but I chose to keep them in my memory maybe selfishly but at the end of the day, a man’s got to have something left for himself.
Here is my interview with Ocean City Monster Building Lead Actor Evelyn Maria Dia:
Ocean City Monster Building screens at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival TODAY Saturday, February 4. The film will be Online for 24 Hours on this day! To buy tickets go here.
For General Info on the Film Festival go here: https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2023.eventive.org/welcome
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