Everyone has a little bit of dreamer deep inside. That special something one wants to accomplish despite the odds being totally against the mere thought of success.
While most people think of motion pictures as glitz and glitter, red carpets and agents, Rob Thorp and Bill Schlavis found time after their demanding day jobs were complete to make a full length feature motion picture about growing up at the Jersey Shore. The dark comedy follows a group of friends as they grow up, navigating the highs and lows of life in their 30s.
Call Thorp and Schlavis dreamers. Yet this week for two area educators – er – filmmakers, that dream will come to fruition.
The full length feature film, The Dirty Thirty, will be unveiled to the film’s supporters Thursday night in Asbury Park at Porta Bar and Restaurant.
Filmed in Asbury Park, Red Bank and Ocean Township over the summer of 2015, the twosome who are the brains behind Rucksack Films lived a long recurring dream to film The Dirty Thirty, feeding off the thought that some men are still boys after reaching adulthood. They live life, growing and expanding horizons while navigating the speed bumps of life.
No doubt that pulling together all the components needed to create a feature film without a major Hollywood backer could be considered, well, crazy, the two believed in their idea and themselves. Call them a little crazy for attempting to make an independent film while others merely pitch ideas to the movie studios, this labor of love was accomplished of for the most part over summer break.
“Several years ago we tried to launch a feature film – we’d completed some music videos and short films prior to then --- and it just didn’t happen. We were angry with ourselves for that failure,” explained Thorp, who teaches English and Film at Bridgewater Raritan High School and Brookdale Community College. “We regrouped and discussed various ideas, and kept coming back to one that centered around the existential dilemmas of relationships, modern dating life, the internet and thoughts about men still being boyish into their 30s. The youth culture is celebrated, and we felt we could tell an authentic story about the trials and tribulations of growing up.”
They started a working theme and outline of where they wanted to take the project, and worked hard collaborating on a story that had strong characters and felt logical and smooth and quickly agreed they were dead set on making the film themselves instead of pitching to Hollywood.
“We’d exchange ideas, develop the story line and agreed we wanted to do the film ourselves,” added Schlavis, who teaches history and coaches cross-country at Metuchen High School. “The final story centered around a group of friends, now in their 30s, who were over-worked, over-connected to social media and treading down a worn path of being adults with a bend toward acting like teenagers.”
“The script came directly out of conversations we were having with each other and our other friends,” added Thorp. “We basically just took these existentially bleak ideas and turned them on their head.”
Both dabbled in the arts in their own high school years, with Thorp taking a film class in high school and attending film schools in New York. He worked on a handful of short films, documentaries and music videos. Schlavis came into filmmaking through his audio background.
The team had a shoestring budget, helped in part by friends but also by a successful Kickstarter campaign, the idea of actually making the film became reality. They began assembling a cast, culled from an original notice that nearly 1,000 actors responded. That number was whittled down with auditions in New York City for the six ensemble parts Most were relatively new to the feature filming process, instead having worked primarily in web series productions, off-Broadway plays and student films. Each saw something they liked about the project and the creators.
Crowd funding with the Kickstarter platform clicked, as the team quickly raised over their expected goal and saw this as a good sign that their project might resonate with people.
“We had 82 sponsors, a lot of the donors were people we had never met,” said Schlavis. “They believed in the project. Every penny went to cast salaries, travel and crew meals. And we can’t say enough about friends and co-workers who believed in us and helped the cause in any way they could.
Co-lead Joshua Dye, was a lead on a music video the duo produced the preceding year, “I met Bill and Rob a year or so back on another project and when they told me about The Dirty Thirty, I was in before I read the script. You don’t often meet writers who tell stories the way they do.”
Another Co-lead, Ryan Patrick Wesen, who the story centers around, echoed Dye’s sentiments, “It was a top-to-bottom, great experience for an artist. Bill and Rob both believed in the actors and gave them room to work out their own dialogue. It’s pretty rare to have writers who trust their actors enough to ad lib.”
Also in starring roles are Mike Sause, Caralyn Collar, Jessie Ruane and Comfort Clinton, with Amanda Bear, Laura Winters, and Erica Boozer.
With the principal cast ready, Rob and Bill assembled a small, skeleton crew of local artists that could quickly transition between roles as needed. Using local talent (film students from the Tri-state area), they found eager, talented and hardworking members who felt as they did about taking ownership of a shared experience. Everyone chipped in, shared work and laughs long into the night.
“There were times when we were on set for 12 or 14 hours,” said Thorp. “Things can get bad fast, emotions and feelings can easily get in the way of the project if people don’t respect each other. That never happened on our set, not once. We genuinely had fun every day.”
The Dirty Thirty is as much about location as the characters and plot. Both Thorp and Schlavis live in Monmouth County and spend a lot of time in Asbury Park and Red Bank areas.
“We wanted the film to reflect the Jersey Shore we love,” added Thorp, who thanked all for permission to film at some of the area’s premier locations. “Businesses like Jamians, America’s Cup, Happyness opened their doors to us and let us shoot. The result was an authentic feeling atmosphere to film and to act in for our cast.
“It was a whole lot of fun filming in the area,” added Clinton, whose recent career has seen stints appearing on Law and Order, Special Victims Unit and other television shows. “It added to the realism and local flavor.”
Over the course of roughly 7 weeks, the small crew and cast made their way around the Jersey shore, filming 5-6 days a week until, on the last night of summer, at Bill’s parents’ house, they wrapped the film. Filming done, the team spent time in their editing suite (Schlavis’ bedroom) the team would review, take notes and work implementing revisions and building film toward its final cut.
“We’d meet when we could – we have full-time positions remember – and we’d be amazed at how the film slowly took shape. We both can be hyper critical of our own work, but we saw we were hitting on all cylinders. From raw cut to color correction to sound and music being added we thought we were going to have a product we’d be proud of. As we continued the project we liked what we were doing.”
Thorp was complimentary of his teammate. “Bill’s a renaissance man, he can play 5 instruments and is always in a band or two at any given moment. When we decided to do original music for the movie, Bill stepped in and basically scored it by hand with songs he had written and would write directly for the project.”
After this week’s screening the duo will be applying The Dirty Thirty to film festivals nationwide and hoping for a slightly larger audience to see the film.
Movie completed, Thorp and Schlavis are preparing for the new school year. This isn’t Hollywood where one takes meetings in hopes of the next project.
Movie Notes: The Dirty Thirty was written by Bill Schlavis and Rob Thorp in the fall of 2014 and stars Ryan Patrick Wesen, Joshua Dye, Lauren Wickel, Mike Sause, Jessie Ruane and Comfort Clinton. Rob Thorp directs, with Bill Schlavis editing and scoring the music…Golf Bucks County’s own Robert B. Oliver is an Executive Producer and appears in the film as an elder “Skirt Chaser in Bar” role…The film will be submitted to various competitions for review.