A low-budget, high-stakes gangster film shot on the central Jersey shore, West End satisfies every genre craving you might have—location, characters, clever plot twist—while subtle, contemporary camera movements make it far more than simple genre. Availability: Opens digitally November 19.
DT: You have a great voiceover on the end credits. Let’s start with that. Why do people admire gangsters?
JB: The everyday person is stuck in the doldrums of life. There’s a perceived freedom in a gangster’s life. They live outside of the law and play by their own rules. They manipulate the system. That’s the admiration. Gangsters live life on their own terms—until the term is twenty to life in the joint.
DT: What do you like about gangster movies?
JB: Good gangster movies explore the good and the bad of life in a world filled with conflict and complex characters. The themes are universal; love, honor, family, right and wrong. Why not explore those themes in a world that’s not so neatly wrapped? There’s a built-in tension inherent in a story about criminals. Crime heightens the stakes. It’s visceral. Someone’s life is always on the line. Wrong choice, you could be dead.
DT: How much, and in what ways, did you consciously model your film after the ’70s movies you like so much?
JB: In the ’70s, movies took their time and engaged the audience. They were character driven. Relationships were built. The story was told visually. Actions spoke, sometimes, louder than words. Information wasn’t crammed into the dialogue. It came in an organic way that was true to the story. Most importantly, the actors lived it. Their performances weren’t only about emotion, they were physical. It got messy, and the audience was right there in the thick of it.
With West End I wanted to make a movie that engaged the audience, had relatable characters with real relationships, and told the story in a smart way. I wanted to create dynamic scenes that were visually interesting. I wanted my actors to live in the scene, not just stand and talk. Life isn’t always neat and orderly. I wanted them to find the emotion through its behavior, to express their emotion physically. I didn’t want it to be comfortable, especially for Vic.
Lastly, in the ’70s the camera was more like a hole in the wall, a way in to see the lives of the characters in the movie. I wanted that voyeuristic feel with West End.
DT: Talk about how you place the camera and use camera movements to augment the feeling in the film.
JB: The decision on where to place the camera always came down to story. If it didn’t serve the story, we didn’t do it.
The Jersey Shore itself is a character in the movie, so I wanted to show it. I shot big. Wide master shots allowed me to show the Jersey Shore’s landscape. The picturesque shots of Seaside Heights’ boardwalk, the Manasquan Inlet, and almost all the locations give West End its authenticity. Seaside Heights made it easy for us to shoot. For a minimal event fee we were permitted to shoot anywhere we wanted. The mayor said that as long as we shot on private property, we “could kill anyone we wanted.”
In most of the wide masters, I framed my actors a touch off center. This makes the audience look for the scene, it keeps them engaged.
Like I said, I wanted to give my actors the space to find the behavior of the scene. I wanted them to get down and dirty. I’m an Italian American from New Jersey; sometimes just sitting at the dinner table is combative. If Vic just walked through town, West End would be very boring. I gave my actors the space to play. Wide twos, loose ones, allowing the actors to play the physicality of life.
For me, camera movements should be subtle. If a dolly move could bring me into the scene, let me play a scene out, give me a moving master, I did it. I would use a slow push in or out to help punctuate a scene. Hand-held shots let me get gritty. They allowed me to play a scene out, let the actors explore the scene within the boundaries of their performance.
For example, the scene after the “Welcome Home” party when Vic, Buddy, and Lauren go to a beach parking lot and reminisce about old times. We shot that handheld and for the most part with natural light. We rehearsed, got the general parameters of the scene, and then my actors were allowed to play. We started wide. Wide twos, sometimes three, and as the tension in the scene rose, we got in tighter.
DT: What kind of work did you do with your actors?
JB: One of the pitfalls of making a limited-budget film is that there’s no time for any real rehearsal. Because the script had been with me for fifteen years and many, many rewrites—many rewrites—I knew the characters and story intimately. On the day, we’d discuss the scene, rehearse, block, tweak, shoot and tweak.
I’m fortunate to have many talented friends. I know Joe Nieves (Buddy), Pete Onorati (Uncle John), Wayne Duvall (Fat Patty) and the majority of the cast personally. Since I had a personal relationship with them I had an open dialogue about character and story. My casting director brought me Neal Bledsoe (Vic), Melissa Archer (Lauren), Eric Roberts (Victor) and Paul Calderon (Mackey). All pros.
Everyone in the cast came to play. I was very fortunate that way. My cast made that part of the job easy.
DT: What are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting on a low budget?
JB: Time and money are both the biggest disadvantage and advantage. If you don’t have that much of either, you have to play smart. Because of the budget, we had an aggressive shooting schedule. We shot ninety-one pages and twenty-four locations in eighteen days.
Luckily, I had a year of preproduction. During this time, I trimmed eleven pages from the script. The script got smarter, the story got sharper, the characters and relationships got more defined. I also lost locations and characters, which made the shooting schedule more manageable. The community support was unbelievable. I met a lot of people who offered a lot of help. All the locations were free. The catering was donated. All the show cars were donated and most of the props. Crew and cast vans were donated, and so were the hotel rooms for the cast.
All that was a huge help, but I had to be creatively fluid. As physical locations were offered, locations in the script would change to suit the acquired location. For example, when we got Club Merge, “Teen Night” was on the outside billboard. I wrote it into the script.
I had a very capable crew. My actors were top notch—both cast and crew were committed. In the end, we got the job done because of that. You always look back and say, “I would’ve liked to…” I believe that’s the case, whether you’re building a building, painting a picture, or shooting a movie. You’re always going to see something that could have been better. The trick is making it the best film with what you have. With a limited budget, you can’t be locked into your vision. That’s the game, exploiting your limitations to reach the end goal. In this case a feature film.
DT: How are you going about self-promoting the film?
JB: This is really where a limited budget restricts you. As hard as the making of West End was, it was within my control. The problems were solvable. To get your movie seen is out of your control.
I’m looking to start small and build an audience. West End is Jersey. If you’re from the Tri-State area, you really get it. That’s the audience I’m looking to hit, no pun intended. I feel a grassroots type of promotion is best, word of mouth and community. In the end, I have to believe that good work will find its way.
Like the old shampoo commercial says, “You tell two friends, and they tell two friends and so on and so on.”
DT: Anything you want to add?
JB: After people watched the film, they’d come up to me and, thankfully, say something nice. Then they’d say, “You know, it could be a television show.” That’s always been in the back of my mind. I have Vic’s journey outlined for the first three seasons. Who knows?
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