ARCHIVE: A Sneak Preview in Circuit City

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Red Bank area native, movie actor and filmmaker Peter Dobson directing his project EXIT 102, which climaxes a daylong REELS & WHEELS event at various venues in Asbury Park.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit November 21, 2008)

He was Elvis, briefly and memorably, in Forrest Gump, and Joe DiMaggio in the TV movie Norma Jean and Marilyn. His many film projects include meaty roles in Last Exit to BrooklynThe Frighteners and Drowning Mona — and his many short-lived TV series include Johnny BagoLenny, Head Over Heels and, most memorably, Cover Me.

He’s 44-year old actor-writer-producer-director Peter Dobson — son of the Red Bank orbit, veteran of the Monmouth College stage, and a hi-profile prodigal who’s making a Shore homecoming in a big way this weekend.

Saturday marks a big day for the Madison Marquette company, developers of the Asbury Park oceanfront. As their its little Boardwalk website proclaims, “For the first time in decades, all retail pavilions on the Asbury Park Boardwalk are open.” The collection of newly minted and/or relocated businesses includes “three new gourmet restaurants” — among ‘em Langosta Lounge, the latest project from the estimable Marilyn Schlossbach.

To further call attention to the astonishingly busy scene on and around the boards, the developers have arranged this Saturday as Reels and Wheels day — a slate of happenings that includes a display of classic cars and bikes along Ocean Avenue, along with a workday’s worth of live music at some of the city’s most venerable venues.

At the center of it all is Exit 102, the film project from Dobson and co-producer Ran Ballard that’s scheduled for its first public sneak preview at 7pm, with a free screening at the Paramount Theatre. Billed as a “Trailer Premiere,” the 15-minute short version of what is still very much a work in progress can be more correctly sized up as a “teaser.” Dobson and company are putting the final touches on securing financing for completion of the feature, and plans are for the crew to resume filming at the onset of warmer weather in late spring of 2009.

Shot on location in and around Asbury Park last July — and set in the circa-1974 days of the Circuit, the Casino and a new club called the Stone Pony — Exit 102 features Dobson as a working-class joe who flashes back to his younger days as a young punk caught up in cool custom cars, cruising for chicks and an epic “battle between rock ‘n rollers and greasers.” Costas Mandylor, of the Saw films and TV’s Picket Fences, co-stars, along with Frank Vincent (best remembered as Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos).

Dobson and Mandylor will be on hand for a Q&A session following the screening, which will be preceded by a short set of tuneage featuring Status Green, whose singer Lou Montesano also figures prominently in the film’s cast. The Paramount event is free of charge, first-come first-served, and every-man-for-himself.

Visitors to the Paramount-Convention Hall complex will be treated to free sounds from Mike Butler (4pm) and Bob Polding (5:15pm) in the fully refurbished lobby now known as The Grand Arcade. Across the street, theWonder Bar hosts a menu of music that includes Gene Walk at 3:30pm,Maybe Pete at 4:15pm, Woodfish at 5:15pm and Matt O’Ree following the screening at 8pm. It’s 21 and up at the Wonder, with all ages invited everywhere else; full schedule available right here.

Wanna know more? Red Bank oRBit talked with Peter Dobson about his local background, his career and the project that he describes as “the best thing I ever did.” Read on for the full text.

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Peter Dobson directs SOPRANOS vet Frank Vincent (right) in EXIT 102, a “Trailer Premiere” for which screens at the Paramount in Asbury this weekend.

RED BANK ORBIT: Since we’re local guys, let’s work the local-boy-makes-good angle first and find out more about your history with Red Bank and Asbury Park.

PETER DOBSON: I was born in Riverview Hospital; lived on West Front Street out by River Plaza. You know who bought the house after we moved? Debbie Harry fromBlondie!

I went to Lincroft Elementary, Thompson Junior High and Middletown High School South — where I spent two years in tenth grade. I also lived for a while in Loch Arbour, so I have very vivid memories of hanging out in Asbury Park. I have a huge love of where I’m from — hanging out in downtown Red Bank, hitching over to Sandy Hook.

So you did some local theater around here, and it wasn’t too long before you were out west getting some decent parts. A lot of people really remember you for the movie Sing.

One of the very first things I did, from the same producer as Fame, only it wasn’t a hit. It’s an immensely popular cult film with college students these days. It was the 1980s, and my jeans were painted on me.

A lot of people also know you as Elvis in Gump, even if you’re barely visible.

That was for Robert Zemeckis, who I also worked with on the Johnny Bago series. We only did nine episodes. It was way ahead of its time, really expensive to produce.

I played Elvis again, in a movie called Protecting the King, which came out on DVD only. It’s by David Stanley, Elvis’s step-brother, you know? Believe it or not, it’s one of my more successful films — it’s enormously popular in Wal-Mart! But any big Elvis fan can’t stand the Stanley family.

But what you really wanted to do was direct! And when you got the opportunity, you looked to a story set in Asbury in the 1970s.

I always wanted to do a youth movie, an East of Eden for our time. I was dreaming about it every night —  something very much like American GraffitiThe Outsiders; a real movie with real teenagers. The story is set against a battle between two groups of blue collar kids, the greasers and the rockers. The greasers are the kids of the World War II-era guys, the guys who were putting nitrous oxide in their cars and creating the first hot rods.

And Lou Montesano plays the leader of the rockers, kind of a stand-in for Springsteen?

His character is called Johnny Balantine. This is like one year before Springsteen really exploded, you know? In the film we’re playing up this brand new club called the Stone Pony. It’s really causing friction with the Pagans, the bikers over at Mrs. Jay’s next door. Having the Pony there messed up their starting line.

I remember Mrs. Jay’s very well. All the bikes lining up outside, seems like several lifetimes ago.

When we were filming the short over the summer, we had members of the Pagans and The Breed come to the set — they’re still out there.

You mentioned filming the short, and I just wanted to clarify that what you’re going to be screening is not actually a trailer, but a condensed version of the story that you’re looking to present as a feature film — something with a beginning, a middle and an ending.

Right. We’re actually about set with the financing we were looking for to shoot the feature. One of our key investors actually used to come to Asbury in the 50s. He would come to see Dion and the Belmonts.

And will the cast be the same for the feature?

Costas will be back, as will Frank Vincent, who plays Charlie, a local bookie who bets on the drag races. He’s actually inspired by Costas, who will bet on anything. As for the teenagers, the people I used in the short were all local, like Matt Hoyle, who plays the younger version of my character. It was a very beautiful cast; they had pimples on their faces, qualities that you don’t find in Hollywood. A lot of people donated their time for this project, and I couldn’t have done it without Ran Ballard— he shot the movie, he was my producer, my editor, and my mother.

Are you looking to cast any big names in the feature?

I don’t wanna say anything’s definite, but we’re in talks with Kristen Stewart — we also approached Mickey Rourke, who looks increasingly like he’s actually going to get an Oscar nomination!

And after Twilight opens this weekend, I’ll bet Kristen Stewart’s price goes up.

She’s still expressed a lot of interest in this project. She’s the most unaffected actress I’ve ever met in LA.

So what’s next for you after the feature?

I’d like to retire after this one! Seriously, this movie’s all I care about. I have no girlfriend, no kids, I’m a lonely son of a bitch. This is my life!

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