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Director Craig Singer is pictured at left, with his “6:45″ cast members Thomas G. Waites, Augie Duke, and…….?
Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), March 19, 2020
In the midst of everything that’s come to pass within these last several days — the spawling spectre of a global pandemic; the calls for “social distancing” and unprecedented disruption to everyday/night life; the mandated curfews and closings of all places of public gathering — a body can almost take a curious kind of comfort from such dependably terrorific touchstones as spooky spirits, grisly murders, and descents into vortexes of hellish horror and madness.
Of course, staying home only feels safe and snug when the house in which one lives — in this correspondent’s case, the Stephen Crane House in Asbury Park — doesn’t happen to be an in-demand location for film crews from ghost-chaser TV shows, paranormal investigators, and producers of supernatural fright epics.
So it was that one recent winter’s day found the 140 year old historic site playing host to a large crew of young actors, technicians, and production assistants, led by Craig Singer, a veteran producer/ director/ screenwriter who’s worked with such diverse talents as Robin Givens, Neil Patrick Harris, Debbie Harry, Lainie Kazan, Matthew Lillard, Michael Rappaport, and Mickey Rourke.
The Jersey Shore native was back on familiar turf — Asbury Park, where several of his projects have been set and/or filmed — to lens a few scenes for his latest feature-length work in progress; a chiller entitled “6:45.” It’s a “time-loop” tale in which a man (young horror-movie veteran Michael Reed) is forced to re-live the same day over and over — a day that saw tragedy befall his female companion (Augie Duke of Netflix’s Messiah) on an outing to the seemingly benign New England seashore resort of Bog Grove. Think Groundhog Day if you must — only in place of the groundhog seeing his shadow, substitute a mysterious shrouded interloper known only as the Shadow Man.
“It’s a great feeling, to be back doing a low-budget indie film here on the Shore,” says the industry pro whose recent résumé includes a stint as an exec with the Disney organization (“a wonderful journey; incredible company”), a gig that he secured when the giant entertainment concern acquired a small Tribeca-based company co-founded by Singer. “I get to work with a young, hungry group of filmmakers — and I get to sleep in my own bed at night!”
Currently “knee deep in post-production,” the project that wrapped shooting this past Valentine’s Day also utilized locations that included downtown Asbury’s Bangs Avenue and exteriors in Ocean Grove, as well as additional “Bog Grove” settings in such Ocean County locales as Seaside Heights, Toms River, and Lavallette. The film that’s on track to hit the festival circuit in summer 2020 (a foreign distribution deal is also in the works) further boasts an intriguing supporting cast that includes veteran character actor Thomas G. Waites (“Windows” in the John Carpenter cult horror fave The Thing), hip hop artists Remy Ma and The 45 King — and, doing double duty as actor and co-producer, former pro boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
“6:45” stars Augie Duke and Michael Reed (at front left) are pictured with Craig Singer and crew, on location in Toms River.
“Ray’s an old hand at this — he’s done seven or eight films already, and he’s working here with his son Leo, where they play a couple of police detectives,” says Singer, who credits the fact that “I’m my own casting director” for 6:45’s eclectic ensemble. “I’ve actually been working with him for years, on a Mickey Rourke picture (Monkey’s Nest) that we’re hoping to start shooting in April.”
Rourke, of course, has his own strong Asbury connection courtesy of Homeboy, the grim 1988 boxing story (filmed almost entirely in the down-and-dirty Asbury Park of the late 80s) that predated the writer-star’s own foray into pro boxing. The actor would return to the AP waterfront in 2008 for his Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler — while Craig Singer would mine his fascination with the city in three other passionate projects.
Art from OLLIE MONGO, a collaboration between producer Craig Singer and famed animator Arlene Klasky.
The first of those projects was Dead Dogs Lie, a 2001 action comedy-drama in which a trio of professional assassins (including one portrayed by Scottish-born Sons of Anarchy actor Tommy Flanagan) is thrown together “road trip” style on an assignment whose objective remains suspicicously unknown to the hit-people. Completed in 2001 but never given a formal wide release, the “glorious 16mm” production makes good use of such gritty bygone Asbury locations as the old Flamingo Motel (as well as Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital and turn-of-the-last-century Ocean Grove). A winner of Best Dramatic Feature honors at that year’s Atlantic City Film Festival, Dead Dogs Lie can be viewed at vimeo.com/113405566.
Then there’s the feature that might rank as the most widely seen Singer-directed project — the 2006 horror opus and cable-TV staple Dark Ride, in which Jamie Lynn Sigler (Meadow in The Sopranos) plays one of a group of teens who run afoul of a psycho serial killer hiding out inside a boardwalk spookhouse attraction — and in which Santa Monica, CA does duty as a fantasy version of Asbury Park (seen only in some fleeting glimpses of exteriors).
“The inspiration for Dark Ride actually came from a visit to Wildwood,” says Singer of the film that was picked up for release by the distributor Lion’s Gate. “It’s a story that follows certain horror film tropes, but we tried to do some different things with it.”
Still very much on the drawing board — and introduced to the public during the 2011 “Undead Festival” extension of the Asbury Park Zombie Walk — Ollie Mongo is a “digital comic book” co-created by Singer in partnership with latterday-legend animator Arlene Klasky, whose Klasky Csupo studio is best known for Nickolodeon’s Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and Aaahh!! Real Monsters (to say nothing of the early seasons of a little phenomenon known as The Simpsons). Set in a “post-apocalyptic Asbury Park” that feels a lot like AP from the end of the last century, Ollie Mongo spotlights the adventures of a teenage zombie skateboarder whose superhuman powers include a telepathic bond with the painted image of Tillie — and whose 23rd century escapades are still being pitched to prospective patrons of a feature-length toon or animated series. Check out the Asbury-filmed live action video tribute to Ollie, “Killin’ the Game” by hip-hop group Zombieluv, at youtube.com/watch?v=F3Gfdqcf3js.
“The media landscape changes on a day to day basis…people right now are looking for the big tent-pole franchise, with a CGI fix…but when it comes to horror, I have a real love and respect for the genre,” explains the filmmaker whose other forays into the fright field include the zombies-and-serial-killers epic Perkins’ 14, and the in-development endeavor The Block. “There’s a little hometown Jersey DNA in everything I do.”