Seaside Heights officials are proactively seeking to become a central part of New Jersey’s fast-growing filmmaking industry, embracing the publicity that movies and documentaries can provide with the specific aim of shedding the debauchery of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” that helped put the borough on the map.
While the idea might sound like a reach, the pieces may fit well into place. Netflix has purchased much of the former Fort Monmouth site and is investing a staggering $850 million into developing productions studios there. The mega-studio will feature a dozen sound stages, editing facilities and back lots that can support high-end filmmaking. In announcing the deal in December, Gov. Phil Murphy specifically noted the location being adjacent to the Jersey Shore, saying the company’s “transformative investment will serve as a cornerstone in our efforts to create a thriving industry from whole cloth.” The Netflix studios are expected to generate billions of dollars of production work, and New Jersey has breathed new life into its Motion Picture & Television Commission over the past several years, attracting numerous production studios to choose the Garden State for filming.
Mayor Anthony Vaz received the go-ahead from the borough council last week to write a letter to the state commission and pitch the town’s resources and rapid redevelopment efforts to the state agency.
One thing is for sure, Vaz said – there will “absolutely not” be a repeat of a production like “Jersey Shore” filmed in town. The borough has adopted ordinances which require licensure for filming, and would likely expand and deepen such an approval process if the plan to attract nationally-recognized studios comes to fruition. Vaz said the borough would benefit from a more thriving business community, and license fees could aid in continued improvements around town.
“This is about filmmaking of first-class films by major producers – dramas, comedies, documentaries,” said Vaz. “We have accommodations, a beautiful beach in the summer, spring, winter and fall. We have a quiet community that can be portrayed in the winter, or hustle and bustle during the summer. I think we have a great opportunity for Seaside Heights to venture into something like that.”
Indeed, the goal would be to attract filmmakers who would represent the antithesis of the hard-partying chaos portrayed on MTV, which has largely died out in Seaside Heights with the demise of numerous nightclubs, most of which are being replaced by high-end residential and mixed-use properties which will line a glistening Boulevard business district.
“There would be more press showing that Seaside has really changed,” said Vaz. “We want to be known as a destination to visit, to show off.”
Vaz said the idea was sparked after he met up with a childhood friend in the movie industry who was in Red Bank to film a production last year. He’s hoping to get the ear of the state commission, which could potentially advocate for the borough and some of its unique settings.
“We have an atmosphere – the ocean, the bay, boating, even the bridge,” said Vaz. “There are opportunities here for documentaries as well, and we have an opportunity to become a base for filmmaking. We’d like to give them a tour of Seaside Heights and the neighboring area. I think we have a mecca for real positive growth with good, national businesses.”
The mayor acknowleged that he’s likely to receive some criticism given the borough’s history with MTV, but if the plan were to develop as envisioned, a review process would be established to consider the granting of permits, and perhaps a committee – similar to a body like the planning board – could review proposals along with the police department and other government agencies.
“If we would be recognized as a ‘ventured area,’ I have an idea of setting up a bi-partisan committee in town – businesses, property owners, residents,” he explained.
The plan could potentially signal part of Seaside Heights’ turnaround.
“We don’t want the past to haunt us,” Vaz said. “We want productions that will be professionally done and provide a benefit to the viewer. We have this beautiful area, why not show it off?”