OCEAN CITY - Every time he comes back home, Joey Eulo goes out to his favorite jetty, on the beach at Fifth Street, to watch the sun rise. That pile of solid rocks reminds him of the good times growing up in Ocean City 30 years ago.
But not all those old days were good ones for Eulo, who's now 39 and living in the Union County town of Roselle. He and his older sister were raised by a single mother who had to work hard after his father abandoned the young family. A little Joey used to wander the streets of Ocean City, seeing all the happy families having fun in America's Greatest Family Resort, and wonder what happened to his own family.
He's still working out his answers today, but he has tools and friends to help him deal with the questions. His main tool today, and all weekend, will be the movie camera he'll carry around Ocean City to shoot a film called "Chasing Shadows."
Eulo is making his movie as a college project - this one-time special-education student is happy to say he's now earning honors grades at the New School in New York, nearing graduation from its film program and hoping to earn a living making documentaries. "Chasing Shadows" is his senior thesis, but he's also hoping to show a finished product sometime this summer in Ocean City, ideally in a theater on his hometown Boardwalk.
That would be fitting for a movie that's been adopted as something of a civic project in the town. Eulo lists two Ocean City notables as his executive producers - one is Mark Soifer, the town's idea-a-minute (for decades) public-relations wizard, and the other is Flossi Micciolo, the founder and guiding spirit of the Ocean City Repertory Theater.
On a day of pre-production work around town this week, Micciolo ran off a list of more than 10 local restaurants and grocery stores that are donating food for the cast and crew. The Ocean City Tabernacle will be the movie's staging area all weekend, and other people are arranging housing for cast members from out of town.
"When you film in New York or Los Angeles, where they make movies all the time, people are jaded," says Micciolo, who lived in both media capitals before she moved to Ocean City in 2001. "But here in Ocean City, we're loving it."
She also is the casting director for "Chasing Shadows," and estimates 60 percent of the cast is from the Ocean City area. The rest Eulo recruited from the New York area before his old friend, Soifer, put him in contact with Micciolo.
"(Joey) didn't know if there were any actors down here," Micciolo said, walking down the Boardwalk toward one key shooting location, those rocks on the beach. "Now he knows there's an abundance of actors in Ocean City."
Eulo emphasizes that he dramatized parts of his real life story for his movie - the details of which he has on his Facebook page, chasingshadowsocnj. He says the story he'll film is "loosely" based on his days growing up in the town, and adds one dramatic difference is that his own mother, Anna, was definitely not the abusive, alcoholic character he wrote for the screen.
"I have a great relationship with my mother," Eulo says, standing on the Ocean City Music Pier - another shooting location. "She had it rough: She was 22, she had two kids and my father abandoned her. ... She had to work to keep a roof over our heads."
And by the time he was 9, Joey was trying to help out at home with some cash. He hustled around town for money, carrying groceries or packages for shoppers or "pestering local merchants for small jobs," as Soifer puts it. Eulo also used to go into local offices to see if he could make some money, which is where he met Soifer, the city's chief spokesman.
"Joey had street smarts," Soifer says now, adding one of the boy's greatest talents was "dodging the truant officer. He had hideouts under the Boardwalk."
Eulo says Soifer was a father figure to him, and a reason to be hopeful about the world. He remembers Soifer buying him a winter coat - the boy thought the brand, London Fog, was a strange name for a coat. But he knows Soifer took him to Stainton's, the since-closed downtown department store, to get the coat.
And Eulo admits as a kid, he was no stranger to the truant officer, or the local police. He didn't like school, where "I believed I was a dummy," and where he remembers being ignored by one teacher in particular. He also was picked on by bullies - one reason he wrote a bullying scene into his movie. So he played hooky whenever he could.
"I was inside the police station more times than I can count," Eulo adds, sometimes for one of his favorite money-earning tricks: On sunny days in summer, he'd put on an official-looking apron and charge drivers $2 to park in a city-owned lot - where the parking was actually free. He would also grab a stack of newspapers out of an honor box, then sell them one by one and pocket the cash.
But, he adds, the truth is no gritty story of being hauled in by nasty cops.
"The police really looked out for me," says Eulo, who later dropped out of Ocean City High School, but whose work experience as an adult includes a series of computer-related jobs, among them web designer, technician and network administrator.
And he now realizes America's Greatest Family Resort treated him as part of the family too.
"If I grew up anywhere else, I might not be here," Eulo says. "Ocean City acted as a guardian" - and he adds he could have sub-titled his movie, "Angels of Ocean City."
Some of his old favorite haunts in the town are in his film. The 9-year-old actor playing Eulo in "Chasing Shadows" will go into Shriver's Salt Water Taffy this afternoon to watch candy being made through the big window in the back of the store - then the hungry character will head out to the Boardwalk to make the money he needs to get himself some taffy.
The real Joey Eulo will also be there to film the boy going into Jilly's Arcade to play Skee Ball, on the same machines Eulo played when he hung out there. The little hustler will even find a quarter in a pinball machine's coin return - sure, the real Joey always checked, and sometimes scored.
He was back home this week, making his final setups to shoot in those spots and more today and Sunday. And he has plans for more film projects in Ocean City - including an Ocean City Film Festival, which he has been talking about with Micciolo, from the Repertory Theater.
"It will be for films shot in Ocean City, or about Ocean City," Eulo says.
He knows the stories are out there, because he lived one of them. And his Ocean City story is still going on - as shore stories will, sometimes from long distance.
"Even when I'm up there," Eulo says, meaning at home in North Jersey, "it calls me back."
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