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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Ice Grills and The Real Jersey Shore
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Right now MTV's Jersey Shore is one of the most talked about shows on all of television. The exploits of over-tanned self described “guidos” and “guidettes” with names like JWOWW, The Situation, and Pauly D have hooked viewers like a powerful drug. According to filmmakers, and longtime New Jersey residents, Greg Santarsiero and Mark Bernardi, however, there’s little problem with the show - the vast majority of it has nothing to do with what life is really like on the Jersey Shore.

Santarsiero and Bernardi grew up together in the Jersey Shore area of Brigantine, NJ, right outside of Atlantic City, sharing mutual interests in basketball, hip-hop and film. They wrote their first script when they were in college and that script became the independent film Rise By Sin. “We didn’t go to film school,” Bernardi explains, “Rise by Sin was our film school.” Continually inspired by the storytelling aspects of hip-hop and the individuality of acts such as the Wu-Tang Clan, the two friends saw a community of characters around them with everyone going by nicknames and creating their own slang, and realized these were the stories they wanted to tell. Those stories became the basis for their second independent film, Ice Grill, USA.

Backed by a killer score that was done by The Roots’ manager and executive producer, Rich Nichols, and with a soundtrack that features the likes of Atmosphere, El-P, Kidz in the Hall, Bronze Nazareth, Big Noyd, Blu and Jake Lefco, the Ice Grill, USA story of one man’s attempt to make it in Atlantic City is striking a chord in the indie film circuit. This week I caught up with Santarsiero and Bernardi to find out more about the film, how their main character, Auggie Logan, represents a lot of America, and what it’s really like in Atlantic City and on the Jersey Shore.

Adam Bernard: Ice Grill, USA is your latest film. Why don’t you start me off by telling me about your inspirations for it?
Mark Bernardi: Ice Grill, USA is basically a love letter to our hometown, our home area of Atlantic City, but it’s a love-hate thing, so we tried to cover the highs and the lows, the heroes and the villains.
Greg Santarsiero: We come from a very multicultural background, a background that has people from all walks of life, multiple social classes, all interacting simultaneously in this melting pot that is Atlantic City. Ice Grill is, in many ways, a cross section of that life experience. People from various walks of life in these compromising situations and how some people make it and some people don’t. We witnessed that firsthand growing up and we always endeavored to be the guys that come out on top in the end and survive it. It’s very much an ode to the working class of Atlantic City and to the good people who struggle there every day.
Mark Bernardi: Where we’re from people work from 11 o’clock at night till seven in the morning. That’s a regular thing. You work the night shift at a casino because the city never goes to sleep. That’s something that makes the city interesting. In accurate war movies there’s always humor in the trenches. Someone’s laying on top of their dead friend’s body and they have to make a joke because in those conditions it’s the only way to survive. I think out of the working class environment in Atlantic City there’s a witty sense of humor, and a colorful language, and it’s born out of that.

Adam Bernard: The film’s main character is Auggie Logan. What’s he all about? What’s his deal?
Mark Bernardi: Auggie comes from a working class, blue collar family and he’s stuck in a bad spot, or just the status quo for Atlantic City, where he’s trying to stick to his principles, he’s trying to take care of his family, he’s trying to make sure his friends stay out of trouble and that he stays out of trouble, but at the same time he doesn’t want to be at the bottom of the food chain, he doesn’t want to work for minimum wage his whole life. He’s trying to balance his ambition and his goals with keeping everyone afloat. He’s a man of principle, but everyone he’s surrounded by is kind of morally ambiguous. Even the good people have to compromise their principles at times and he’s really trying not to bend or break. Starting from that point he takes two entry level jobs in two different fields; one is the black market pharmaceutical sales trade, selling pharmaceutical drugs at nightclubs, and the other is catering to the VIPs in the casino. He has a club job and a corporate job. He’s in those two worlds and he’s trying to stick to his principles, but they're constantly challenged, and he’s trying to learn to navigate the treacherous paths that are growing up and working in Atlantic City.

Adam Bernard: Now, from my understanding, which is purely from MTV’s Jersey Shore, New Jersey is only filled with stereotypical Italians who like to fist pump in nightclubs and occasionally knock out young ladies. Are you saying that’s not so?
Greg Santarsiero: I am absolutely saying that’s not so. Those guys are from Staten Island, they’re from Brooklyn. They’re called Bennies in the Tom’s River area, they’re called Shubies down at the Shore, where we’re from. They’re the out of towners who have come in and injected this stereotypical vibe into the nightlife in these areas and much like you’ll see various ethnic groups represented in mainstream media, it’s the worst common denominator, it’s the worst possible stereotype. These guys are supposed to be Italians. That’s the same race that bore da Vinci, for Christ sake, and this is where we’re at right now as a people? I don’t think that’s necessarily fair.

Adam Bernard: So how do you define New Jersey?
Greg Santarsiero: In all honesty, Jersey represents America. I think out of towners only know Jersey in-between Newark Airport and New York City, but it’s really one of the most diverse states in the country. There are spots where you can drop somebody in the worst hood in the world, but you can also drop somebody into areas that have sprawling mansions, and then there are also places that look like backwoods Arkansas. And we have beaches. Top to bottom I would say it’s reminiscent of California in so many ways, but people are only aware of the lowest common denominator.
Mark Bernardi: In Atlantic City, in two blocks you can go from the casino and all these regal statues and things dipped in gold and bronze, to a pawn shop. A block from that there’s a mansion, and then a block from that there’s a crack house. Literally, within a half a mile you have all four of those things.
Greg Santarsiero: At it’s heart, that’s why Ice Grill is such an aspirational tale, because it’s about being surrounded by the artificial glitz and glamor of the casinos, and the opulent wealth of the trust fund kids in Jaguars who’s dads are dentists and they can just hang out and chill all summer, and at the end of the day you’re the guy who has to go and work in the nightclub and throw these drunk assholes out, or you’re the one who has to wait tables to take care of these people, or you’re the one who has to park their cars, or mow their lawns, and I think there’s a certain amount of resentment that builds up. It’s that angst that comes with being the have-not, but being constantly surrounded by all of it and realizing that your only way to climb the social ladder is to channel your energies to catering to the upper class. I think that very much informed the central character of Auggie in Ice Grill in that he aspired for so much more but he saw that there were so few options to get there.

Adam Bernard: Ultimately, what are your goals for Ice Grill, USA?
Greg Santarsiero: With Ice Grill it’s about a lot more than me and Mark as individuals. It became about our families. It became about the cast and crew and the people who worked so hard on the film. It became about kids who grew up the way we did who want to make something more of their lives than working at the casinos and what not.
Mark Bernardi: We found a lot of really talented, hard working, people that we collaborated with to make the film and we want to pay each of them back by giving them a huge break in their careers. That’s the end game. That’s the goal.

Related Links

Website: IceGrillUSA.com
IMDB: imdb.com/title/tt1227380


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:15 AM  
  • At 1:02 PM, Blogger Moviejunkie32 said…

    Greg & Adam are dead right about their comments on the reality of Jersey Shore. The series should be called Shoobies on Parade. That is not the Jersey shore I grew up in and loved in the A.C. region.
    Also, Ice Grill USA is a terrific indie film.

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