STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Just in time for beach reading season comes “Back to Ocean City: A Screenwriter’s Journey” by 1991 Souderton Area High School grad Eric Moyer.
Available as a free download from Amazon, iBooks, and as a PDF file from www.backtooceancity.com, it is not — as the title initially suggests — merely a love letter to the New Jersey beach town. Nor is it just about the inspired body of work of independent films and webisodes that Moyer has written and directed across more than two decades. The author himself says it’s not a memoir, even though that’s the best description for this multi-layered narrative.
With references to Souderton Area School District teachers, Harleysville, the former All Star Video store in Souderton, Rann Pharmacy in Lower Salford, Souderton’s still-closed Broad Theater, a fleeting reference to Mopac, “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, Schmidt’s beer, MTV, Indian Valley Animal Hospital and more, “Back to Ocean City” is recommended reading for anyone who grew up, or lived in, the Indian Valley region, especially if you did so during the ‘80s. Recalling the pre-cellphone days of sending “actual letters in the mail,” video and audio cassettes, typing on a DOS computer and razor-blade splice editing film while attending Temple University, Moyer wonders at the end: “By the time you are reading this, what will have changed?”
He also answers questions that those who have followed his work will want to know: ‘What was the deal with that Layne Staley biopic?’ ‘Will there be more Wilber the Cat shorts?’ or simply ‘Dude, where did you go?’
Some of the chapter titles are a bit too cerebral for their own good, though. A chapter where Moyer lists the films that changed his life is called “Cattle Queen of Montana” — which doesn’t make sense until you figure out that’s what’s playing at the movie theater in the ’50s scenes of his favorite movie, “Back to the Future,” which he first saw while vacationing in Ocean City.
It makes sense that for someone so obsessed with movies, video plays a role in the storytelling. Pay attention for links to video embedded in the electronic pages of “Back to Ocean City” as you travel Moyer’s long and winding road — from being drawn to writing by a riveting account by his grandfather of being MIA in China during World War II all the way to the author’s marriage, fatherhood, a career crossroads and mulling relocating his new family somewhere near Ocean City.
Do not be intimidated by the 14 excerpts of Moyer’s center-justified screenplays. They’re actually quick, absorbingly fun reads and always leave you wanting to find out what happens next when he chooses to end the excerpt.
Some too-good-not-to-share nuggets that make it into “Back to Ocean City” include a photo snapped in 1994 of director Quentin Tarantino (who was not yet made famous by “Pulp Fiction”) while Moyer and his uncle chanced upon witnessing the red carpet premiere of the blockbuster “Speed” in Los Angeles; the text of correspondence from actress Alyssa Milano, state Rep. Bob Godshall and director Jonathan Lynn (“The Whole Nine Yards,” “Clue,” “My Cousin Vinny”) to then-SASD superintendent Fred Johnson asking him to reconsider denying Moyer’s request to shoot a ghost thriller, “School Spirits,” inside the vacant former SAHS (You can imagine what that might’ve looked like by reading an excerpt of the screenplay); and the epic tale of how his on-hold movie “My Little Trainwreck” (not to be confused with Judd Apatow’s upcoming film “Trainwreck”) came oh-so-close to being a star-studded production (of course there’s a piece of this very promising screenplay).
Although this book is ultimately about being at peace at one’s mid-life point, there are, as one chapter is called, “Swamps of Sadness” as the writer periodically reflects on family members and friends that have died, including risk-taking prankster Ryan Dunn, who had a part in Moyer’s 2005 feature “A Halfway House Christmas,” and Joseph Canazaro, whose 2013 home invasion murder in Hilltown remains unsolved.
One of Moyer’s heroes, actor Robert Romanus (who starred in “A Halfway House Christmas”), was clearly inspired by Moyer’s autobiographical style. Romanus sheds any mental image you may still have of him as Mike Damone from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” by offering a deeply personal slice of his own life in the forward to “Back to Ocean City.”
STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN