Interview with Tom Jones Director of ‘Asbury Park: Riot Redemption Rock ‘N Roll’
Tom Jones is a filmmaker who has been documenting the town of Asbury Park since the 80s. After over a decade, hundreds of hours of footage and star-studded features, Tom Jones completed Asbury Park: Riot Redemption Rock ‘N Roll. Second year film production student, Shannon Bafundila, spoke with Jones to discuss his documentary.
SHANNON: What sparked your interest in the story of Asbury Park and why do you think it was worth making a documentary?
TOM: I grew up near there and when I was a kid, we used to go down there in the summer; Ride rides and walk the boardwalk. They had big movie palaces with fantastic celling’s, it was extraordinary. After the riot most it we didn’t get it back. I’ve always been fascinated by it. My summer job when I was in college, I was Pepsi delivery man and I would delivery soda in Asbury park in a lot of the places you saw in the movie. Later in life I started working with Gibson Guitar. My interest started as personal, but it changed as I got in to it and think I that Asbury Park is a bit of a metaphor for the rest of our country at the moment because it’s being divided. Music is a real connector especially in times where people are being divided. One thing it serves as a wider story not just an Asbury Park one but about America and really the World in general. There’s a lot more that scares and divides us and I think music makes us realise that.
SHANNON: How long did it take to complete the documentary?
TOM: We started the film in stages. I started by just taking pictures. The first scene on the film was 2006 and then we put it away for about a decade because we didn’t get interest from Bruce and I didn’t really want to finish it without him. And we picked it back up because they started that festival and they asked me to share clips from the film I was making. We put that in a box and threw it away a decade ago and we took it back out and decided we’d try and finish it so in real time it took a couple years. Between the first shoot day it took about 14 years. There’s a couple of documentaries that didn’t get finished that went towards vintage footage. There’s a great shot of a woman pushing a shopping cart down the street in front of the old hotel and that on the first shoot day and it’s been knocked down for over a decade. It’s interesting, I really didn’t work on it at all for at least 10 years. My interests remain in the town. It’s interesting to see how far it has come back, it took 15 years compared to how long it’s been damaged, it’s grown pretty fast.
SHANNON: You’ve got some well known names in your documentary was it a challenge getting people to participate?
TOM: We started talking to speak to some of the musicians who played at the upstage and then Steven Van Dandt stage came on board. We opened a festival at Asbury Park, and we finished the film without Bruce Springsteen. We screened it at a big theatre there. He came, he came and surprised us at the screening. He watched the whole movie then he got up and played a 2-hour concert. He played with guys who played at the upstage, Steven, Circus The Soul and a group of kids that we put together in a great band called the Lakehouse Junior. Then he called me and said hey I want to be in the film and sat for the interview and then that made the final version.
SHANNON: Did you make this documentary with a particular audience in mind?
TOM: No, obviously people who like music and specifically Rock N’ Roll will like it but ’m hoping that there’s something here for everyone because this function of music is a connector of being something bigger than yourself. Musicians are unusually virtuous or different. What makes them stand apart is that they put the music first. Bruce had an integrated band in the United States that wasn’t necessarily all that common, but he didn’t set out to do that he just picked the best musicians possible and put them all together, the best band possible. I think that’s an important thing to listen to and the guy in the film says, “if we can play together, we can work together”.
SHANNON: One thing I noticed was that the interviewees seemed quite comfortable and forth coming with their accounts and memories of Asbury park, how did you manage to achieve that?
TOM: Everyone shares found memories of that particular time and that particular place. Bruce, Steven and Jonny, they all attribute the upstage with kind of making their careers. The sound that Jersey sound, that jersey sound inside those walls. They have a real warm spot in their heart for it. I think there was trust we built up between us as and the musicians. We tried to treat the story with a lot of respect. We did our homework. We quoted the story well. We talked to people who covered the riot, we talked to people who were in the riot. We gave the story the respect it deserves.
SHANNON: Interviews seemed to make up the majority of the documentary. Did you find it difficult as the director to decide where the cutaways would go?
TOM: No. I think it’s a pretty visual story. Again, we did our homework and we shot as many still footages at the time as we could, and we shot a tonne of B Roll. I like that aspect of the film. I think visually it’s pretty rich. We have over 100 hours of interview so you have to go through it and pick the ones that will tell the best possible story. I don’t find it difficult, I find it really interesting, I like that aspect, it’s fun.
SHANNON: The documentary references the east and west side division a lot and how post-riot there’s not really been any rebuild on renovation. Do you hope that the west side will be redeveloped, and do you think this will be achieved in the near future?
TOM: Yeah, I think everyone is rooting for the westside. What’s different now. I think the question of when not if. Like anything else it’s hard to put the pieces together. There is a spirt of cooperation. Everyone wants the whole town to come back not just the East side. As you might expect the area right along the ocean is doing better first but I do think the West side is going to come along and it would be great to get some of that great culture came back. A lot of fantastic culture burned down in the riots. There was extraordinary music scene on the westside. It was a stop for all the greats, Billy Holiday, Fitzgerald they all played on the west side of Asbury park. They’re actually trying to start a music series on the westside.
SHANNON: What’s next for you in terms of filmmaking?
TOM: That’s a good question, I’m looking in to a couple options. I’m interested in this great off the chart, kid master he’s 14, a brilliant mathematician and wanted to create free energy and give it away to the world so he’s caught my attention.
Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock N’ Roll is in cinemas 22 May for one night only. Find your local screening at asburyparkmovietickets.com