In 2018, as the summer season winds down, Philadelphia filmmaker Nick Belial and his crew will be in Ocean City to shoot the independent feature film “To Avenge.”
The story that Belial has been working on for upwards of five years will come to fruition on the Ocean City beach, bayside and Boardwalk, as well as several other nearby locations in Salisbury, Assateague and coastal Delaware. To be filmed on-location and with Ocean City locals as extras, Ocean City lovers in the audience will not only be able to recognize the locations used in the film, but also the passion and love for this place that Belial’s characters reflect.
Belial describes the film, his feature debut, as a crime thriller. Vera (Cabrina Collesides) is the main character, a young woman from suburban Philadelphia who has grown up spending the summers at her family’s beach house on the Shore. Belial describes Vera as a hard worker, and throughout high school and college she worked at a computer firm. Upon graduating high school, the firm asks her to work for them full-time, but first offers her vacation time for the years she’s already spent with them.
Of course Vera decides to spend her vacation at the beach house in Ocean City.
She and three of her friends spend a day in the sun parasailing, hitting the beach, shopping on the Boardwalk and riding the rides — the things you do when you’re able to spend some time at one of your favorite places in the world. But the vacation quickly takes a turn.
As Vera and her friends are getting off the Haunted House, they’re catcalled by four young men.
“Vera rolls her eyes at the guy who catcalls her,” Belial explained. “She doesn’t realize that, in doing that, her fate changes forever.”
Vera doesn’t know that two of the man who harassed her and her friends are brothers, who happen to be from one of the most politically powerful families in the country. While the girls continue to enjoy their time on the Boardwalk, the’re unknowingly followed by the group of men. That night, the men break in to the beach house and Vera is sexually assaulted. Afterwards, they threaten her and tell her not to tell anyone, but she calls 911.
“The movie is not about sexual assault–all that takes place in the first 10-12 minutes of the film,” Belial said. “The rest of the film is her coming back from this terrible tragedy. What I love about the character is that she is very strong.”
The men who assaulted Vera are caught and locked up but are released after only 48 hours, presumably because of their wealth, power and connections. Throughout the film, Vera faces disbelief from her coworkers and a changed relationship with her father, but as she begins to overcome the situation and “regain herself and start to feel whole again,” as Belial put it, another woman is out for revenge.
Taarna has never met Vera, but because of the high-profile nature of the case and the media storm surrounding it, she becomes aware and angry over the injustice the young woman faced. Taarna waits for the media storm to die down and heads to Ocean City herself to exact revenge on Vera’s assailants.
In spite of the tragedy, Ocean City remains Vera’s happy place. You might say that, to Taarna, it’s a place “To Avenge.” (Sorry.)
Belial, like Vera, has always felt drawn to Ocean City, ever since his first visit as a child.
He grew up on the beach in New Jersey, but his parents eventually sold their beach house in order to fund his sister’s college education. Life can feel pretty dull without frequent trips to the beach, so later on, they decided they’d try vacationing on a different Shore. Their neighbors recommended Ocean City, Maryland.
“We took a family vacation there and from the first time we discovered Ocean City, we fell in love with it. I was blown away–there’s just something in the air. In Ocean City, it’s electric. “
“We started coming down every year and when I got older, that’s where I would take my dates,” he said. “If I was dating someone long-term, we’d save money and go down in the summer and get a place for a week or so. It was just natural to make Ocean City the backdrop.”
Many scenes in the film that highlight the beauty of Ocean City are already planned; Belial wants to shoot both the oceanside and bayside, have characters silhouetted by the sunset and capture the moon’s reflection off the water.
The production team is still in the process of getting the correct permits and permissions to shoot in certain locations, but they hope to film iconic restaurants, amusement parks and other hotspots that Ocean City lovers will instantly recognize.
“Spots where people will see it and go, ‘I know exactly where that is,'” Belial said. “Different spots on Coastal Highway where, if someone blindfolded you and took you to there and only allowed you a few seconds to look around, you’d know exactly where you are.”
Those who love Ocean City and even know the area like the back of their hand will, like Belial, be able to relate to the main character in at least one significant way.
“Vera is in love with Ocean City–despite what happens to her there, she’s truly in love with the area,” he said. “She feels her best when she’s right at the ocean, at the beach. When you create characters, you put a little bit of yourself into them. I kind of injected that love of the area into my character.”
Belial hopes to cast Ocean City locals as extras and even as minor characters. Casting information and all other updates on the film are posted on the film’s Facebook.