Emmi Shockley, an Ocean City native and undergrad at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, draws on her experiences growing up on the East Coast — from living in Ocean City to studying film in New York City — to make films about self-discovery, identity, and generally figuring life out.
“Don’t Be a Baby,” which will be screened at the Ocean City Film Festival this March, is Shockley’s most recent production, an eight-minute coming-of-age short film that tells the story of a young New Yorker in the throes of a pregnancy scare.
“Just being in that phase of life where you’re figuring things out, the future and life as an artist, is where [the story] kind of came from,” Shockley said.
Shockley wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which she made as a final project during her junior year at NYU. The film made its school-wide debut at NYU’s New Visions+Voices Festival in November 2018, where it won awards for Audience Choice, Best Directing, Best Lead Actress, and Best Editing.
The pregnancy scare that the main character Billie (played by Shockley) endures becomes an existential crisis, so she calls her long-distance best friend Manny (Cecelia Bonner) for support.
“Don’t Be a Baby actually had the least to do with my personal life. That character was the furthest from me that I’ve ever written,” Shockley said of Billie, a bohemian young artist who starts to doubt the entirety of her life’s choices and her future as an artist when she goes into crisis mode.
“I tend to pull a lot from my personal experiences. The two scripts I’m working on right now, they’re both based on really my experiences growing up in Ocean City.”
Shockley’s next project will be her final thesis for NYU: A 20-minute film called “J-1,” to be shot in Ocean City in late spring of 2019.
J-1 is about a young and dissatisfied Ocean City local, Olivia, who falls in love with Mac, an Irish student in Ocean City for the summer on a J-1 Visa, while they’re working together at The Crab Bag. The film follows the couple on their last night together in Ocean City, where Olivia struggles with her decision to leave Ocean City behind and move to Dublin with Mac.
“I always worked at Shenanigans,” Shockley said. “This is very much inspired by my summers working there and working around J-1 students.”
In addition to The Crab Bag, J-1 will be shot on the Ocean City beach and Boardwalk, and at local businesses throughout Ocean City TBA. The film’s “On the Ground OC Team” will be led by Shockley’s brother Tate, and include local craft services, art assistants, and production assistants.
While she hasn’t filmed much in Ocean City since high school — “We were always running around with our cameras, I did a few shorts that I look back on now that are like, ‘well, you gotta start somewhere,'” she said — Shockley’s screen acting career began in Ocean City, on Michael Tully’s 2014 coming-of-age comedy “Ping Pong Summer.” Shockley played Stacey Summers, the very 80s-neon-clad ex-girlfriend of villainous 17-year-old rich kid Lyle Ace.
Being behind-the-scenes on Ping Pong Summer “was a really positive experience and really encouraging for me to see,” Shockley said. “Just to be fully involved and learning so much, it definitely taught me I could write my own stories and create my own work.”
Shockley also cites Worcester Prep’s media teacher, Nancy Raskauskas, as being a major source of inspiration and support for both her and her brother’s filmmaking dreams.
After she films her J-1 thesis and graduates from college, Shockley hopes to shoot a TV series she’s currently writing. “Thing for Trouble” is a fictionalized series that also draws on her Ocean City upbringing; she describes it as a coming-of-age drama about a group of close friends in a small town during their summer after high school graduation. Each member of the group struggles with her or his own varying issues with their families, identity, and vices.
The series was largely inspired by music, specifically by surf rock California band The Growlers, and Shockley’s memories growing up in a coastal beach vacation town.
“I always wrote in high school, I kept a lot of journals of my experiences and the wild times we had growing up there,” she said.
“My dream is to shoot it [in Ocean City] sometime in my career, but it could translate to another American beach town, as TV is trickier with locations than independent filmmaking.”
In the meantime, Shockley and her J-1 production team will soon begin fundraising, and then shooting, their final thesis.
Don’t Be a Baby will be screened at the Ocean City Film Festival during the “Locally-Sourced Short Films” block at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, at the Francis Scott Key Family Resort.
Cover image courtesy of Emmi Shockley.