Breach Point Castle
In 2002, a friend of mine started a conversation with a group of friends by saying, "Hey, does anyone remember Brigantine Castle? Wasn't the just the best thing back in the day?" For almost an hour, people shared stories of this legendary haunted attraction that operated in Brigantine, New Jersey from the late 70's to the mid-80's before burning down under mysterious circumstances. The cool thing was, both those of us who'd never made it to the castle (like me) and those who had visited held equally strong and fond memories. The advertising campaign for Brigantine Castle was strong when the place was operating, and word of mouth from those who'd visited was very powerful.
Brigantine Castle and pier in its prime.
The abandoned area of the beach where Brigantine Castle once stood.
Inset: the same area in 1987, not long after the castle had burned down.
I did some online research and found Dark In The Park, a website that chronicled the history of three New Jersey haunted attractions (all of which burned down... hmmm...) and after digging through the memories and photos from the castle's former cast and crew, as well as those of hundreds of visitors, the basis for a story began forming in my brain - a story to eventually to be called Breach Point Castle (cue thunder sound effects). I spent the next few years plotting, writing and rewriting the screenplay, and though the fictionalized version of the castle is really background (it's already burned down when my story begins), the research I did helped me develop the story's melieu (I'm not afraid to use French words - even without italicizing them). Here's the logline:
"An inquisitive college student moves into her aunt's house in a quiet seaside town and discovers that the former employees of a haunted attraction that burned down under suspicious circumstances are hiding a secret: a boy who died in the fire may have returned as a malevolent spirit."
The Pirate's Den - the restaurant that once stood across the street from
Brigantine Castle, making it a favorite hangout of the cast members.
Brigantine Castle plexiglas display inside the Pirate's Den. Go ahead
and tell me you don't get chills from this! I wound up using the idea
of this display as a discovery device in the screenplay, though I relocated
it to the town library.
While I was in the process of writing the screenplay, my wife Sharon and I took a day trip to Brigantine to visit the former site of the castle. I've got to say, I could have cried while staring at that abandoned section of beach, even though I'd been looking at photographs of it for a couple years at that point. What a shame - I'd never made it to the castle back when it existed, but visiting its former location only hammered home the point that I'd never make it there. No wonder so many former cast members and visitors fantasized about winning the lottery and rebuilding the castle - I was thinking the same thing during my visit to Brigantine.-0
Sharon and I did enjoy lunch at The Pirate's Den, which I'd read about and even set a scene in before my visit. What a freaky experience - it was crazy-close to what I'd imagined and described (though my version of the place is called the "Giant Brine", an anagram for "Brigantine" - I do sneaky stuff), and the fact that we were in a place where the Castle's cast members hung out back in the glory days was a really warm feeling. Their grilled cheese ruled, too.
I did a lot of movie-watching research over those years, too, and one thing I was sure I wanted was a warm, cozy feeling to my fictional town, Breach Point. I studied a lot of paranoid 70's movies, like "Ride With the Devil" and "The Wicker Man" - which are great because they keep you guessing as to who's in on the conspiracy (or if there even is one), but the feeling I wanted was much more of a slow-build thriller, where the town itself feels warm and inviting, even if some of its residents are hiding a secret. "The Lady in White" and a Disney TV-movie, "Child of Glass", were closer to what I was looking for in tone. They both also feature young people solving mysteries (the driving plot device of my story), so they were great reference points. I even checked out The Hardy Boys "The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure" from the 50's (and I hadn't seen since it was on The Mickey Mouse Club in the mid-70's, when I was just able to form memories. That was a good one, too.
I created a music playlist to keep me in the mood for the few years I was writing the screenplay, and it had a great effect in creating and sustaining mood. A few of the key songs:
Shiny (The Decemberists)
Werewolf (Cat Power)
In The Aeroplane Across The Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel)
Home (Lou Barlow)
The Year of Driving Langorously (The Lucksmiths)
That last song by The Lucksmiths has a lyric that inspired a whole backstory for the main character, Clara, that I'd been struggling with. Wonderful coincidence.
I wound up starting a Facebook Group for Brigantine Castle (785 members and counting), and got to read the recollections of even more cast members and visitors, reinforcing and expanding a lot of the memories of the castle that I'd already heard.
Another influence on the story was Weird New Jersey, a magazine devoted to cataloging the strangest stories and artifacts from my home state. Sure, there are plenty of questionable ghost, monster, and alien stories (we all have those, don't we?) but what I enjoy more are the stories of the honest-to-goodness artifacts left over from past generations. Their "Abandoned" section (of the magazine and the website) was particularly evocative to me, and inspired a location in my story: a private island junkyard filled with the unused portions of the castle and its pier, always illuminated by lights powered by a generator. This may feel like it pushes the bounds of believability a bit, but to readers of Weird New Jersey, it's not unfamiliar ground.
Along the way, I created a few visuals to help inspire me with the story. Sure, doing that kind of thing can be seen as a writing avoidance technique, but I find it helps give me a burst of energy to continue. Plus, once the script is complete and I'm ready to market it, the images come in handy when putting together a website, promotional package or other marketing pieces.
Since my fictional castle operated during the same time period as the real Brigantine Castle, I got to create a couple pieces - the postcard and bumper sticker above (the latter is also a key prop in the story), in a more primitive style that suggests late 70's/early 80's design and printing. That was fun - especially aging the postcard image. Photoshop is good.
I also did a nearly unplanned sketch of one of the story's main characters - a boy named Eric, who was rumored to have had supernatural powers, and who supposedly burned to death in the fire. Or did he? And was the fire really an accident? See how I try to pull you into the world of the story? I'm tricky like that.
I did the sketch of Eric quickly on 20 lb. printing paper, and added tone with gray Prismacolor markers - my preferred medium pre-digital illustration. Then I scanned the image and added some subdued color in Photoshop, keeping things kind of desaturated to preserve the mysterious and murky feel of the character. Here it is:
I liked the results, and I'll have to store that technique for the future. It's a lot easier to tweak the colors in their own layers within Photoshop than if I'd used actual colored Prismacolor markers, and truth be told if I'd done that, I'd probably have made color changes in Photoshop anyway.
I'm in the process of trying to option or sell the script, but it's a tough one - it's not really high concept, and the story is definitely more Supernatural Thriller than outright Horror - in fact, there's very little blood at all, and it's a intentionally slow burn kind of story, so there's some challenge in getting interest from production companies and agents - but hey, it's not like selling a screenplay is easy anyway. I just like things to make things even more challenging for myself (not really). I hired a script consultant who helped me tighten up the plot, but it's still a story that takes its time to build up the atmosphere, revealing little information and clues as to what's really going on slowly and deliberately. I offer no apologies for that.
If you're interested in downloading the screenplay, be my guest (especially if you're an actress in your late teens/early twenties with lots of pull in the film industry - that would be especially nice). Link below.
Breach Point Castle