The instant a local hears the phrase “Delaware Shore,” one immediately wonders if the person speaking hails from the other side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge (we usually call it a “beach”).
In this case, the term is attached to a novel written by a New Castle resident, Michaelangelo Rodriguez. The feature film of the same name was directed by one-time Delaware resident Raghav Peri and included locations in Slaughter and Rehoboth Beaches, Lewes, Wilmington, Newark and Milford.
The award-winning film tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who escapes Nazi concentration camps and seeks refuge at a secluded Delaware beach where she suddenly finds herself having to raise her abandoned twin grandchildren.
Delaware Shore is in Oscar contention for 2018 Best Picture and has already received numerous accolades on the film festival circuit:
Best Drama and Best Inspirational Film– New York Film Awards
Best Score– Los Angeles Film Awards
Best Drama and Best Ensemble– Festigious
Best Indie Filmmaker and Best Score – Los Angeles Film Awards
Best First Time Director (Raghav Peri) and Best Editing – New York Film Awards
We checked in with Peri to dive into the many Delaware influences on the film project. And we reached out to some locals who were involved in the film. Here’s what they had to say about the film, which is scheduled for release in Delaware in January.
TownSquareDelaware: Tell us a little about yourself.
Raghav Peri: I’m 31 years old. I grew up in Hyderabad, India and got a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from JNTU University in Hyderabad. I have always been inclined towards cinema since childhood, since it made me happy, taught me a lot of things about life and I will always have a huge respect towards it.
There were many reasons why cinema felt beyond me due to my lower-middle-class background. But after my degree, I continued pursuing it seriously, made a few shorts, and it feels great to have finally made a feature film. It’s been a dream come true.
TSD: When did you first become acquainted with Delaware?
Raghav Peri: I moved to Delaware in July 2014 and lived there for four years. The First State will always hold a special place in my heart since it contributed so much to my filmmaking journey.
The filmmaking community here is so small, but everyone helps each other without any egos. And, sometimes, you will be shocked to see people going out of their way to help each other. There’s amazing warmth and giving in the people living in Delaware. I’m really glad Delaware happened to me in my life.
TSD: Your movie is based on a novel that’s primarily set Slaughter Beach. Tell us how the author discovered Delaware’s sleepy little seasonal fishing village.
Raghav Peri: The author Michaelangelo Rodriguez once went to Slaughter Beach a few years ago for the first time and was really surprised with the vibe and experience he got there.
The beach is off the main road. One has to drive by tall fields of vegetation to get to the beach. Once you are there, you see there are not many people around — no general store, no tourist shops, no food outlets. Completely desolate. Walking on the beach, one sees horseshoe crabs coming to lay eggs and die, hundreds of them.
When I went location scouting there, symbolically Slaughter Beach appeared in my mind as a refuge for someone like the principal character Agnes (a Holocaust survivor). This seemed like an ideal place – remote and not easy to find – to break away from pain, the disappointment of the world, a place of contemplation. There’s no better place I could think to film this story. The beach definitely added a lot of character to the film. I shot about 45% of the entire film there.
TSD: What aspects of the film did you shoot in Rehoboth?
Raghav Peri: Gallagher, Agnes’ grandson, works as a lifeguard in Rehoboth and also, works at a coffee shop. All the establishment shots of him working there were filmed in Rehoboth. Scenes involving Tasha, granddaughter of Agnes, going to school, meeting her boyfriend, Jason, discussing life with her friend Tasha, several of these exterior scenes were filmed extensively around the coast.
TSD: Did shooting in Delaware fit in your budgetary guidelines? What makes shooting a film in Delaware good economic sense?
Raghav Peri: Before making my first feature, I made an indie short, Bar Study, 40 minutes in duration. Technically, it falls into neither short nor feature film length. This film was also shot totally in Delaware, except for the climax part of it which was filmed in Philly. Though I didn’t have a budget, I was able to successfully shoot at several important and busy locations without any problem whatsoever.
As long as you treat the locals with friendliness and give them the respect they deserve, everyone will help. You just need to ask.
In a way, Bar Study served like a rehearsal for making a feature. Since I was able to successfully execute that project in Delaware, it gave me a lot of courage to make a longer film here.
There were many who questioned how I would be able to pull off a project like Delaware Shore on such a low budget – $90,000. If not for Delaware, the feature film would have easily cost five times the actual budget spent.
Many aspects about filming here make the process much more affordable, and I also had a bit of luck when it came to the people who involved themselves with the project. There is no way I could have made this film without all the support I received from the locals and all my filmmaking friends. I will be forever grateful to them. I’m not sure if all small towns would be as film-friendly as Delaware.
TSD: Your original production timeline called for a tight 25 days. Tell us about the production process — obstacles, gems, etc.
Raghav Peri: Yes, it was originally planned for 25 days based on the budget we originally had. But those 25 days somehow spilled into three months.
The movie features many locations and some period scenes, and due to the nature of the subject matter, some emotionally-exhausting scenes, as well as a few scenes involving as many as ten actors on a single day.
Achieving all of this in a short period was a very tough task. And, to be honest, I would definitely rethink if I were to make this film again. But we did extensive pre-production and rehearsals to try to make all of this possible.
Like any Indie film, we, too, faced several challenges. One time, it was inclement weather (when we were switching scenes from exterior to interior), then location unavailability the other time (when you have to scout a new location altogether to save the day), technical issues or shortage of crew the next time, and so on. But, we did what we had to do to save the day. In this process, I know I might have hurt some of my team members. But, to date, no one complained. Thanks to my wonderful cast and incredible crew who stood by me in every way possible.
TSD: Tell us about the Delaware coffee shop featured in the film.
Raghav Peri: It’s called Brewed Awakenings. It’s on the Main Street in Newark – close to UD. As part of location scouting, I met the owner, JD Willets, and told him about the film.
I just told him we would be nice to everyone and we wouldn’t get in the way of his customers. He gave us the permission and just asked me to give me a heads-up before we set up for filming there.
It still feels surprising how we were able to film there on the busiest days with so many people around.
TSD: Any other Delaware landmarks highlighted in the film?
Raghav Peri: The Oddity Bar on Greenhill Ave. in Wilmington. We filmed scenes where the characters Gallagher and Ron meet at the bar to attend a drag show. It features some of the drag queens, “Veronica’s kittens.” We filmed some scenes just outside of the Bar as well. I have also helped the production of a web-series which was filmed there.
All the film projects that I worked on during my stay in Delaware, they all feature this iconic location. I might have been the first one to film there, in 2015 for Bar Study.
Another landmark included in our film is the Delaware Contemporary, an art museum on the Wilmington Riverfront. I shot an auditorium scene there which features about 50 locals as extras in the film.
TSD: Do you feel like Delaware’s beaches contributed to the character and story development in your film?
Raghav Peri: Delaware’s incredible coastline definitely added a lot of character to the film. I hope Delaware viewers of the film see locations that are familiar to them and appreciate how we captured the beauty of the shoreline in our story.
TSD: How familiar were you with the movie talent pool in Delaware?
I’m quite familiar with the movie talent pool in Delaware. On any movie set I visit here, I will at least find a person or two that I met before or worked together with. I guess you could say it’s part of the allure of a small state – that most folks in a related industry are friends with and support each other.
TSD: Are any of the leading characters Delaware residents? Do any of them have a connection to Delaware?
RP: We felt very fortunate to land Gail Wagner for the leading role in the film (Agnes the Holocaust survivor) She is from Delaware and is quite an accomplished actor, director, and costumer, working both on the screen and on stage, including Middletown’s Everett Theater and the Wilmington Fringe Festival.
TSD also reached out to some of the other people Peri worked with when filming Delaware Shores.
Andrea McCauley, who co-owns Oddity Bar with her husband, Pat McCutcheon, said: “Devo [Oddity bartender Christopher Devitt] was the main point person. He’s involved with the Wilmington Film Mob,” adding, “We are just lucky that we know so many talented people in the film and music scene. We are always more than willing to let local filmmakers and musicians use our space, and to be as accommodating as possible.”
This is not the first time a major shoot has happened at Oddity Bar. Bar Study was filmed in 2015, and soon after, music artist Ke$ha filmed her video for “Woman” in 2017.
McCauley says, “I think that kind of exposure helped with Ke$ha’s management by putting us on the map as a place where people have filmed things. They contacted us, but from what we understand they did a little bit of research online and had narrowed down some locations.”
Local actor, filmmaker and photographer Kevin Francis has appeared in both Bar Study and Delaware Shore.
Francis says, “Delaware rarely receives any light when it comes to film or television. To have a film such as Delaware Shore filmed here but also to have Delaware in the title really pulls focus, both directly and indirectly, towards the First State for those who watch – or are aware of – the movie.”
He praises Peri for his passion for film and attention to detail and organization, as well as fellow artists, adding, “We have a dedicated and motivated film community here in Delaware who support the artists’ vision and assemble to help see that vision through to completion. We have to create our own opportunities here, and many hands make for lighter work.”
About the filming experience, Francis recalls, “I was concerned about myself, personally, because I was rushing to finish up an acting job as a priest on In the House of Madness– complete with my trademark thick, wavy hair – and had to quickly transition to the close-cropped coif of a Nazi. I hadn’t had my hair that short in decades, so I was a bit wary on how it would look, but it was fine. I remember it was dark, cold, and there was a stinging rain coming in off the ocean. Really miserable conditions, but no one complained.”