High Tide

The CapeMay.com blog

Filming of the Bob Dylan Biopic “A Complete Unknown” in Cape May Last Week

In case you were elsewhere or offline last week, here’s what you missed in Cape May—Hollywood edition.

Photographs by Justin Steere and Thomas Scala

Apparently Cape May bears resemblance to Newport, Rhode Island enough to dress up and cosplay as the other water-enveloped vacation town for a motion picture with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Actors like Timothée Chalamet, Ed Norton, and Ell Fanning were spotted shooting scenes out and about in Cape May from May 12-17.

The feature film A Complete Unknown sets out to showcase a young Bob Dylan quickly rising to musical and cultural acclaim through progressive ideas and philosophies that he effectively conveyed through folk music. Not to mention his appeal to the ladies, with young women swooning over the handsome and talented new star—something that lead actor Timothée Chalamet can relate to. 

Photograph by Jesse Lambert / Coffee Tyme

A significant moment in music and Bob Dylan’s personal history took place at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when Dylan boldly plugged in an electric guitar in a previously acoustic-dominant setting. This performance broke ground for his career and the genre; a pivotal event to portray on screen for the legendary singer-songwriter whose legacy professes openness to changing with the times. We can expect to see clips of Cape May in the scenes covering that event.

The heart of Cape May City was transformed to the 1960s around the 300 block of the Washington Street Mall. Most notably, the Victorian Motel was turned into the Viking Motel, with a crane actually changing the letters on the building for the week of filming. Businesses in the area also had new signs up, like Galvanic becoming The Mayflower Restaurant when in reality that location hasn’t served food since That’s Amore in 2017.

Photographs by Jesse Lambert / Coffee Tyme

Locals were casted as extras and dressed in 1960’s attire, using the ballroom of Congress Hall as their base for hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Vintage cars lined the streets of Cape May from local antique car dealers, effectively putting the cast and passersby in an environment reminiscent of the 60s. 

Director of the film James Mangold said in a March 25th press release “This film has been a dream for almost five years now and I am thrilled to start shooting and thankful for the support of Searchlight, Timothée, and all the gifted actors who have come aboard to help create the unique world of this movie, set in such a pivotal moment of our culture and populated by such unique artists and characters. I am also profoundly grateful for the support of Bob Dylan and Jeff Rosen in helping Jay and me and the crew with their recollections, wisdom and access to their incredible archives.” 

Photographs by Jesse Lambert / Coffee Tyme

Cape May City mayor Zack Mullock had a positive experience with production and endorses this sort of thing in the future. “Cape May is such a welcoming community and the folks who live in town are used to welcoming outsiders because of the tourism,” said Mullock.

Mullock also expressed gratitude for Kacie Rattigan (Director of Civic Affairs, Recreation, Tourism, and Marketing for Cape May City) and the whole staff, as well as the Cape May police department, for maintaining an organized flow amongst the excitement. 

It couldn’t have been a walk in the park to pull this off during Mother’s Day Weekend when numbers in town are already boosted, and there were concerns among locals for how this would affect a holiday weekend along with the general amping up of the season. Kacie Rattigan shared that she believes it was a success and is enthusiastic about the film’s release and Cape May’s presentation on the big screen.  

Elle Fanning with Emil Krastev (manager of Ugly Mug), Ed Norton with Jesse Lambert (owner of Coffee Tyme)

“This production team was great! They were extremely responsive, communicative, and fair,” said Kacie. “When it comes to flexibility, credit mostly belongs to the Mall Merchants of the Washington Street Mall since most of the filming was on or around the mall, so much appreciation goes to them. The City attended their monthly meeting to discuss the filming prior to moving forward and the mall was willing to postpone their Annual Spring Sidewalk Sale to accommodate the film schedule. Such a large production can be intrusive, but also very beneficial to the City, and the Mall Merchants were understanding of that.”

As a result of the smooth production process last week, there is an openness to more filming in the future. “Cape May is obviously a tourist attraction,” Kacie continued. “But there has been a significant increase for requests regarding film and other media outlets. We joke that we look like a Hallmark movie but it’s true and everyone knows it. Depending on the project, most of the set is already built for production. The City is currently working with the State to obtain certification through the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission.”

We will continue to post updates when we receive more information about the film’s release time.