Vineland in the Movies
A zombie wedding is just the start
By Jayne Jacova Feld

The latest big-time movie filmed in South Jersey, “Zombie Wedding,” combines a unique blend of star power, a disco-era hit song remake and a groundbreaking wedding between a human and a zombie. But the most striking feature of this film is the central role played by an unlikely participant: the city of Vineland. 

“Vineland is almost a character in the movie,” says writer/producer Greg D’Alessandro. “It’s part of the story. The human bride doesn’t want to leave here.”

Whether or not the zombie apocalypse has staying power, Vineland is now officially a player in New Jersey’s growing movie industry, and that’s largely thanks to D’Alessandro, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Weekly World News (WWN). The online and social media site – which evolved from the tabloid newspaper famous for Elvis Presley sightings and the creation of Bat Boy – now has a movie-making branch. Starting with “Zombie Wedding,” which filmed last year, WWN is making movies in a 40,000-square-foot building that has been mostly vacant since 2015 and is now owned by the city.

“Zombie Wedding” Executive Producer Robert Dragotta and Writer/Producer Greg D’Alessandro

Directed by Micah Khan “Safe House”, the star-studded cast includes Cheri Oteri of “Saturday Night Live” fame, Krystina Alabado (“American Psycho” on Broadway), Mu-Shaka Benson (“The Blacklist”), Kevin Chamberlin (“The Addams Family” on Broadway), Donald Chang (“Squid Game”), Heather Matarazzo (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”) and Seth Gilliam (“The Walking Dead”). It features Vincent Pastore, “Big Pussy” in HBO’s “The Sopranos” portraying Mayor Fanucci, Vineland’s real mayor, and offers some musical numbers, including a new version of Le Freak by Chic.

The movie is hard to pigeonhole into a single genre. “We call it a zom-com,” says D’Allessandro, a New Jersey native who splits time between Los Angeles and his home in North Jersey. “It’s not a horror movie, it’s not scary, it’s not bloody and it’s not a straight-up comedy but it’s funny. It’s also a family movie, and it’s a romance too.”

“The interesting part is the humans are the ones who behave badly,” he adds. “The zombies try their hardest to behave themselves and support the bride and groom.”

Vineland’s stake in the film goes beyond its setting. The city has invested $1 million in the film through the Vineland Development Corp, seeing it as a catalyst for urban revival. And it already seems to be paying off, says Vineland Economic Development Director Sandy Forosisky. 

During filming in the fall, Vineland’s hotels were completely booked with actors and the crew. Restaurants in downtown were bustling. Local residents had roles as extras and in production. D’Alessandro estimates that the production spent some $800,000 in town during that short period of time. 

“We don’t normally have stars you would easily recognize in our downtown,” says Forosisky. “It’s been great so far. They only filmed for a little over 3 weeks, but it was a tremendous boon for the downtown, other restaurants and the hotels.”

“It did for us exactly what we thought it would do,” she adds. “The money gets pumped into the local economy. That’s why the state gives such lucrative tax credits.”

Forosisky was referring to New Jersey’s aggressive program providing tax credits worth 35 percent of the costs of cast and crew salaries for filming anywhere statewide, among other perks. 

As D’Alessandro describes it, filming “Zombie Wedding” was like a honeymoon.

“It was easy to film here,” he says. “We filmed in a church, across from the church and in the cemetery. We filmed a couple of people’s houses and a lake in Millville. Everything was right here.”

A New Jersey native born in Camden, D’Alessandro was originally looking in upstate New York to establish a studio for television, film and podcast projects. But then a friend in the entertainment industry suggested he check out Vineland. At first, his meeting with city officials was just about filming a big wedding scene in Cumberland County. However, their talks led to something more: they showed him a former J&J Newbury retail store that the city had bought and fixed up in the early 2000s. The building, which used to be an Amish Market, turned out to be just the right spot for WWN’s studio.

“I would never have thought of Vineland as a place for us,” he says. “We were thinking we would open up in LA, New York or Georgia,” he says. “But when I walked around it reminded me of every small town in America. So there’s a lot of things you can film here, the building is great and the people are super nice.”

“It matches with Weekly World News: small town, regular folks and there’s plenty of room there. We can help the town and the town can help us.”

WWN is stepping into the film industry, inspired by National Lampoon’s success, and is gearing up for some unique projects. D’Alessandro, who started pitching stories to WWN while in film school and became its CEO in 2019, is excited about the endless opportunities for movies, TV shows and podcasts. With WWN’s massive collection of over 110,000 articles and more than 300 original characters, there’s a treasure trove of content to explore and bring to life on screen.

What started with “Zombie Wedding,” which had its world premiere in New York last December, is the first of a trilogy. The second installment, featuring the first-ever divorce between a human and a zombie, is set to film in March.

“Zombie Wedding introduces WWN as a brand,” D’Alessandro says, envisioning a future where WWN reporters become recurring characters in their productions. “Then we can roll loose with fun, quirky shows and films.”

Vineland’s Forosisky is optimistic about the future, and notes that WWN, which occupies the largest building downtown, was chosen as an anchor for the area’s revitalization and has already attracted additional projects to Vineland. The city has also applied for a grant with New Jersey’s Film & Digital Media Tax Credit Program for the construction of a high-tech virtual studio in the building’s basement. 

“The fact that Greg really wanted a movie studio,” she says, “and he came here – it just felt like the stars aligned.”

February 2024
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