DRIVING JERSEY SERIES RUNS LOW ON FUEL

Filmed in June before a Count Basie Theatre screening of the blockbuster summer hit “Jaws,” the above video is an example of Driving Jersey’s storytelling style. Steve Rogers at work, below.

By DANIELLE TEPPER

In the hands of mainstream media, New Jersey has been not been treated kindly. With shows like Real Housewives and Jersey Shore purporting to offer sneak peeks into the Garden State of mind, residents are rarely seen as they really are, and are instead depicted as “pornographic cartoon characters,” in the words of Red Bank videographer Steve Rogers.

That was the injustice Rogers set out to rectify when he embarked on his Driving Jersey video series in 2007.

After losing a media industry job in New York, Rogers stepped into the roles of writer, producer, and director to start telling true-to-life Jersey stories through raw interviews with real residents. Driving Jersey, he says on the program’s website, “represents and reflects the most misunderstood and misrepresented place and people in all of America.”

Since the show started, Rogers and his partner, Ryan Bott of Manahawkin, have dipped into their own pockets for funding. But now, after four years of creative success, they’re asking for help. Via Kickstarter, they’re hoping to raise $10,000 by November 1.

Driving Jersey’s Ryan Bott (left) and Steve Rogers (right) use simple Q&As to tell New Jersey’s story through its residents. (Photos provided by Steve Rogers. Click to enlarge)

Driving Jersey came from Rogers’ own desire to show Jersey as he sees it.

“The idea was born out of many things,” said Rogers, a native of Long Beach Island. He’d spent 10 years in New York after college, and the time away helped him gain some perspective. “When I returned to the state, I finally realized what a cool and beautiful place it is, and how interesting and earnest most Jerseyans are as well,” he said.

After moving back, he commuted to the city, and his long train rides through small shore towns inspired him. After he was laid off from EMMY Magazine, he finally put that inspiration to use.

“I got off the train, and never went back,” he said. “I found that one of the blessings of ‘recessing’ was being able to follow after what you really wanted, because what you thought you needed just wasn’t available to you anymore.”

With help from Bott, Rogers started creating half-hour episodes that delved into the lives of Jersey residents, from musicians and small business owners to random people he met on the street. He set out to discover what makes Jersey tick, while staying true to the universal American heart.

“While it is Jersey-centric, while we are staying within the confines of the Garden State, the stories we portray are the tales of people everywhere,” he wrote on the show’s website. “This is a work of humanity.”

The series found its footings and began airing on PBS and NJTV. In 2011, it was nominated for a Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Award in the New Approaches category. But with all that success, the series has hit a roadblock in the shape of dollar signs – or rather, lack thereof.

“Most people would say Driving Jersey has been in financial trouble since we first hit the road,” said Rogers. “Plenty of people have told me to just give up, but it’s more than just a TV show. It’s a reconnection. It’s a place where stories are told and philosophies are imparted, confessions are offered, underdogs are celebrated and neighbors get to know each other. And for me, that’s about the most important thing we can do during difficult times.”

The $10,000 needed isn’t much in the financial realm of Hollywood, but it will help produce a full season for Driving Jersey.

“We know that times are tough and people just don’t have a lot of money to swing around,” said Rogers. “We’re the kind of guys who have an incredibly difficult time asking others for help, which is why we’re probably as poor as we are rich in friends, stories and connections, but just absolutely financially pitiful.”

The way Kickstarter operates, if Rogers and Bott don’t meet their fundraising goal by November 1, they lose everything they’ve raised, and “Driving Jersey goes on an endangered species list,” Rogers said. So far, they’ve raised about $4,000.

After the fundraising drive, Rogers and Bott plan a benefit concert on November 10 at Red Bank Elks Lodge 233 on West Front Street featuring Bott’s own band The Following and The Accidental Seabirds in a further attempt to gather funds. The event runs from 8 p.m. to midnight.

To help Driving Jersey reach its goal, click here to visit the Kickstarter page. Interested in having your own story featured in an episode? Email Rogers and Bott.

More videos can be found at the Driving Jersey YouTube channel.