OCEAN CITY – After briefly explaining the details of production and funding issues facing it, Ocean City officials and private investors now must decide whether they want to take the risk of investing money in a movie that hopes to film in Ocean City this fall.
Last Thursday, writer/director of “Ping-Pong Summer,” Michael Tully, along with entertainment attorney George Rush and a team of producers involved with the film, including Jeff Allard and Michael Gottwald, met with Ocean City officials and a number of private enterprise leaders in the community.
“Ping-Pong Summer” is described as the original The Karate Kid meets National Lampoons Vacation meets Wild Style.
It is a comedy based in the mid-1980s in Ocean City with a soundtrack and style to match. The plot follows a teenager boy vacationing in Ocean City who is obsessed with table tennis and hip-hop.
Tully first started writing the script his senior year in high school and has been working on it for the last 20 years. He is from Mt Airy, Md. and vacationed regularly with his family in Ocean City growing up.
“I just really want it to capture Ocean City being in the 1980’s, and I think all of you will attest it has changed but what I love about the town is the nostalgia has been preserved by everyone who lives here,” Tully said.
Tully’s directorial debut was with Cocaine Angel when the film premiered in 2006 at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. He was named one of the Filmmaker magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Tully has also written and directed Silver Jew, which world premiered in 2007 at Southwest Film Festival, and most recently Septien, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by Sundance Selects.
Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, who has starred in Dead Man Walking and Thelma and Louise, has already committed to the film. Other actors who have signed on are Amy Sedaris, known for her voice in Puss in Boots and Chicken Little; James Nesbitt, who has won eight international acting awards and is known as the star of Waking Ned Devine and Bloody Sunday; and Judah Friedlander, who is best known for his work on NBC’s 30 Rock.
The production is estimated to cost $1.5 million and the team expressed that they are halfway there on the funding front, but they are asking the city, county and private investors to commit $300,000 to the film in order to make it happen. The minimum investment is $25,000, according to paperwork handed out at last Thursday’s briefing, which was hosted by the Hilton Suites.
“Originally, we were hopeful that we would be eligible for a state rebate program, and that is no longer there,” Allard said. “We need a minimum of $1.1 million, we have about half of that raised, and we need to raise the balance.”
The Maryland Film Production Employment Act was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2011 but did not reach the legislature’s table this year. The movie’s production team was relying on the rebate program to fund the remainder of the film but left a $300,000 hole instead.
The movie’s team pledged that any investment made into the film would be returned 100 percent through room, food and beverage tax. Also, 90 percent of every private investor’s dollar they would recoup, along with 50 percent of profits for the life of the film.
“We are confident in getting together a lot of different sources, and a lot of different private investors,” Rush said.
On top of a return in investment, it was emphasized that the town will receive an abundance of exposure through media as well as exposing the town and its brand to all those who watch the movie.
It was also mentioned that Sarandon feels so strongly about the film that she has waived a $3 million fee and has committed to working for $200 a day, which the rest of the cast has done in return.
Producer Michael Gottwald explained that the team feels strongly about getting the town involved so that the movie is filmed entirely in Ocean City.
“We know the people to go to, to try to get some money but we want to go to Ocean City, we want to keep it local … we would like the support of the community in this film,” Gottwald said.
A timeline has been set to have all funding final by Aug. 1 because the cast has specific availability, mid-September through October.
“This film I feel extremely confident in its success and a big part of its success is going to be your involvement, this community here, and that means your restaurants, your hotels, your kids, whoever you want to be involved, will be a big part of it whether it be the city, the county, you as individuals to get involved in our project,” Rush concluded. “We have a pretty narrow window to get this done … I say to you it is a great opportunity for Ocean City to get your name, your brand, out there in the world on a national and international stage.”
Although Ping-Pong Summer’s team was optimistic in making the project happen, there was reluctance in the air from officials in the room last Thursday.
Out of the eight-member Mayor and City Council, Mayor Rick Meehan and Council members Jim Hall, Joe Hall, Brent Ashley, Mary Knight and Margaret Pillas were in attendance, and the majority felt it was not the government’s role to become involved. City Manager David Recor was also in attendance.
The council, Recor and the Tourism Advisory Board are expected to discuss the matter further.