OCEAN CITY – Ocean City is moving ahead in matching the county’s $100,000 to help fund “Ping Pong Summer,” a movie to be filmed in Ocean City slated to begin later this month.
The producer’s budget for “Ping Pong Summer” is $1.1 million. At first, the producers were relying on a Maryland state film rebate program to help fund some of the expenses, but that fell through, creating a $300,000 hole in their budget. The producers then appeared in Ocean City in June to seek public and private investors to raise the remaining funds. A couple of weeks ago, Worcester County committed to funding $100,000 if Ocean City were to do the same.
“Basically, we are ready to hit the ground running,” producer George Rush told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.
Rush had just landed in Maryland from California that morning and the plan was to immediately open a production office.
“This is the final piece to our financing puzzle that is missing,” he said. “The time is now.”
According to Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) Chair Greg Shockley, the production has budgeted $650,000 to be spent in Ocean City during filming. Shockley pointed out that the filming would take place at the end of August into September.
“That comes along at a great time for Ocean City,” he said. “That is a great opportunity to drive some business to Ocean City in September when we need people here and we need dollars to be spent.”
Jack Gerbes of the Maryland Film Office pointed out that besides the economic impact and free exposure the film will also create film-induced tourism.
“If indeed the location is shared and it becomes a character in the film, or if the film is a success, tourists will follow,” he said.
Ocean City businesses and residents will be prominently featured and involved throughout the movie as well as the town will be recognizable and a major theatrical release would expose Ocean City to millions who have yet visited the city, according to producers.
Shockley added that TAB has recognized that funding the film is a risk but the group decided that it is a gamble worth taking.
Once filmed and produced, the independent movie will appear at one of the film festivals with hopes it would garner the attention of a major film company, which would purchase the movie and then distribute it in an ideal situation.
“Will it become a blockbuster? It could, but it seems to be a good product,” he said. “For marketing the town, the town has a role in it, and for the potential revenue stream down the line.”
Councilman Joe Hall expressed concern over the production not coming along with a completion bond.
“There is a risk that this movie, for some unforeseen reason, production could be stopped and it not be completed,” he said. “That does commonly happen.”
Rush responded that a completion bond is common in the film industry when a production moves forward without all of the financing not in place but for “Ping Pong Summer” it would increase its budget and if the entire $1.1 million is raised then it becomes a moot point.
“For us, given that it is a low-budget film, the cost of getting a completion bond is pretty expensive and it wouldn’t make a lot of financial sense for us,” he said.
Rush added that the cast makes the film marketable alone.
“We have that element attached,” he said. “I feel confident that this film is going to be great. If I were to take a step back and look at the pieces that exist, we can sell this film just based on that.”
Council President Jim Hall viewed the $100,000 investment as simply advertising.
“If they shoot this thing, even a trailer, on the Boardwalk and they close the Boardwalk for half a block that is going to be the wildest thing,” he said. “I’m not thinking of a long-term investor, to me this is where TAB decided to put part of their money and they think it is a good deal, I am not thinking so far out.”
Councilman Brent Ashley was skeptical and said “every one of my business senses says to say no.” However, he supported TAB in the decision and made a motion to approve their request.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained that the investment would be considered an “unregistered security” and municipalities or counties are not permitted to invest taxpayer’s dollars into such a project.
Ayres suggested for TAB to find an entity within Ocean City or Worcester County whose charter would permit such an investment, for example the Chamber of Commerce.
Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel, who sits on TAB, said it depends on whether the entity would have to be a 501c6 or 501c3. Either way both are available and legal discussions would have to take place to move forward.
Ashley’s motion was amended to be contingent upon finding such an entity to carry out the investment and the council voted unanimously, with Councilwoman Margaret Pillas absent, to approve.
“I do think the overall premise is good, the idea is good,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “There are always chances that you take but I think just along the way immediately we will start to get recognition for this.”
“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 Ping-Pong and hip-hop.
Director Michael 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 Air, Md. and vacationed regularly with his family in Ocean City growing up.
Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, who has starred in Dead Man Walking and Thelma and Louise, has already committed to the film. Sarandon is said to be a lover of Ping-Pong and has lent financial resources to initiatives aimed at growing the sport in the country.
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.