OCEAN CITY – “The Graduates” are coming back to Ocean City, but it’s not the “junebugs” that flock to town each year, it’s the movie that was shot in Ocean City about the “junebugs.”
Ryan and Matt Gielen, formerly of Columbia, Md., had called Ocean City their vacation home their entire lives, and found inspiration in the town’s annual “senior week” migration and made it the backdrop for their first feature length film, “The Graduates”, which they shot in Ocean City in the fall of 2007.
After a year of traveling to various film festivals and giving preview screenings of their 90-minute film, the brothers, as well as several actors from the film will be returning to Ocean City in mid-May and staying for about six weeks to promote the official release and sell the DVD of their award-winning and critically acclaimed comedy.
“We’ve been promoting the film almost primarily through word-of-mouth advertising and built a very large fan base through the website, and we’ve been selling out screenings in every city that we’ve been to,” said Ryan Gielen via phone interview. “We could’ve gone to any beach town to make a movie, but we really wanted to go back to our roots to make this film.”
Gielen, who won the coveted “Director Discovery” Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, wanted to pay tribute to “old-Ocean City” and wrote and directed a poignant comedy that is essentially a coming of age story about four friends who travel to the resort for their last hurrah as high-schoolers.
“People all over the country are fascinated by the concept of senior week and what takes place there,” said Gielen. “We tried to show it in a funny and a smart way, and you relate to these characters, so it’s not just about the craziness of senior week, we wanted it to be a well written comedy about growing up.”
The film, which was budgeted at a mere $95,000, will officially be released May 1 at a New York City screening, and Gielen says that promoting the film rests squarely on their shoulders.
“We don’t have a corporate backer or a big studio behind us, we are fully self distributing,” said Gielen. “We are local guys with a local movie, and we are looking for support from people in Maryland to help us promote this film.”
Gielen also hopes that this movie will help springboard him further into the industry, which hasn’t seen a filmmaker from Maryland “make it” since Barry Levinson and John Waters.
“The Rhode Island Film Festival was a big launch pad for us for all the future screenings,” said Gielen, “as that was our first screening which we sold out in about 20 hours, and since then we’ve sold out all 10 of the screenings we’ve had in six different cities like Los Angeles, Maryland, Virginia, and others.”
In traveling to various cities throughout the country, including a trip to the Seattle Independent Film Festival in a few weeks, Gielen said that the town has been as well received as the characters.
“The refrain that I hear is that the town is cute and charming and very fun place to be”, said Gielen, “and we intentionally showed 8-10 of the traditional old school legendary Ocean City spots, which were places where I went to like Dumsers and Trimper’s Rides”
Gielen purposely didn’t shoot many of the town’s newly developed condominiums in hopes to capture Ocean City’s former small town essence, as he hoped to create a nostalgic movie about growing up and how hard it is to let go of things from your youth.
From a marketing standpoint, the word-of-mouth advertising has been coupled with essential giveaways to create buzz amongst viewers, and the approach has proven quite successful, according to Gielen.
Gielen is unsure about the monetary gain that his low budget film has earned he and his brother, but he says it’s too early to tell, and much of it hinges on the official release and the DVD sales, which can be preordered on the film’s website (www.graduatesmovie.com).
The DVD will contain cast commentary, indie filmmaking tips, a “making of” documentary as well as Gielen’s award-winning 25-minute short film called “Deleted Scenes.”
Gielen said he’s looking forward to getting out of New York City for six weeks and spending some time at the same resort that provided him the inspiration for his first full-length film.
“Everyone from the tourism board to all the local business owners were so supportive and excited about what we did, and their support was the only reason that we got the film done at all,” he said.