This fall, probably for the first time ever, an independent featured film was shot entirely in Ocean City, Maryland.
Tully himself grew up in Mount Airy, Maryland, and had spent many vacations with his family at Ocean City. The movie is his loving homage to the seaside town of his youth.
“I had three older sisters. We packed up the car and headed out,” recalled Tully. “It’s the one thing I really looked forward to was that once a year vacation to Ocean City.” He started writing the script for Ping Pong Summer during the ‘90s when he was in high school. Since then, he’s been working on it on and off, and the script has “gone through so many iterations and it’s finally happening,” said Producer Michael Gottwald.
Set in 1985, Ping Pong Summer is about a 13-year old boy from the Maryland suburbs who is obsessed with ping pong and hip hop. While on a family vacation, he meets his new best friend and new worst enemy. It’s a humorous, nostalgic coming-of-age film that will remind us of The Karate Kid and National Lampoon’s Vacation, two of the most loved films in the ‘80s.
In addition to the famous actors mentioned above, Ping Pong Summer also features a talented cast of unknown local teens which includes its main star, newcomer Marcello Conte. Gottwald fondly explains the reason behind this casting decision:
For the story that [Tully] was telling, the ‘teenageness’ needed to feel real. We can find unknown kids without going to Hollywood that would work great in these parts. They’re local to this area - the lead’s aunt lives in Ocean City. There’s a character that’s the mayor’s daughter. That actress lives in Ocean City year-round. She’s awesome.
Having Susan Sarandon on board to do the movie, however, was the definitive turning point for the project. “Her interest in it was the thing that made it feel like the movie was finally real and that it was gonna happen,” said Gottwald. “Everything started to come together right there. She responded to the role immediately.”
Located on the Maryland Eastern Shore, Ocean City is a seaside resort town with a population of under 10,000 residents. But in the summer months, the city hosts between 320,000 and 345,000 vacationers, and close to 8 million visitors each year.
Small town that it is, Ocean City has everything a holiday-by-the-sea calls for. From a lively, old-fashioned boardwalk that includes amusement parks, arcades, shops, and restaurants, to peaceful bayside communities, miles and miles of beaches, some even have wild ponies hanging out (Assateague).
PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo of Ocean City’s boardwalk area is from here.
It’s no wonder Ocean City continues to dazzle and attract millions of visitors each year, including thousands of European college students who make the trek to this seaside town to work during their summers off from school.
Today, Ocean City’s 10 miles of pristine beaches stretch from the Inlet to the Delaware state line. Its classic three-mile wooden boardwalk offers endless choices of food, games and shopping. If you have the chance to visit Ocean City in person, here’s a map to help you get oriented. For more information on the seaside town, contact the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
It literally “takes a village” for the making of Ping Pong Summer to happen. In August 2012, Ocean City approved a grant of $100,000 to help with the movie’s funding. In addition, the Worcester County Commissioners also matched the City’s contribution. Local investors participated as well and contributed additional needed money to help make the film.
Ping Pong Summer, affectionately known as an independent “passion project,” operated with a $1.5 million budget (very tiny according to Hollywood standard). But then again, when it comes to movies, it’s not about the budget; it’s about so much more. “When you make a movie it matters how good it is, not what it cost,” said Tully.
PHOTO CREDIT: This quaint oceanfront home in Ocean City was used as a location during the filming of Ping Pong Summer. Photo by Ami Reist.
Susan Sarandon, part owner of the chain of ping-pong clubs SPiN, agreed to work on the project for minimal pay because of her fondness for its subject and the “sweet, generous story” of the movie. Ping Pong Summer is “kind of The Karate Kid with ping-pong and I’m Mr. Miyagi,” said Sarandon.
One of the major promises Tully made to Ocean City was to maintain the film’s authenticity by using local youth actors. All the kids starring in Ping Pong Summer are the sort of kids who could easily have been in Ocean City during the summer of 1985.
PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo of the young cast is by Ami Reist, Staff Writer at Shore Bread.
One of the young actors in the movie Emmi Shockley, a 10th grader at Worcester Preparatory School, grew up in Ocean City. She plays the female lead and love interest of the film’s young male lead (charmingly portrayed by Marcello Conte).
“I am extremely proud that they would choose to film it here, and they are casting it in such a great light that it’s awesome,” said Shockley. “And we’ll be filming somewhere that I am used to, so it’s so great.”
Tully was adamant in casting young, non-professional actors who are typical teenagers. That way, they could accurately portray, through their own personal experiences, the reality of adolescence.
“Only they could give it the genuine flavor that it needed and bring their personality to the part,” Gottwald said. “We enacted a plan to scour all of Maryland and Virginia, there about, to find our stars and we did. We came out with some awesome kids.”
George Rush, one of the film’s producers, says despite being non-actors, the teens cast in Ping Pong Summer all “have charisma, and the right look.”
Another promise Tully made was to feature Ocean City in a vivid, tourist-friendly and nostalgic way. “We’re making one of the strangest and most interesting commercials ever for a resort – in the form of a feature film,” Tully joked.
Initially, Tully was hesitant in using Ocean City as the film location. But he quickly changed his mind on that. He shared:
You’re really not supposed to write the location into your screenplay. I used to think that the more specific you were, the less universal the film would be … but I’ve come completely around on that. The more responsible you are, the more honor you pay to the environment, the more people will connect. I love the idea of showing this in Rotterdam with people not even knowing that a place like this exists.
Gottwald was also thrilled to be able to film on location in Ocean City. But how difficult was it to make Ocean City look like it exists in the 80’s? Gottwald told Indiewire:
You’d be surprised. You walk through and there’s a lot of stuff that could pass for any era. It lends itself to this kind of filmmaking. It’s your classic Mid-Atlantic destination. Some places are folded into larger metro areas. Ocean City is quite a distance from everywhere. Its neighbors are other beach towns. It’s really the most ... popular one.
Ping Pong Summer began shooting in Worcester County on September 19, 2012, and wrapped up filming on Friday, October 26. Many of the filming locations were Ocean City’s actual sites, including the beaches, the famous Ocean City’s boardwalk, Trimper’s, Paul Revere Smorgasbord, Anthony’s Deli, Phillips Seafood, King’s Arms Motel, Old Pro Golf, the Greene Turtle and Hooper’s Crabhouse. Many of these well-known Ocean City’s establishments played an important part in Tully’s childhood vacations. It is enchanting that they now serve as the shooting locations of his movie.
PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo of Trimper’s is from here.
The production and filming went smoothly, and finished on schedule and within budget. The producers credit Ocean City and Worcester County with making the project possible. “The welcoming reception we received in Ocean City was truly remarkable,” said producer George Rush. “We felt the support of the community every step of the way, and there is simply no way that we could have done what we did here had this film been shot in a city or state more typically associated with film production. We can’t imagine a film-friendlier place than Ocean City, Maryland.”
Writer-director Michael Tully loved the entire experience filming in Ocean City. “It was a dream come true to shoot this film in the town that inspired the script,” he said. “We are thrilled with what we shot here, and it is now our goal to make Ocean City proud with the finished film.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo of the Ocean City shops lining its boardwalk is from here.
The cast of Ping Pong Summer was ecstatic to be in Ocean City for the filming, many of them for the first time. They all agreed the seaside resort town was a friendly, welcoming place with a unique sense of charm.
PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo of Susan Sarandon and Lea Thompson at an Ocean City press conference for Ping Pong Summer is by Ami Reist, Staff Writer at Shore Bread.
“It’s crazy, there’s so much character, so many funny places,” said Lea Thompson. “I love our hotel, I love the beach, I’ve been swimming and saw the dolphins this morning. It just seems like a really fun place with a small sense of community.”
Jack Gerbes of the Maryland Film Office explained that besides the obvious economic impact and exposure, having a featured film made in Ocean City will also create film-induced tourism for the seaside town. “If indeed the location is shared and it becomes a character in the film, or if the film is a success, tourists will follow,” said Gerbes.
Even though the production initially budgeted to spend $650,000 in Ocean City during its two to three months filming there, the Maryland Film Office estimated a slightly different figure. The production was slated to hire 90 local crew, actors and extras. It also promised to purchase and rent goods and services from 140 Maryland businesses. The expected economic impact was approximately $2 million.
Reel-Scout is proud to share that the Maryland Film Office is one of our clients. For more information on filming in Ocean City or any other areas in Maryland, visit the Film Office’s website, where you’ll find more details on casting calls and auditions, crew opportunities, workshops, and film festivals, etc.
For me, having grown up in Northern Virginia and having spent many family vacations in Ocean City (and also during the ‘80s), I remember clearly those summer days by the sea. In retrospect, they seem to bathe in a glow of warm, golden haze. It’s a place that always evokes a phlethora of emotions for me ... the joy and heartaches of my adolescence.
I understand how Michael Tully must have felt when he decided to set (and film) his script in this timeless beach town. It’s a nostalgic summer place for those of us who are lucky enough to have spent our holidays there.
It has been years since my last Ocean City vacation. Time to come back and relive the magic and enchantment of those summer days. Perhaps when Ping Pong Summer comes out next year, I’ll even try to make the three-hour drive to Ocean City and personally scout the filming locations for you, Dear Reader.