How do you define a nostalgic summer in Ocean City, Md.? For filmmaker Michael Tully, it’s beach days, arcade nights, getting the girl and defeating the bully. And don’t forget the hip-hop.
Filmed in 2012, in Ocean City, “Ping Pong Summer” has found its day in the sun with a national release date of June 6, after an Ocean City premiere on May 31, and the Clayton Theatre in Dagsboro will begin its second week of screening “Ping Pong Summer” on June 13.
“We’re very excited about it. It’ll kick off right when the kids get off school,” said Clayton owner Joanne Howe.
Her family kept an eye on the film, waiting for this opportunity to screen it, she said.
“I think that it’ll do well in the area, and I think that it shows off Ocean City pretty well,” Howe added.
“Think ‘Karate Kid,’ with hip-hop and ping pong swirled in,” wrote GQ magazine of the film, which features Susan Sarandon, John Hannah, Lea Thompson and Amy Sedaris, as well as Robert Longstreet and Judah Friedlander.
The year is 1985, and Rad Miracle is a shy 13-year-old white kid who’s about to enter his own coming-of-age scenario. During the annual family vacation to Ocean City, he makes a friend as obsessed with hip-hop and ping pong as he is. Then, add his first real crush, abuse from the local rich kid/bully, and a ping pong challenge he can only overcome with training from an unexpected source: a fish-wielding, beer-guzzling Susan Sarandon.
Writer/director Tully vacationed for years in Ocean City, growing up in Frederick and Prince George’s counties, Md.
“I thought it would make for a cool ’80s beach movie, with my obsessionals at that age,” he said. “We’re always telling the same stories … but ultimately it’s how you tell the story,” that makes it interesting.
He included in the story the “Karate Kid” drama of a teen newcomer who must defeat the local bully.
The film is no autobiography, but Tully included “very personal” details, such as the “I survived the Sooper Dooper Looper” T-shirt and Rad Miracle smelling a brand-new cassette tape (Tully said more than a handful of moviegoers have told him they used to do the same thing).
“For me, the movie’s become this unconscious love letter to my adolescence, when I would go to an actual store and pick up an actual product and hold it in my hand.”
He insists he could recognize albums from different record labels, such as Def Jam, based on the smell of the tape.
Ironically, the film was shot on film, when The Clayton just switched over to a digital projection system, allowing it to show more independent films.
“I think it’s wonderful for people to come out,” Howe said. “They’ve had some great films that have been made locally that it’s great for people to support.”
The Clayton has nightly showings at 7 p.m., Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. and senior special nights on Wednesday and Thursday.
The film is 91 minutes long and family-friendly, said Tully.
Passion behind the picture
Since he began writing the screenplay as a senior in high school in the ’90s, Tully said, the script has changed with his life. Luckily he could do other projects on smaller budgets and save this for the right time in his life.
“I think I’ve lived long enough to make it real,” he said.
Once planning to set it in fictional “Water Town,” he eventually came to embrace his love for Ocean City.
“The only way it [would be] very interesting is by being very personal,” Tully concluded.
He paid homage to the classic Ocean City spots, including the Boardwalk, Phillips Seafood, Trimper’s, Paul Revere Smorgasbord, King’s Arms Motel, Old Pro Golf, the Greene Turtle and more.
And those weren’t the only local touch he included in the film.
“It was really important for the kids that we find fresh, new talent, especially in the Maryland area.”
Rather than shipping child actors from Los Angeles, local youngsters filled the speaking roles and served as extras, including lead Marcello Conte from New Jersey and Ocean City’s own Emmi Shockley, the main love interest, as well as Andy Riddle, Myles Massey, Joseph McCaughtry, Helena Seabrook and Maddie Howard.
With a stellar adult cast, Tully said he was never very starstruck — especially now, in his 40s. But, he said, actors such as Sarandon are professionals, and everyone just wants to make a good movie. They don’t carry themselves with a high air, he noted.
Only once during filming, he thought, “Am I really in Ocean City? And that’s Susan Sarandon, and that’s an old Ocean City police car we managed to find?” Then the stress of the moment takes over, he said, and there’s no time for stargazing.
Tully said he is proudest of “finding a team of collaborators to make the movie that I wanted to make.” Not a strong editor himself, he gave props to Marc Vives, who forged the film in the editing room.
“That’s the goal in filmmaking, so you’re not sitting in a room writing a novel by yourself,” said Tully, but instead trying to find people “smarter than yourself” who can add to the vision. “The more that you let people be involved and let them feel that they’re contributing, the more empowered they’ll feel.”
The biggest challenge, he said, was raising the money. When Sarandon committed to the picture in the spring, the other actors began to take the project more seriously, he said.
Even getting rights to 80s music was important and tricky.
They shot on Super 16 film, which produces the perfect graininess, especially when projected on big screens.
“We really wanted to make something that felt like an artifact from the ’80s,” Tully said, versus something like “The Wedding Singer,” which looks back with a “wink and a laugh.”
For someone to someday see this 2014 film and think it was made in the 1980s would be Tully’s dream. Even getting rights to ’80s music was important and tricky. They could have upped the film quality, he said, but the money was better spent on post-production, such as the rights to the 1980s-era soundtrack, which includes music from The Fat Boys, Mary Jane Girls, Whodini, Mr. Mister, Midnight Star, Angelo Jannotti, Mantronix, Hammer Throw and more.
Now in theaters
“Ping Pong Summer” premiered in New York on May 30 and Ocean City’s Sun and Surf Cinema on May 31, featuring Tully, the young actors, producers, local supporters and political figures. (Some even attended the Sundance Film Festival and Rotterdam Film Festival showings.)
The Town of Ocean City and Worcester County governments provided $100,000 for the film’s $1.5 million budget — a low budget that stretched thanks to key actors’ willingness to work for minimal pay, according to OC Today newspaper.
“The level of enthusiasm for the fiscal support … is unbelievable and almost unprecedented,” Tully said. “Everywhere, people were willing to do whatever it took.”
People volunteered to be extras and offered shooting locations at discounted rates or free of charge.
However, the most important screenings may be those on June 6, when “Ping Pong Summer” hit the box office nationwide and was released on-demand by Gravitas Ventures. That means people could enjoy the cinematic experience in a theater or in the comfort of their homes.
The movie’s relative success could “tell the independent film world that the movie really does have legs,” Tully said. “It’s really hard if you don’t have $3 million in advertising. But so far the word of mouth has been fantastic.”
“Ping Pong Summer” will be shown at Rehoboth Beach’s Movies at Midway, as well as Wilmington’s Theatre N at Nemours and Fox Sun & Surf. Other cities showing the film starting June 6 include New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Silver Spring, Md., as well as Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, Toronto, Boston and Nashville.
Although the film is not rated by the MPAA, Tully called it appropriate for those 10 or older. Even kids who didn’t understand all the jokes enjoyed it, he said.
“It’s family-friendly. At that point, maybe people will want to act like it’s the 20th century again and go to the theater,” Tully quipped. “I’m hoping we do well.”
Currently, Tully is in rewrites on a psychological thriller, hoping to shoot in September in Ireland. He called the new film a tribute to the U.K. thrillers of the 1970s.
Learn more online at
www.pingpongsummer.com or Facebook.