(June 6, 2014) Two years after it began filming, “Ping Pong Summer” finally opens today, June 6, with its first public screenings.
The Ocean City-centric feature film will debut at the Fox Sun & Surf 8 Cinema on 143rd Street. A private screening for cast members and town officials was held at the theater last Saturday.
Set in 1985, “Ping Pong Summer” follows 15-year-old “Rad” Miracle, played by Marcello Conte, on his vacation in Ocean City. The awkward, hip hop-obsessed teenager turns to ping pong after being challenged by a local bully, played by Joseph McCaughtry.
It was McCaughtry’s first filming experience.
“I’m so excited,” he said during the premier. “Filming was insane; it was mind-blowing. It was like a dream come true; it was magical.”
McCaughtry said it wasn’t easy playing the villain.
“There was one scene where I have to pour milk on (Conte). It was 32-degree weather and I had to dump a half-gallon of freezing-cold milk on him. I felt so bad. The whole time I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’”
The anti-bullying message of the movie was important for the young actor.
“It doesn’t really matter what time period you are in,” McCaughtry said. “It’s always going to be hard, it’s always going to have the same problems, bullying is always going to be a problem. You just have to find a way to overcome it and overcome your fears. That’s what the main kid goes through is overcoming his bullying problem from my character. He steps up and decides to learn something and beat me at it, and it gives me a respect for him at the end because he decides to stand up to me.”
Andy Riddle play’s the bully’s comic relief sidekick.
“It was great filming in Ocean City,” he said. “We didn’t have to do anything special to make it look 80’s – it was all just there.”
Riddle enjoyed working with the film’s cast of established stars.
“Working with such professional actors like Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson, John Hannah – they were all great people and really fun to work with,” he said. “Hopefully everyone walks away with a smile on their face and is happy.”
Frederick, Md. native Myles Massey, who plays Rad’s best friend, “Teddy Fryy,” said filming in Ocean City was “a great experience.”
“There was so much 80’s nostalgia going on here,” he said. “The buildings haven’t changed a bit. I come here for vacation sometimes and I really like skating around town. It has a really cool, beachy vibe.
“It’s a really good family movie and I hope it gives people that family feeling,” Massey said.
Producer Billy Peterson called Ocean City “the most generous, welcoming place you can imagine.”
“This was kind of a unique project to take advantage of a place in time,” he said. “Our art department really used what you see (in town).”
“We commented often that our set decoration was so minimal because apparently things haven’t changed here much since 1985,” said producer Jeffrey Allard. “Other than a couple Coke signs that we had to change here and there, everything that you see in the film is pretty much as it was. There’s a lot of vintage 1985.”
Peterson said the movie was “a fun, light-hearted ode to the eighties,” while Allard compared “Ping Pong Summer” to “The Karate Kid,” “The Way Way Back” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
Writer/Director Michael Tully called the premier a “surreal” experience.
“I started writing this movie in 1992 when I was a senior in high school in Frederick, Md., so the fact that I’m looking at the marque at the Sun & Surf where I went to see ‘The Karate Kid’ in 1985 is a really great feeling.”
Tully said it was essential to film the movie in Ocean City.
“Sometimes producers say it’s going to cost too much money to film on location, but in the scheme of our production value and what we were trying to accomplish – I’d written so many scenes for Paul Revere’s Smorgasbord, for that Old Pro course, so inherently those things were built in.
“Just being here and actually making a dollar to direct this movie that I’ve been dreaming about for so long was amazing,” Tully continued. “The community support was great, and it was really important for me to be able to cast local talent. That was probably the thing I was most excited about.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan introduced the screening last Saturday.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “It’s on the big screen for the first time here in Ocean City, but you’re going to see it everywhere starting June 6. I think everybody here is excited. All I’ve seen is people smile all evening.”
Meehan thanked the town, Worcester County and the Tourism Advisory Board for supporting the movie.
“This was the right thing to do,” he said. “It was positive from the beginning and everybody stepped up and got behind it – that’s what made it successful.”
The mayor also congratulated the young cast.
“This was a fabulous opportunity for them and I know they’re going to make us all very proud and I’m sure it’s just the very beginning for all of them,” he said. “We’re very proud to be here with you tonight.”
Reaction from the crowd was positive after the screening.
“I thought it was really good – there were some really funny parts during the movie,” said Ocean Pines native Corey Tobias. “It was a lot different from what I expected it to be – it was a lot better and the whole point of it being in Ocean City was really awesome.”
“I liked it,” said Ocean City native Willie Rodgers. “The best thing about it was it captured (Rad Miracle’s) world at that age because everything is so surreal – the girl that you really like, but you’re not really sure about – I loved that. I got to relive a little bit of it.”
Meehan said he thought the film was “great.”
“The young actors were terrific,” he said. “I thought the scenery was great. It really depicted Ocean City. It was a fun story, everybody came out smiling and they all clapped – that’s what it was supposed to be about. Michael (Tully) always said it was supposed to be a fun movie and it was supposed to leave people in a good spirits and leave them happy, and that’s what it did.
“I think this movie is going to be played all over the area and you’re going to see it on TV,” Meehan continued. “I think people that are familiar with Ocean City are going to relate to it and people that maybe haven’t been here before will say, ‘that might be a place to go.’”
An after party was held at Phillips Seafood House on 142nd Street, which was featured in the movie. Guests enjoyed cocktails and seafood appetizers, while several members of the young cast soaked in the successful premier and played – you guessed it – ping pong.
“It’s a pretty crazy feeling,” said Conte, a New Jersey native. “There are so many people taking pictures and asking for autographs. This is my first movie and everything so I’m not really used to it. Everybody knows who I am, but I’m sure not who everyone else is.
“It was great filming here,” he continued. “The beach, the Boardwalk, all the amusements, the people were great. My aunt actually lives around here so I used to come here.”
The young star said the cast learned how to play ping pong during a two-day boot camp.
“My skills weren’t very good, but after that it got a lot better,” he said. “My favorite scene in the movie was probably either the H2O scene or the tournament in the end because I got to play so much ping pong.”
Sun & Surf will show “Ping Pong Summer” at 12:30 p.m., 2:45 p.m., 5 p.m., 7:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Friday, June 6. Gravitas Ventures will simultaneously release the film on iTunes, Amazon and through video on demand in conjunction with the theatrical opening.
Follow “Ping Pong Summer” on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ pingpongsummer or with the Twitter handle @pingpongsummer. For more information, visit www.pingpongsummer.com.