Actress will be in resort throughout weekend for shoot
“Ping Pong Summer” director Michael Tully, seated at right, discusses the film’s progress on Monday during a conference at the Hilton Suites. The film’s six-week shoot in Ocean City is slated to wrap at the end of this month. Seated next to Tully are two of the film’s stars, Lea Thompson and John Hannah. Standing, at rear, are producers Michael Gottwald and George Rush. (Inset) Susan Sarandon. OCEAN CITY TODAY/ZACK HOOPES A cademy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon made her first official appearance this week as part of the cast of “Ping Pong Summer,” the independent film now shooting in Ocean City.
Sarandon’s work in the resort coincides with that of two of her co-stars – Hollywood notables Lea Thompson and John Hannah – who also attended a briefing Monday to discuss the film’s progress.
“Provided the weather holds out, we can’t mess this up now,” said the film’s writer and director, Michael Tully.
Emmi Shockley Although Sarandon will only be on set for a week, the production will be in town until the end of October with its cast of largely unknown child stars. Other supporting adult actors such as Amy Sedaris and Robert Longstreet have already been in and out of town to shoot their scenes, as most of the adult roles in the film are relatively brief.
In pitching the film to the resort, Tully had stressed his desire to maintain the film’s authenticity by using area youth – the sort of kids who could’ve been in Ocean City during the summer of 1985, when the film takes place – as the major players.
Most of the teenage cast are Marylanders, with Ocean City local Emmi Shockley playing the love interest of the film’s young male leads.
”It’s really exciting. This is my town and I love acting,” Shockley said.
The entire cast was complimentary of the area and the reception they had received from the town.
“The script is a sweet, generous story. It really represents what you have here,” Sarandon said.
In early August, the City Council reluctantly approved a grant of $100,000 to help with the film’s funding, on the recommendation of the city’s Tourism Advisory Board. The film’s producers had previously noted that much of their budget had relied on subsidies from the Maryland Film Office, which ended up being unavailable. The Worcester County Commissioners matched the city’s contribution, and the film also sought funds from local investors as well. The movie’s overall budget is comparatively low, around $1.5 million, due largely to the willingness of key actors, including Sarandon, to work for minimal pay on what was described as an independent “passion project.”
Municipal reluctance to back the project was partially allayed by the promise that the film would feature Ocean City with a sort of vivid, tourist-friendly nostalgia. “We’re making one of the strangest and most interesting commercials ever for a resort – in the form of a feature film,” Tully joked Monday.
He also added that he had gotten over his initial hesitancy about the movie being too specific to its location.
“You’re really not supposed to write the location into your screenplay,” Tully said. “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 you 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.”
A large portion of the young cast seemed to still be in shock about their potential landfall roles.
“I just auditioned for it and I guess Michael liked me,” said Marcello Conte, a New Jersey native who is playing the male lead. “I never thought I would be in a movie with Susan Sarandon and all these other great stars.”
“I never thought I was going to be in a movie with you, either,” Sarandon quipped.
Shockley will be portraying Stacy Summers, a “very, very pretty” 16-year-old, according to the film’s character synopsis. She drives a white VW convertible, and is a love interest for both of the movie’s key male characters. She is somewhat highstrung, constantly drinking Slurpees and adding an unknown substance to them.
“They said initially that they saw me as Stacy,” Shockley said. “She has this part of her character that’s mysterious … I like it a lot. It’s a fun character, you have to figure her out.”
A Worcester Prep student, Shockley has been dividing her time between set and the classroom. “I went to two classes this morning,” she said. “It’s such a fun set to be on … there’s none of that tension or anything to make you nervous.”