Should Ocean City’s government give money to an independent film that wants to shoot in the resort this fall?
That’s the question up for debate after last week’s meeting when producers outlined their hopes for filming the movie “Ping-Pong Summer” in Ocean City. The producers reported those aspirations are contingent upon the local community investing monetarily in the production.
It was quite clear after the briefing that a majority of the five elected officials in the room that night do not think it’s government’s responsibility to ante up for a private movie venture, no matter how it showcases Ocean City and how much the cast and crew will spend in the area during the month or so it’s in the area.
Indeed, it’s a difficult case to be made that government should invest public dollars in a movie. However, there are plenty of precedents to prove it’s been done. Some states even go so far as to encourage incentives to lure movie producers and directors to their grounds. In fact, Maryland does it.
The Maryland Film Office, a division of the Department of Business and Economic Development, offers income tax credits for identified expenses necessary to shoot a movie in the state. Approximately $7 million in tax credits were supposed to be available in the current fiscal year.
However, the Maryland Film Production Employment Act, which passed in the General Assembly last year, never resurfaced for its funding infusion in Annapolis earlier this year for further ratification, leaving the funds in a state of uncertainty. According to producers, the movie was relying on the rebate program to fund approximately $300,000.
With that hole, it’s unknown whether production can commence. At last week’s meeting, producers said they could scratch together the deficit through private sources, but they wanted to give Ocean City the chance to become involved with a fiscal commitment and investment.
At last week’s meeting, the movie’s team pledged that any investment made into the film would be returned 100 percent through room, food and beverage tax. Also, 90 percent of every private investor’s dollar would reportedly be recouped, along with 50 percent of profits for the life of the film.
That all sounds logical, but the best pitch we heard at last week’s meeting was that Ocean City would be a central character in the movie. Although there are some top actors lined up, it was nice to hear the name “Ocean City” would be featured prominently and that the flick would be as much about Ocean City as it would be the characters.
That was not the case with any of the recent movies shot in Ocean City. A fictional town name was created for “Runaway Bride” and “Tuck Everlasting”, both of which were shot in Berlin. Dating back to the mid-1980s, Ocean City was never established in the box office clunker “Violets Are Blue”, starring Sissy Spacek and Kevin Kline.
Unlike those movies, “Ping-Pong Summer” is an independent film and will need to be introduced at one of the many known film festivals, which serve as marketplaces for larger movie distributors to buy independent movies and then handle mass distribution. The producers and director feel certain the movie will be picked up, but there’s no guarantee.
It’s going to take some creativity to make this happen and the major hurdle, besides the philosophical debate, is the timetable. Producers say they need the money by the end of July to proceed with fall filming or run the risk of losing the lead acting team that features Susan Sarandon. Deadlines never sit well, particularly when they come amidst practical and philosophical uncertainties.
So far, and there’s still plenty to discuss here, tourism folks seem to love the idea of seeing Ocean City on the big screen. They do appear to have a challenge ahead of them, but we think it’s an initiative worthy of serious, open-minded consideration.