Senior Week! Filmmakers Take On the Ocean City Ritual

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 25, 2008

Looming on the hazy horizon is a tidal wave of soon-to-be high school upperclassmen who will crash Ocean City as part of June's senior week. But before this annual ritual comes a movie about it: "The Graduates," a buddy picture filmed by two Maryland natives on location in September. An industrious cast and crew led by brothers Ryan and Matt Gielen -- respectively 29 and 25 and born and bred in Columbia -- shot the movie on a $96,000 budget, and they are hosting free sneak previews this weekend before they take the film to festivals in search of distribution. See it Friday at 9:30 p.m. at the Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike; seating is first come, first served, and a Q&A with the brothers and the cast follows), Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore (1711 N. Charles St.; tickets available to the first 100 people to sign up at or sometime in June in Ocean City (check Web site for details).

To get a taste of the film, watch the first four minutes on the site. (It seems potentially similar to the films of Judd Apatow, sire of the wave of comedies prodding the concept of male-pattern insouciance.) Below is an excerpt from a phone conversation we had with Ryan and Matt, both of whom live in New York and, until this project, have focused only on short films.

What made you think you could leap into features?

Ryan: It was never, "Oh, my God, how do we make a feature-length film?" It was, "We know how our group works when we make shorts, and features are the next step." I went to senior week more than once -- before I was a senior, after I was a senior -- and after you go down there a couple times, you realize this chaotic, crazy environment is the perfect setting for a film.

Given that you're brothers and one of you is the director [Ryan] and the other the producer [Matt], there must have been tension between creativity and fiscal responsibility.

Matt: Ryan has also produced short films, and he was instrumentally involved in raising funds and overseeing budgets, so in that sense we never butted heads financially. We have really developed a great relationship with each other, we work very smoothly, and when Ryan needed something as a director, we were able to implement it almost instantly. We had an amazing, flexible cast and crew. Even when outside circumstances forced us to make a change, we were very flexible.

Ryan: Matt's being kind of generous. There are things that brothers can say to each other that no one else can, and that is so crucial for the producer-director relationship, because Matt has no fear of pissing me off and I have no fear of pissing him off. When you're working with a small budget but aiming for something that can compete in a commercial marketplace, you already have handicaps. Everything comes to creative problem solving.

What outside circumstances forced you to make


Matt: So in our film we have a prop car: the car that the guys drive down to the beach and drive around the beach. During pre-production we went scouting to a lot of used-car places, and we found this absolutely perfect banana-yellow 1987 Cadillac El Dorado. After calling this place trying to get them to work with us, we went in there and said we're going to buy it -- it's that good. . . . I took it for test drive. First thing [the salesman] said to me was, "It can't go very far." But it goes around the block and it's fine. Ten miles back to the production office, the car starts to stall out and smoke comes out. Five weeks later we're at the end of the shoot, and the car at this point had stalled out 20 times. We could drive it for three minutes at a time and then had to let it cool for 20 minutes.

Ryan: We would organize the takes on an individual scene on the three-minute run time of the car. Our lead actor was a car guy, and as the car would crap out as it rolled to home base, he'd leap out, fix the engine, dump a bunch of water on it and get the engine running again.

Matt: One time it ended up stalling on Route 50, so all the actors jumped out and had to push the car off Route 50 into a parking lot.

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