Filming a Wilmington comedy film for a golf-loving audience

WILMINGTON, North Carolina (AP) — Getting a hole-in-one is always against the odds. But at least credit the filmmakers behind Wilmington’s “Birdies” comedy with swinging for the fences.

If that’s a bit of a mixed-sports metaphor — and it is — consider it a tribute to the passionate and entertaining, if not always brilliant, characters who populate indie film.

After a sold-out premiere at Thalian Hall, “Birdies,” which filmed in Wilmington amid the depths of the pandemic lockdown, debuted Feb. 22 on as an on-demand streaming option.

Since then, the film’s producers, some of whom are also the film’s actors, have been aggressively marketing “Birdies.” They bought ads not only on billboards but also online, targeting social media sites like Facebook and Instagram and trying to lure in golf fans who might want to watch a comedy about drunken locals. an unlucky golf course. trying to regain its former glory.

Instead of going the festival route or trying to secure distribution through Amazon and other major streaming sites, which are two strategies often employed by indie filmmakers, the creators of “Birdies” used an approach direct to the consumer.

It’s reminiscent of a digital version of the “four walls” of decades ago, when filmmakers rented space in theaters across the country to ensure their films were available to audiences.

“We are pioneers. We are the future. Actually, the present,” said Jamie Lane, who serves as a co-producer on “Birdies” and also plays its main villain. “We don’t need Amazon. We do it ourselves.

The history of “Birdies” dates back a decade or more, when writer and director Troy Carlton first came up with the idea for the film. His first attempt was thwarted when the North Carolina General Assembly and then the government. Pat McCrory canceled film incentives, forcing many productions — and the local crew members who worked on them — to head south to Georgia and Louisiana.

Once film production returned to North Carolina, Carlton decided to try again only to run into the pandemic shutdown. This time he decided to go all out, calling favors and assembling a solid cast (led by Los Angeles-based comedian Ryan O’Flanagan and Wilmington’s own Sydney Penny) and professional crew for making the movie “at a time when no one else was making movies,” Lane said. “It’s a passion project.”

He wouldn’t reveal the movie’s budget, but “microbudget” would be a fair description.

Three of the producers were also actors, he added: “I would shoot my scene and then I would grab a boom mic so we could shoot the reaction shots.”

“Birdies” certainly captures that spirit of camaraderie while evoking other offbeat golf movie comedies like “Happy Gilmore” and, the gold standard, “Caddyshack,” whose “Us vs. Them” script “Birdies” pays homage to. .

Longtime Wilmington actor Zach Hanner plays Charlie Conroy, the owner of the ramshackle Twin Pines course, where the day’s drinking among the staff, including the pleasant Nick (Nate Panning), starts early. (“Welcome to hell,” quips club bartender Fred, played by Lily Nicole, one of many well-timed zingers).

As expected, Twin Pines’ financial situation is dire. But when Charlie spots a potential new golf pro named Jake (O’Flanagan, in a fun, completely natural performance) who could help Twin Pines win a tournament of rival clubs.

It all culminates in a showdown with the most annoying of these clubs, whose mercenary owner (Richard Wentz) has his eye on Twin Pines closing. The only problem is that Jake’s girlfriend, played by Aerli Austen, won’t be intimate with him until he quits golf, which she associates with his past indiscretions.

There are plenty of laughs along the way, with the drunken incompetence of much of the Twin Pines crew both serving as the butt of jokes while giving the audience someone to root for once the tables begin to turn.

“We know we’ve got a great product,” Lane said, which is why he and his co-producers figured they’d better skip the festival circuit, which is traditionally not comedy-friendly, and go. try to get “Birdies”. come out on their own.

Early results have been promising, Lane said, with about $2 in sales for every marketing dollar spent. He said if they could get their production budget back, he would consider it a win.

Next up is an online campaign targeting The Masters fans, which kicks off on April 7. In the long term, Lane said, the goal is to help strengthen the independent film infrastructure in Wilmington, a campaign that has also been picked up by such local production companies. like Honey Head Films.

Also on the horizon, Lane said, is a second installment of the Wilmington golf comedy “Birdies 2: Double Bogey” in the works.