Naval Academy mid shuts down street for spirit film
By TIM PRUDENTE | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 2, 2015
Early Saturday on Maryland Avenue, couples are walking their dogs, folks sip on freshly brewed coffee, and outside an antiques boutique, not yet open, midshipmen are dancing.
High-stepping. Shrugging. Strutting.
The florist is opening shop when mids shimmy past. A portable speaker plays funk music (wake up). Some mid break dances. And the young man crouched with the camera, a midshipman, says:
"There's a shot where all of you take your right foot and go like that (step). Three, two, one: step. OK? Three, two, one: step. I'm going to film it in slow motion."
This is Rylan Tuohy, the senior midshipman with perfect dimples who's choreographer, director and mastermind of the most ambitious Naval Academy spirit film to date.
It involves closing this downtown Annapolis street and wrangling the crew of dancers, extras and productions managers. His YouTube films have been watched hundreds of thousands of times; the most popular, some 250,000 times. He's been recognized, he says, by strangers in airports. He's transformed the campy spirit spot into, well, a production.
For filming Oct. 24, he earned city approval to close Maryland Avenue. He invited Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides: Care to come dance? (The mayor didn't show.)
Midshipmen have filmed spirit spots for years. These spoofs mostly mock football rivals, such as mids acting on camera like inept Air Force cadets. It's a genre born from the fleet. A squadron of Navy pilots' parody of 2003 pop hit "Hey Ya!" has more than 1.8 million views online.
Tuohy's latest film is notable because he aims for more than drumming up school spirit. His film "Naptown Funk" is intended as a challenge from Annapolis to Navy towns across the country.
"The videos themselves have taken a new role," said John Schofield, the commander in the academy's Public Affairs Office who reviews all Tuohy's films. "It's not, 'Go Navy, beat Army.' 'Go Navy, beat Air Force.' It's, 'Go Navy, Go Annapolis.' "
Tuohy, of Greenville, Ky., with his collaborators rewrote lyrics to the hit song "Uptown Funk." His lyrics challenge Navy cities of San Diego, Norfolk and Chicago to answer with their own spirit films.
The scene Saturday — camera crew, dancers, extras, production managers — it's a long way from films he made growing up, mostly for Boy Scouts and his hometown tourism office. Some freelance work in high school earned him enough money to buy cameras. So his films don't cost the academy anything (the city waived permit fees to close Maryland Avenue). Similarly, he earns no money from the films, he says, even the most popular.
"The biggest compliment we get from our rivals is, 'We heard you guys had a filmmaking crew and a budget,' " he says.
Still, his film was taken down in September that made light of a pillow fight at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point that turned violent. The traditional freshmen pillow fight left some cadets injured and bloodied when hard objects were swung.
Schofield and Tuohy, together, decided to yank the video the morning after it went online, Schofield says.
"The intent is to entertain the brigade," Schofield says. "We are completely empathetic and understanding of events that take place at other service academies."
Still, academy administrators remain supportive of the films. A "Naptown Funk" parody was even suggested, last year, by the former Naval Academy commandant.
"It humanizes the brigade," Schofield says.
Saturday morning, Valerie Wierenga steps from her downtown apartment into the curious scene: dancing mids, funk music, camera crews, break dancers, all before breakfast.
"Why not?" she says, and walks on down the avenue.
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