Out and About at WRAL.com

Out and About at WRAL.com

— Turning ‘the gentleman’s game’ on its head is a tried-and-true comedic formula.

Despite the regard for etiquette, the golf course is often a good setting for hijinks and immaturity. It’s the comedic sensibility that one Triangle-linked man has tapped into for a glimpse into the game’s tendency to humble.

“I grew up around golf and always found the humor in it,” said Troy Carlton. “Almost anybody that plays golf will tell you that they’re not good at golf. That’s why, immediately, it’s already funny.”

There are definitely shades of “Caddyshack” and “Happy Gilmore” in “Birdies,” a crude comedy that overcomes a low budget to summon some laughs. The movie was made in North Carolina and written, edited and directed by Carlton. He’s a Raleigh native who grew up inside the beltline, went to UNC Wilmington and worked in Wilmington for several years before moving to southern California. The movie shows a staff at a middling country club called ‘Twin Pines’ that’s struggling to stay open. The employees have to motto a plan to keep the lights on.

Birdies promotional graphic

In comes Ryan O’Flanagan, who stars as Jake, the washed up former college golfer caught in a dead-end job trying to reignite his glory days. Jake’s girlfriend, played by Aerli Austen, isn’t fond of his golfing past and links the habit to his youthful indiscretions. Sydney Penny, of ‘All My Children’ fame, plays the role as Sarah – a love interest of Charlie Conroy, the manager at Twin Pines.

“Birdies has a lot of heart,” Carlton said. “These times are tough right now. We all like to stay plugged in and stay aware, but there are the moments that we want to escape and have some fun and know that you can smile and enjoy life.”

After establishing himself in Wilmington, Carlton forced himself off the fairway to Los Angeles at 35. He’s since taken over roles as a writer, producer, director, cinematographer and editor, working on commercial pieces as well as music videos. He’s most known for his work on “Death Sentence” in 2007 and “Half Empty” in 2009.

When Carlton got to California, he got a job at a theme park design company working as a videographer, not something he envisioned himself doing but necessary to pay the bills and develop some professional skills. Carlton currently leads projects for Crane House Film, a video production company, with his associate Bo McKenzie.

“I was in a very comfortable place as a 35-year-old,” Carlton said. “I had been working for 10, 15 years in the film industry with a steady paycheck and I ripped myself out of that.”

Carlton started out at Broughton High before going to Christchurch School in Virginia. At UNC Wilmington, he didn’t declare a major until two years in.

“I just knew that I liked writing,” said Carlton, who graduated in 2004.

Troy Carlton on the set of 'Birdies'

He started writing screenplays and got more comfortable getting behind a camera, familiarizing himself with the process of creating a story and making it come to life on screen.

Using Wilmington’s numerous connections to the film industry, Carlton caught on as a grip, helping maintain some of the various equipment on sets. Carlton worked on the HBO comedy “Eastbound and Down,” some of which was filmed in and around Wilmington. He also was part of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.”

For his work on “Birdies,” the script comes from some of his own time on the course along with inspiration from friends who would crack jokes in the clubhouse.

Ironclad Golf & Beer Garden in Hampstead served as the setting for Twin Pines and was almost too much of a match for what the crew was looking for. Carlton said staff even had to dress up the clubhouse a bit for the movie.

“[A producer] sent me pictures of this place and it looked almost shut down,” Carlton said. “We had to rewrite the script to make Twin Pines even worse. It was perfect.”

The pilot was written by Nate Panning in 2009. Carlton fleshed it out and added gags and storylines.

Troy Carlton on 'Birdies'

“I prefer the laid-back attitude of North Carolina, being able to walk out my front door into a yard,” he said.

“Birdies” carries an indie aesthetic and working on what was roughly a $69,000 budget meant the producers doubled as actors. After the crew was done with shooting, Carlton said they had spent about $32,000. They’ve since spent the rest in post-production and marketing.

“With no money, it’s tough to make something like this so it’s all about the people involved,” Carlton said.

The pandemic was a road block, but some encouragement on staff served as a shot-in-the-arm. They started shooting in May of 2021.

Carlton said the late Arthur Scott, a golf pro in the Wilmington area, was a source of inspiration for the movie. Scott’s life on the course spawned the story behind Jake’s character.

Some of the gags come from real-life experiences, and ‘Tight Lies,’ a YouTube page of shorts produced by the other producers who worked on Birdies. Carlton said he’s kicking around ideas for a sequel and he’s channeling a passion for history by also working on a documentary on the 1898 insurrection in Wilmington.

There was a push to market the movie on social media the week of The Masters. Producers hope to get “Birdies” on a streaming platform soon. A golf tournament and outdoor screening is set for Ironclad on May 21. Another outdoor screening for a Pinehurst golf club is possible as well.

You can watch Birdies online at birdiesthemovie.com.


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