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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Rotten Tomatoes Users Are Going Bananas Over ODU Alum’s Film

By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University alum Keith Strausbaugh and his filmmaking partner Anthony Guidubaldi made their mockumentary "Marathon" on a shoestring budget. The total cost was about $55,000, with a shooting budget of $28,000.

"Given our limited resources, I think we produced an impressive scrappy little comedy," he told Authority Magazine.

Movie fans resoundingly agree.

The feature film, which came out this spring, earned a 95% rating from Rotten Tomatoes with an 89% audience score. "Clever 'Marathon' will keep you laughing until the finish," wrote Linda Cook for OurQuadCities / WHBF-TV.

"The reviews were a wonderful surprise," said Strausbaugh '07 B.S. criminal justice, '09 M.A. English.

The plot, according to IMDB, follows an unprofessional film crew as it documents five amateur runners while they train for an offbeat desert race organized by a desperate shoe store owner pulling out all the stops to celebrate its 15th year.

"The goal was simplicity," Strausbaugh said. "The mockumentary style lends itself well to low-budget filmmaking, but it also showcases our strengths - story, jokes and character."

How did Strausbaugh and Guidubaldi, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, come up with the idea?

Strausbaugh, who grew up in Virginia Beach, drew on his experience of being "guilt-tripped" by his mother and physical education teacher into trying out for the cross country team at Kellam High School.

"Back then I thought runners were nuts. Because they are," he said. "It's a world and culture perfect for satire and parody - big personalities, weird outfits and a variety of goals and motivations. Everybody runs for a different reason. It's also a community that takes themselves way too seriously at times, so we thought it'd be fun to twist the knife. Or bluntly stab."

Strausbaugh's path to screenwriting got a jump start at ODU. He entered the master's English-professional writing program in 2007 "without a clear path of study or any post-graduation plans."

Then he took Robert Arnett's screenwriting class.

"Screenplays typically call for terse, punchy diction and snappy dialogue, which I found aligned well with my writing style," he said.

Or so he thought. He said his first screenplay was "terrible," but he immediately signed up to retake the class. That second draft went on to win Best Comedy at the Gotham Screen International Film Festival and received a staged reading at Tribeca Cinemas.

As Strausbaugh was figuring out his future, Arnett suggested that he take the money he would spend on a graduate degree and instead head straight to Los Angeles and learn the screenwriting craft at seminars and in books.

"At that time, however, I was a one-trick/one-script pony with no film background," said Strausbaugh, who decided to enroll in the MFA screenwriting program at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

He said that program "gave me the opportunity to hone my chops for three years in a workshop environment and watch a film a night. It was invaluable.

"I entered the program as basically a joke writer and left as a student of cinema."

"I really consider him a success story," Arnett said. "Keith was in a graduate-level section of my screenwriting course in spring 2008. It was a great cohort of students."

Strausbaugh and Guidubaldi, who also holds an MFA in screenwriting from UNLV, formed their company Hot Tub Mimosas in 2011.

The duo is now looking for financing to make a mockumentary version of "Hands on a Hardbody," a 1997 documentary about an endurance competition, or to shoot "Shore Break," which Strausbaugh describes as "basically 'Caddyshack' with Jet Skis. Or 'Dodgeball' with Jet Skis." That script, which was inspired by his summers working at his uncle's Jet Ski rental business, won Stage 32's Comedy Screenplay Contest and previously ranked No. 1 on the Black List website for comedy features.

"Let the bidding war begin," he said.

You can watch "Marathon" on VUDU, Prime Video or Apple TV

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