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Behind the scenes of the Naval Academy's 'Naptown Funk' video

November 4, 2015 (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Like any major naval operation, an elaborate spirit spot can take over a year to execute.

Spearheaded by Midshipman 1st Class Rylan Tuohy, a group of mids shut down an Annapolis city block in October, dancing and lip-syncing in their choker whites to a send-up of Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" music video that has gone viral since its Nov. 1 release.

The Saturday-morning production took place on Maryland Avenue in the state's capital, on a cobblestone street packed with shops, diners and bars frequented by tourists, locals and mids.

The song's lyrics, re-written by Tuohy and his partners, celebrated precious weekends spent roaming the streets in uniform.

The cast and crew of 60 — plus the Trident jazz/swing band and a duty van — filmed the spot on Tuohy's Canon 5D digital camera with a tripod. They captured aerial shots by using another mid's drone.

"It's all midshipman-run," Tuohy, 22, told Navy Times in a Nov. 3 phone interview. "Every single person in front of and behind the camera was a midshipman, and our budget was a whopping $0."

He got his start during high school on a handheld video camera with a flip-out viewfinder, he said, taking second place in a national anti-smoking campaign video contest held by the Boy Scouts of America.He never stopped producing.

"For me, it was actually a decision: Do I want to pursue film or do I want to attend the Naval Academy?" he said.

He went with the academy and didn't bank on being able to keep up with his projects.

"I think a lot of people have a perspective of the military as a little bit more strict," he added. "For me, I just went ahead and accepted that if I had to put video on hold for four years, I'd be willing to do that."

But he produced his first spirit video, for the 2011 Army-Navy game called "Game for the Real Players," as a plebe.

In the past several years, he said, social media and technology have exploded, and the public affairs office has recognized how to take advantage of it.

Weeks later, another mid-produced video went viral, of mids in their summer whites dancing to the smash hit "Gangnam Style" by Korean rapper Psy.

The twins behind the video didn't get academy approval before filming and got into a bit of trouble, but Tuohy said that the academy has since become more willing to help facilitate spirit spots — as long as they're approved beforehand.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time it's awesome: 'We're right behind you, what do you need us to do?' " he said.

With the other one percent, he added, officials have suggestions for logistics or content.

For Naptown Funk, the first step was the pitch: mids in downtown Annapolis.

Public affairs staff, Tuohy said, knew exactly whom to call with the city to get a meeting about shutting down a block for a few hours of filming.

Once that was approved, Tuohy and some of his friends wrote up the rap, and then settled on Midshipman 2nd Class Liam Gregory as theirstar.

They had four hours to film, get back to their rooms at Bancroft Hall and change before heading over to the afternoon Navy football game versus Tulane, as mids are required to attend every game.

The logistics staff at the academy gave them a bit of a break, Tuohy added, by not making them march into the game that morning with the rest of the brigade.

Friendly rivalry

Game-specific spirit spots are a big part of Tuohy's work. He put together an "Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj parody for the Notre Dame game in 2014, and this fall, a video released before the Air Force game played on the "chair force" jokes the other services often lob at so-called "zoomies."

"I wanted the idea to be extremely simple," he said. "Why can't I just attach chairs to them? And let that be obvious to the viewer, but the people in the video are oblivious to the fact that they have chairs stuck to them."

Up next, Tuohy is releasing a Veteran's Day-themed video on Nov. 11. And then there's his final Army-Navy spirit spot, the follow-up to last year's "We Give a Ship," which drops on Nov. 29.

The Naval Academy has gotten a reputation for high-production-value spirit spots, but Tuohy said he would welcome some more competition and would happily give advice.

"From West Point, we hear rumors that they say, 'Oh well, Navy just hires a production team,'" he said. "That's the biggest compliment you could give us."

Tuohy's time as an academy video virtuoso is also winding down: He has put in to join the civil engineering corps once he hits the fleet. In the meantime, he's been selected to do a year-long engineering graduate degree at the University of Maryland, beginning in January.

"Wherever I'm stationed, wherever I'm deployed, I'll find a way to keep the videos with me to show off what we're doing," he said.

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