Former Duck All-American Alexi Pappas, MA ’13, directs love story set in track world
Saturday Night Live’s Rachel Dratch and The Office’s Andy Buckley play Pappas’ parents in the film. (Courtesy Tracktown)
Tracktown is a love story.
It’s a coming-of-age love story about Plumb Marigold, a promising runner who falls in love with Sawyer, a baker, on the eve of the Olympic trials.
It’s a love story to Eugene, the town that welcomed star and real-life Olympic hopeful Alexi Pappas when she enrolled at the UO to compete for the Ducks while working toward her master’s degree.
And it’s a love story written and directed by a couple in love, Pappas and boyfriend Jeremy Teicher—who fell for each other while studying at Dartmouth, and collaborated on Teicher’s acclaimed first film, Tall as the Baobab Tree.
Former UO All-American and Olympic hopeful
Alexi Pappas stars in Tracktown, a movie she
wrote and directed. (Courtesy Tracktown)
The story of Tracktown is inextricably linked to Pappas’ and Teicher’s journey from Dartmouth, where Pappas graduated magna cum laude and Teicher graduated cum laude, to Eugene, where Pappas earned her master’s degree. Pappas, Dartmouth’s steeplechase record holder, had one more year of NCAA eligibility remaining after her graduation, and wanted to work on her master’s at a university where her track skills would also be put to good use.
“Naturally, I thought about Oregon,” she said. “I looked at the interdisciplinary studies program and thought that both the running program and the master’s program were a perfect fit for me.”
On her recruiting visit, Pappas was recognized by locals while out running trails with fellow Duck Jordan Hasay ’13.
“I called Jeremy, and I said, ‘Jeremy, there’s this place where people know about running,’” said Pappas. “I’d never experienced that before. ‘There’s this place called Track Town and it’s real, and it’s filled with people who are running.’ There’s also this whole other side, this hippie side. This is a very specific and unique place; it’s not Anytown, USA. That started the idea for the movie.”
While representing the Ducks, Pappas earned two All-America titles and helped the team win two national championships, while simultaneously working on the script for Tracktown. Day in and day out, she would run twice a day, and fill her time off the track working on the script with Teicher.
The storyline centers around Marigold—played by Pappas—a talented but sheltered young runner who falls in love with a local baker on the eve of the Olympic trials. As the race of her life draws ever closer, Marigold is drawn into a world unfamiliar to her, one that could affect her quest for Olympic glory.
“We’re really interested in stories about growing up, and also stories that take place in really specific, cool worlds that maybe most people wouldn’t know about,” said Teicher.
Co-starring Saturday Night Live alumna Rachel Dratch as Marigold’s mother Gail, and The Office’s Andy Buckley as her father Burt, the film also includes appearances by fellow runners Andrew Wheating ’10, Matt Miner, MS ’14, Rebecca Friday ’13, Bridget Franek, and Nick Symmonds. The Eugene public also makes an appearance, as Hayward Field was opened up one day for the locals to make up a crowd during the filming of a dream sequence.
That isn’t to say track and field drives the movie, though.
“The movie’s not about running,” said Pappas. “It’s about growing up in a very specific world, which is Track Town, USA. It’s all sides of this place. Eugene is a character in itself.
“My running friends here say, ‘Oh, you’re calling it Tracktown?’ It’s such a buzzword here. But if we lived in a place where they were fascinated with pancakes and it was called “Pancakeland,” and we were to make a movie about it, we’d call it Pancakeland.”
Tracktown was filmed in Eugene, and a
number of Ducks worked in the cast and crew.
The movie has more ties to the UO than just its star and location, though. A number of Ducks were involved in the production, including producer Jay Smith ’85, script supervisor Sierra Swan, art department assistant Courtney Theim, grip assistant Jacob Shadwick, production assistant Paige Ott, wardrobe assistant Laura Brehm, craft services overseer Brynn Grossman, and production assistant Drew Anderson.
“We definitely wanted to be as local as possible, and that’s why there are so many UO kids involved,” Pappas said.
Getting the film made has been a labor of love for Pappas and Teicher, albeit one that has taken every ounce of wit and talent the pair possess. Pappas leaned heavily on her entrepreneurial business degree while finding backers—John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, is an investor, while the San Francisco Film Society and Sundance are providing mentorship support—and then used her connections, and a little sweat equity, to put the cast and crew together. Dratch and Buckley, the film’s two marquee actors, signed on after reading Pappas’ script, though veteran producer Smith, whose credits include movies City Slickers, Young Guns, and Major League, as well as TV shows Portlandia, ER, and The X-Files, needed a little more persuading.
“Jeremy and Alexi charmed me,” Smith said. “They came to me and said they really needed some help. I was trying to retire—I live on a cattle ranch outside of [Eugene]. They called me while I was in the middle of shooting a film with Kevin Bacon just to make some money so I could ranch. I got back to my ranch and they were really adamant about it, so I told them if they helped me pick up hay, I’d help them with the movie.”
For being shot on a shoestring budget, using friends’ houses as sets and with current students and recent graduates on the crew, the shoot went smoothly and drew praise from the on-set industry veterans.
“Everyone knows what they’re doing,” said Buckley, who portrayed David Wallace on the Emmy Award-winning American adaptation of The Office. “You don’t know that they’ve just graduated—they’re very proficient at their jobs, from the grips to makeup to the camera people. It just feels like another small independent movie.”
Pappas—whom Buckley said could become “a terrific actress,” while joking that she’s also a great “daughter” who keeps her room clean and gets good grades—will return full-time to the track world once her work on Tracktown ends. Now settled in Eugene and running with Oregon Track Club Elite, she will replace camera equipment with Nikes and a makeup department with her signature bun while preparing for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
That isn’t to say Tracktown will be her last filmmaking effort, though—far from it, in fact. It’s just that the talented runner, writer, and director—who has studied with Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade, and who improvised some lines with Dratch during filming—has more immediate priorities.
“I want to act and write for the rest of my life,” Pappas said. “After I train for the Olympics with Oregon Track Club Elite.”
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