Fun little movie turns into Cannes trip

Most movies invited to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival boast a budget of millions. Kansas City filmmaker Joe Carey spent $193.

Carey and collaborators David DeRock and Chad Crenshaw are heading to France next week to screen their short comedy “The Donald Gordon Story” in competition at Cannes.

“Our film speaks to a filmmakers’ crowd because it’s essentially all about making a movie,” says writer-director Carey.

They shot the short in Lawrence last summer as part of the 48 Hour Film Project, an international competition that gives teams two days to assemble a movie. For this year’s contest, teams were assigned four pieces of mandatory criteria:

1. It had to be a dark comedy.

2. It had to include a character named Donald Gordon.

3. It had to include a necklace.

4. It had to feature the line of dialogue, “Let’s take it from the top.”

While brainstorming ideas, Carey suggested a quirky one he had concocted a few years back that had never found a proper cinematic outlet. It involved a man who gets fired from his job as a celebrity chef, then notices a camera is following him around — and it’s the camera the audience is watching him through. Things keep happening that indicate he is the central figure in some movie production of which he is unaware.

“We joked when we were making it that the working title is ‘Stranger Than Truman.’ It’s kind of like Jim Carrey’s ‘The Truman Show,’ but it’s a lot more meta and surreal like Will Ferrell’s ‘Stranger Than Fiction,’ ” Carey says.

The seven-minute piece earned awards for best film, director, use of character and audience choice at the KC branch of the 48 Hour Film Project. The win automatically entered “The Donald Gordon Story” into Filmapalooza in New Orleans, where other winning entries from 112 cities competed for a chance to screen at Cannes.

“We just set out to make a fun movie and had a great time doing it,” says DeRock, who also portrays the film’s titular character. “But after the first screening at the KC 48 Hour competition where I got to hear all the reactions, I said, ‘Hey, we might actually have a chance here.’ ”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t initially the case.

The judges selected their top ten. “Donald Gordon” was not among them.

But a month later, Carey received an email explaining Cannes was opening up four more slots. The 48 Hour judges unanimously decided his film should occupy one of them.

“We didn’t make the top 10, but we made the top 14. And in the end, that apparently was good enough to get into Cannes,” says Carey, a technology coordinator for the Basehor-Linwood School District whose only previous trip outside the country was a college excursion to France.

“The Donald Gordon Story” will screen at noon May 20 at The Palais.

Not a bad return on a $193 investment.

“One of the rules in the contest is you can’t pay anyone. So our budget was $160 for entering the festival and $33 at McDonald’s for feeding the crew,” he says.

Now money presents a much more challenging factor for the filmmakers, who are faced with an expensive trip. Two community events are helping the cause.

CinemaKC was scheduled to sponsor a fundraiser Wednesday at the Screenland Crown Center. A second one sponsored by Comedy City begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Westport Flea Market, 817 Westport Road. After a mixer, a 90-minute improv show centered on movies begins. A $12 minimum donation is suggested. The profits go to covering the costs of airfare and lodging for the three filmmakers and their significant others.

“I think comedies always connect with people on a certain level because everyone loves to laugh,” says DeRock, who Carey asserts improvised about 75 percent of his lines. “In the film, Donald Gordon is on the outside of what seems like a joke everyone else is involved with, and I believe the audience gets to feel like they are a part of that joke as well.”

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