It’s a running joke in the local film community how many movies are set in Kansas or Kansas City but are actually shot in Canada and Atlanta.
Yet the new romantic drama “Trust Fund” takes place in Chicago and Italy but was filmed almost entirely in Kansas City.
“It was fun to create a world using that movie magic thing, where you can show people something, and their minds immediately jump and believe what you’re telling them,” says writer/director Sandra L. Martin. “A lot of that was done with set dressing and finding the right locations.”
Along with husband Isaac Alongi, who served as producer and cinematographer, the Lee’s Summit native crafted a compelling story of an aspiring Chicago writer (Jessica Rothe) who is more comfortable sponging off her family’s publishing company than getting serious about her literary ambitions. But then she discovers a secret trust fund hidden by her father (Kevin Kilner, the dad in “Home Alone 3”) that leads to a path of betrayal, redemption and dreamy European lovers.
The film opens Friday with a red-carpet premiere at AMC Town Center and will also play locally at other AMC theaters.
“Growing up in the Midwest, and this being our first feature, when you tell someone you’re going to make a movie, that can mean a lot of things. Normally, people are a little wary,” Martin says.
“There were a lot of positives in KC because people aren’t tainted by the film industry. So when we asked friends and clients of ours if we could come into their homes to film, they were gracious and excited. Whereas in larger cities, that’s not always the case.”
The filmmakers cast the leads in Los Angeles. There they landed the charismatic Rothe, a stage veteran with some indie and TV credits. She is now slated for five other feature films in 2016, including “La La Land,” directed by “Whiplash” creator Damien Chazelle, a romance in which she plays Emma Stone’s roommate.
For the supporting roles, Martin says she “used local actors wherever we could.” And faces familiar to those in the Kansas City cinematic scene turn up often, such as Darren Kennedy, Jennifer Plas and Meagan Flynn.
Martin and Alongi shot “Trust Fund” in September and October 2014 in the KC area and then traveled to Italy to shoot a batch of scene setters, often with a camera-mounted drone.
“The most challenging thing was time,” Alongi admits. “When shooting a whole movie in just 25 days, you realize quickly that you will have to make sacrifices in some areas to just get enough shots to put a movie together at the end of the day.
“For creative people, logistics can be a killer. Larger films have location managers and lots of producers, and we definitely learned how valuable those roles really are.”
For Martin, the trickiest aspect was securing the financing. “I wish I had a trust fund that paid for the movie,” she jokes.
One thing that didn’t prove problematic was the couple’s own internal collaboration.
“It’s funny how many people ask us if shooting the movie together took a toll on our marriage — it’s not often a husband and wife work so closely together as director and cinematographer,” Alongi says. “In our case, it worked out really well because we were already on the same page. … There were certainly times when things got stressful and intense, so it was great to be there for each other.”
Martin adds, “Had we not been working together, that would’ve been stressful. We were doing 16- to 18-hour days, so it would’ve been hard to go, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to make it home again tonight.’ ”
The couple, who have been married a dozen years, run a photography and video business in Fairway that Alongi started in the ’90s. While they make corporate videos and have lensed other people’s movies, “Trust Fund” represents the first venture of their Transatlantic Film Co. They hope to develop and produce more features that “entertain and inspire.”
“Trust Fund” “is a story that’s got a lot of worth to it,” Martin says. “It’s not a preachy story, but it’s got great family values. It offers a type of entertainment that’s lacking right now.”
Currently, they are readying an untitled “romantic comedy about marriage.” Although it’s not set on the exotic coastlines of Italy, it won’t be tethered to the landlocked Midwest, either.
“It takes place in Boston, and my first preference is to shoot there as much as possible. But we’ll see. The logistics of making a movie in a bigger city — the navigation, the traffic — are so much. There are true advantages to shooting in Kansas City.”
Perhaps Lee’s Summit could double for Boston?
“Well,” she says, laughing. “That would be tough.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
“Trust Fund” will have its red-carpet premiere at 7:15 p.m. Friday at AMC Town Center, 11701 Nall Ave. in Leawood. Tickets are $7-$10. It will also play throughout the week at AMC Barrywoods, Independence and Studio 28. See amctheatres.com.