Fortune Hunters: Local John Hughes Followers Are Taking Their 20 Minutes to Hollywood

"I'll leave it to someone else to be condescending and snarky," says Mike Standish of his sweet-tempered 20-minute film, Fortune Hunters, which screens at Bumbershoot's 1 Reel Film Festival. "We don't want people laughing at our characters." Rather, he hopes the audience will relate to the same comic embarrassments about romance and breakups—and possibly overbearing Chinese parents, too. "Those are things that we all share," adds Standish, though neither he nor co-writer Thom Harp has ever worked in a fortune-cookie factory.

In their second collaboration (after the short Driver's Ed at SIFF '05), Harp directed and Standish produced. With the former on vacation last week, Northwest native Standish explained how he came from a background with former local comedy troupe Some Kind of a Cult, while Harp, originally from California, had been working as a cinematographer here in Seattle.

When the two met at a script-pitching event at SIFF '03, recalls Standish, "We realized we both liked John Hughes movies." They also loved Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and began writing together soon thereafter. Two years later, their first collaboration, Driver's Ed, was made for SIFF's Fly Filmmaking Challenge, where the festival essentially financed the accelerated shoot. "That was sort of trial by fire—a film you had to make under overwhelming time constraints," says Standish. For Fortune Hunters, they had to raise their own budget, about $35,000, with early funding from King County's 4 Culture program and the Mayor's Office of Film and Music. "Basically, it was really helpful as seed money."

Meanwhile, the two were knocking on doors in Hollywood with their feature script, Booty Camp. "It's basically Meatballs meets Stripes," explains Standish. But in the course of their pitching, Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company took a liking to the duo, and recommended a lead actor for Fortune Hunters. Thus, Kelvin Yu, a handsome young presence on TV, was cast as the Seattle fortune-cookie writer who rashly dumps his girlfriend (Jessica Skerritt, a family relation of local thespian Tom Skerritt). As Yu's character reconsiders his decision, his frantic e-mails and text messages naturally end up, yes, in the fortune cookies of his father's business. His exasperated dad is played by an indelible figure of '80s cinema—Long Duk Dong himself from Sixteen Candles, Gedde Watanabe. "We needed a truly funny man to play the father," explains Standish, so they sent him the script. "He was just totally jazzed to do it."

Shooting took six days last summer, and the film had its local premiere at SIFF '07, where it was runner-up in the audience awards for best short. Subsequent festival appearances have now drawn studio interest in an expanded Fortune Hunters feature. "We are writing as fast as we possibly can," says Standish, knowing full well that's the sort of industry that broke Hughes, a former copywriter, into Hollywood. Now Standish and Harp may be headed in the same direction.

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

More 1 Reel Picks

Bumbershoot's short films are grouped into 27 themed blocks at McCaw Lecture Hall. We can't vouch for every title in each group, but here are some individual standouts to catch. Among the locals, Dan Brown's whimsical mouse tale Pierre was voted top short at SIFF this year (3 p.m. Mon.). All three of SIFF's Fly Films are reprised at 3 p.m. Sat.; Matt Daniels' Numb is the most technically adept, nicely marrying computer effects with a Dr. Seuss–meets–Lemony Snicket sensibility. He also collaborated on the whimsical When You Grow Up, part of the "Made in Seattle" program (2 p.m. Mon.), along with the morose life-appraisal Everyone I Have Ever Known, seemingly edited from old home movies; make time for that program. Narrated in rhymed couplets, the charming Australian The Girl Who Swallowed Bees is accompanied by other SIFF jury prize winners (3:30 p.m. Sun.) Death to the Tinman is a fairly ingenious emo-core take on L. Frank Baum's backstory to The Wizard of Oz; it's in the same package as Don Herzfeldt's mordant, funny stick-figure animation Everything Will Be Okay (7 p.m. Fri.). A haunting Tobias Wolf short story underlies The Hunter (8 p.m. Sun.). Phantom Canyon makes a Terry Gilliam–style dream-world collage out of the early cinema experiments of Eadweard Muybridge (7 p.m. Sat.). Silence Is Golden offers a supremely specific, raucous take on an early '70s English boyhood (5:30 p.m. Sun.). Suzan Pitt's El Doctor (9 p.m. Mon.) is the best short animation I've seen this year. And as if ready-made for YouTube, there's Ride of the Mergansers (4:30 p.m. Mon), which can best be described as cute ducklings trying to escape their nest. Sometimes that's all the plot you need. BRIAN MILLER

 
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