Bonjour, Cannes: Two SBCC filmmakers make it big with their short

Santa Barbara City College filmmakers, from left, Gabi Guillen, screenwriter; Michelle Magers, producer; and Benjamin Goalabre, director. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS
Santa Barbara City College filmmakers, from left, Gabi Guillen, screenwriter; Michelle Magers, producer; and Benjamin Goalabre, director. STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS

On Monday, two Santa Barbara City College filmmakers will be flying out to that most famous and illustrious of cinema events, the Cannes Film Festival.

In a combination of talent and luck, along with hard work, Benjamin Golabre and Gabriella “Gabi” Guillen submitted their film to several fests right after it won at this year’s 10-10-10 student competition at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

And to their complete surprise, they got accepted by one of the biggest.

“I had to email them back,” said Mr. Golabre. “Because I wasn’t sure if I was reading their email right. I thought it was a joke.”

“Paradise Cafe” tells the story about two men in a bar, one younger and grieving a lost love, the other a mysterious homeless man who seems to have magic genie-like powers. The film is succinct, restrained and has a twist that elicits goose bumps.

It also broke the competition rules, ignoring the genre of choice: comedy. Because of a number of suicide- and murder-themed dramas in past 10-10-10s, the organizers stipulated comedies for the last two years.

But Ms. Guillen doesn’t think she’s good at making audiences laugh. (Her favorite filmmakers are Lars Von Trier and Abbas Kiarostami, not known for hilarity. She does like Diablo Cody, writer of “Juno” and “Young Adult,” however.)

“Just having ‘comedy’ in my mind threw me off,” she said. “I put off writing for a whole month. I couldn’t think of anything funny.”

Like all scriptwriting competitors at 10-10-10, Ms. Guillen worked with a mentor and wrote nearly 10 drafts that she tried to make more whimsical. But both the producer and director realized it couldn’t be forced.

They went with the second, darker draft, and possibly this helped earn Ms. Guillen the screenwriter award at 10-10-10, where their film got placed in the middle of nine slapstick comedies. It stood out.

As per competition rules, Ms. Guillen’s script was randomly paired with Mr. Golabre as director. They had never met and, despite both being at SBCC for 2? years and taking the same film courses, their paths had never crossed until both their names were drawn out of a hat in December.

They had a producer lined up — Michelle Magers, who had met Mr. Golabre when the two volunteered at the Community Film Studio of Santa Barbara — but already a problem.

During the critical month of preproduction before SBIFF’s start date of photography, Mr. Golabre was back in France for a long overdue trip home to see family and friends.

“For a whole month we Skyped twice a day,” he said. “She sent me all the audition tapes.”

On top of that, Mr. Golabre had to approve locations and costumes, and prep with his director of photography and crew.

He arrived back in Santa Barbara two days before the shoot. He didn’t sleep for those two days. Or the next 10.

The filmmakers managed to cast Ryan Slater, Christian Slater’s brother, whom they contacted through Ms. Guillen’s mentor. The magical homeless man was played by Bob Larsen, most recently seen in CFSSB’s “The Bet.”

They even had one actor drive all the way up from San Diego for a bit part as a taxi driver. And Mr. Slater’s own girlfriend plays a version of herself in the film.

Despite the title, the film was shot at the Wildcat Lounge during the day but with the windows papered up to replicate nighttime. Exteriors were shot around town, including the La Arcada plaza.

Now, both are wrapping up their time at SBCC. Ms. Guillen is working on a dystopian future feature script and Mr. Golabre wants to shoot a feature in Santa Barbara, but not make it look like Santa Barbara.

The two are prepping for Cannes, ready to get there and book a screening and then set out over the following 10 days to promote their short with posters, postcards and old-fashioned pressing flesh. They will be competing for eyeballs with 1,500 other shorts.

“I think our families are more excited than us right now,” Ms. Guillen said. “It just seems surreal right now.”

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