Ed Note: Did you know that ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham doubled as an award winning documentary producer? While he's away from his ESPN duties, Cunningham dedicates himself to filmmaking. Bloguin's Aaron Torres caught up with Cunningham at Crystal Ball Run and talked with him about his latest film project – a bizarre story about a North Carolina man's quest to get back his severed foot. A bizarre, but entirely true story…
Here at Crystal Ball Run, we often joke that sometimes, the world of college football really does seem stranger than fiction. Only for ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham, his life is almost the exactly opposite; the wacky world of Les Miles and conference realignment is nothing compared to the work he does away from the football field.
That’s because when Cunningham isn’t sitting in a press box every fall Saturday, he spends his hours on Monday through Friday as a noted documentary film producer. Cunningham’s IMDB page is pretty extensive, with work on such prominent titles as “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” and the Academy Award winning “Undefeated” about a Memphis-area high school football team.
Yet it’s the film that Cunningham is currently working on- and needs your help to complete- which is his wackiest yet. It’s called “Finders Keepers” and well, it redefines the term “stranger than fiction.”
The story- which incredibly, is 100 percent factual- revolves around a small North Carolina town, where harmlessly enough, a man bought a barbeque smoker at a local auction back in 2007. Or at least it was harmless right up until he got the smoker home, and found a surprise when he opened it: Inside, there was a severed human foot.
Like, a real, life, human foot.
Yes, that happened. Only incredibly, it gets weirder.
That’s because upon finding the foot, the man decided that rather than give it back to its “owner” he’d instead keep it for himself and use it as a local tourist attraction. It led to the foot’s owner eventually suing the man who bought his smoker, and in turn, his foot too.
Again, you can’t make this stuff. And late last week, Cunningham explained to Crystal Ball Run how he came across the story.
“I was on assignment for ESPN at Oklahoma in the fall of 2007,” Cunningham said. “And I’m sitting there when Kevin Wilson- the Oklahoma offensive coordinator at the time- walked in. I know Kevin and we began talking.”
It turns out Wilson’s high school coach was in town to support his ex-player, and it also turns out that the high school coach was from the same town as where all the severed-foot melodrama had unfolded. The best part? The story had just broken weeks before, and few outside of Maiden, North Carolina had heard about it.
Upon getting the details, Cunningham’s documentary film producer intuition kicked in. From there he bolted straight out of the restaurant and straight onto Google.
“I couldn’t pay my bill fast enough,” Cunningham explained of his reaction to the story.
Once he returned to his hotel room, Cunningham confirmed that just about everything the man had said was true. There was a human foot in a grill, and the owner of that foot was suing to get it back. That night Cunningham started a file of YouTube clips, quotes and links which has now become over 30 pages long.
Timing is everything is life, and Cunningham had literally stumbled upon a gold mine no one else knew about.
“That was the beauty of it,” Cunningham explained. “It was so well-reported because it literally became 30 minutes of fame for these folks.”
Only really, it was even better than that.
“There were two beats to the story,” he said. “The leg being found was a huge 15 minutes (of fame). Then, like two weeks later it’s like ‘Oh, now he’s suing the guy.’ So you have these two huge media flashpoints. I was kind of on the back half of the second one.”
Indeed he was, and shortly after hearing the news, Cunningham dispatched a cameraman to North Carolina to capture the first bits of what would eventually become “Finders Keepers.” And from there, Cunningham and his crew have spent the last five years vigilantly working to help this film see the light of day. That work includes five separate trips to North Carolina- all paid out of pocket- as well as a bunch of behind the scenes work that includes logging all the information in the movie into files and transcribing quotes.
Unfortunately, the film is now at its crossroads. Funding has dried up, and Cunningham and his staff are no longer able to pay any further out of pocket. Therefore, there is a chance that the movie never gets made.
Or at least there was until Tuesday, when Cunningham announced a campaign with Kickstarter.com in which he hopes to raise $80,000 to see this film to its end. Kickstarter is an industry leader in helping fund independent film, games and music, and now Cunningham needs your help to get “Finders Keepers” to the finish line.
He explained the need for funding.
“We make long form documentary films,” Cunningham said. “What’s become very hard is to finance these films. It’s really hard work for not a lot of money. We don’t pay ourselves. I’m negative in this. Big-time negative.”
As Cunningham explained it, the money he hopes to raise from Kickstarter will allow he and the crew to put the finishing touches on the movie. As things stand it requires one more day of shooting, before an extensive, three-month editing process. That editing won’t come for free, but once it’s done, Cunningham will basically have a final, edited down, one hour, 40 minute version of the film called a ‘rough cut.’ He plans on submitting the rough cut to the Sundance Film Festival upon completion.
For those interested in helping to support the movie, Cunningham and his team are accepting donations of as little as $10, and for those who do give, they’ll get back some pretty cool stuff in return as a “thank you” from the staff. That could range from a signed DVD copy of the movie when it is completed, all the way up to an invitation to the movie premiere as well. In between there is plenty of other neat stuff as well, including autographed memorabilia, not just from this movie, but from Cunningham’s other titles as well, including ‘King of Kong’ and ‘Undefeated.’
But mostly, those who give will help support a project that Cunningham readily admits won’t be made without them.
“This movie was dead on the vine,” Cunningham said. “Without Kickstarter we wouldn’t have been able to make this movie.”
“It’s really a fascinating, fun, complex journey these guys took,” Cunningham said.
And it’s a journey, Cunningham and his staff hopes to bring to a theater near you sometime soon.
For more information on Cunningham’s Kickstar campaign, please click here.
For all his insight, opinion and analysis on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.