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Michele Deradune

Movie Starring Austin Actors Wins "Best Independent Film Comedy" Award
by Michele Deradune

July 2001

I recently got good news for me and a couple dozen other Austin actors -- a "no name stars" indie film with "no connections" filmed in '96 and got out of editing in late '98 will be awarded "Best Independent Film Comedy" on this Thursday, June 21st, 2001 at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, Illinois. Along with about 19 other Austin actors, I had a "principal role" in Snake Tales (which is already available for rental at Vulcan Video and Waterloo Video here in Austin, Texas). Cable rights have been purchased by Time Warner and we hope now that the film has won this prestigious award a real-life Theatrical Distributor will come forward to help get the movie into theatres around the U.S.

Director/Screenwriter Francesca Talenti is being flown up for the festivities and will be awarded $2,500. Snake Tales, a mystery-romance-comedy, will be screened four times (June 21, 24, 28, July 1 ) during the two-week long event held by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The following film description was written by Barbara Scharres for The Gene Siskel Film Center Gazette:

"The winning film in the Christopher Wetzel Memorial Award for Independent Film Comedy, SNAKE TALES is a Texas version of Scheherazade's Thousand and One Nights. A woman is arrested for accidentally running over an endangered snake. Tried by a woman-hating judge, she attempts to save her skin with a tall tale that teeters on a cliff-hanger each time the judge's two-minute timer threatens to run down. Winding its way around the lives of everyone in town, the story draws in the local gossip, the jilted husband, the closet queen, the bad girl who ran away and made good, and even the judge himself. It's a rip-roaring serpentine narrative with fine comic performances and inimitable Texas flavor."

On June 21 at 6:00, join special guest juror Leo Benvenutti (screenwriter of SPACE JAM and THE SANTA CLAUSE) as he presents the $2,500 Wetzel Award to director Francesca Talenti of Austin, Texas. This gala evening, which includes a reception and raffle for film related prizes, is a benefit for the Film Center presented in cooperation with the Junior Board of the School of the Art Institute. The Wetzel Award is made possible through the generosity of the family and friends of Chris Wetzel.

I played the zoftig cheating wife of the woman-hating West Texas judge, and David Blackwell did a rip-up job as Dick, a "Window Fashion Consultant" who absolutely embodies the finest in a physical actor comedian. Rupert Reyes plays Luis, an adorable loving husband that manages to constantly get himself into trouble, and Lori Heurig -- who is a rising star down Hollywood way -- plays my niece, a mesmerizingly gorgeous blonde who falls in love with Luis's son via the Internet on the "Venus Chat Room." Truly this is a brilliant film -- with lots to figure out and think about for those who love puzzles and lots of simply hilarious moments for those who (like me) love to take breaks from thinking and just howl with laughter!

Being in this film was an absolute joy for me, and I was enthusiastic about it from the word "go." A clear example of this is that when given a choice as to a time slot to audition, I picked the very first time available -- which also happened to be, (and I knew this) -- the very first time slot of any of the auditions for the movie. Francesca later told me, "I wanted you for the part from the first time you auditioned, but it kind of scared me. I mean, I was saying to myself, 'Wait a minute, Francesca. You haven't seen anybody else audition for this part yet. Maybe you are just being too enthusiastic about Michele because you are excited about finally getting started with the auditions!'" Luckily for me, she went with her first feeling. Francesca Talenti is an "actor's director" if there ever was one. She agonized over who to choose for different roles -- and may change her mind a number of times, as she did with the choice of who was to play my (lead) husband. She finally chose Fred Ellis for that part, by the way, who was well worth her extra pains in finding. He did an awesome job. Awesome, awesome -- and sooo good at his Texan persona. (Believe it or not, none of us Texans in the flick even have Southern accents off camera! It can be next to impossible to find actors that do truly authentic-sounding Texan accents -- but not here in Texas!) An "actor's director," once Francesca made her choices for the roles, she gave us actors a pretty free reign to play our parts as our muses willed. And for Francesca to thank actors for their performances -- and even give them hugs -- and end of day was not an uncommon sight. God loves her. We love her!

Francesca Talenti has won awards for every piece of film (including an educational documentary) she ever directed -- though she has never had the big budget her talent deserves -- and had to live with the stigma of being one of those famously unaccredited, underrated and usually unaccepted by Hollywood: a female director. I never heard it from her, but I've heard from many others that female directors have it tough. Like us other females, they often just don't get no respect.

Because Francesca also wrote Snake Tales, she was creative and free in her rewrites just prior to filming -- and even after the official "wrap." Cutting out half my lines (due to a tight budget and therefore a need to shorten the film to only 91 minutes) was a disappointment all us actors know as "stock for our trade." However, I am still feeling the aftereffects of the glee I felt when she rewrote the description for my character in the film -- after she had awarded me the role -- ostensibly just to keep things straight on paper. You see, before I got the part the role called for a "zoftig" (read "pleasingly plump" for those of you not familiar with the German endearment) woman in her early forties. Before I came in for my first day of filming, updated and revised copies of the script reflected my having gotten the role of Mel. No longer did it say "in her early forties." Now it said, "in her thirties." Francesca had never asked my age, and I had never volunteered it, but I already knew I look young for my age. I was really 43 years old. This bolstered my confidence level in following the advice of Lucille Ball (who began her role in "I Love Lucy" in her forties, but had told producers she was in her late twenties) and Joan Collins, who tells the ladies to always lie about their age.

Soon thereafter I went to an audition for a thesis film. Thesos films are student films of the highest order. A university student directing a thesis film is making something to impress potential future employers -- and usually plans to actually make a career of directing films. For actors like me looking for good stuff to put on my video reel, thesis film may pay in celluloid what they don't pay in dollars. Thesis films don't happen as frequently as your regular "student film," and I was excited to have a chance to audition for "Texas Pawn." Sitting outside and looking at the list roles available, I was not thrilled to learn that the oldest role available was for a woman "in her late twenties to early thirties." Gosh, I said to myself, I had to lie. But! sometimes life situations just force us to! I made up my mind. If they ask me, I'm 33. Yeah, that's it. Sure enough, near the end of the audition the young director asked me, point blank and on camera, "How old are you?" I looked at her. Happy that I knew the answer to that one, I smiled and beamed. "Thirty-three," I said. She smiled too. And I got the part.

Back to Snake Tales. Long after the final wrap of the film, Francesca had second thoughts about the ending in the film. As she put it to me, "At the end of the film you get to see what happens with everybody -- except you!" What a great director-woman gal. She was thinking of me. My part. Wow. She had some ideas and called in the camera and lighting crew etc. and we went on location a year after the wrap -- which was still a year before the end of final edit. We did a newly written scene without words. It showed the 20-year-old cook at my diner (a very cute guy that looked not a day over 18) flirting at me outrageously with his eyes -- and me walking off with a self-satisfied and sexy kind of Mae West look of mischief in my eyes. That scene was going to show what happened to me at the end of the movie. However, Francesca warned me that she might not use this scene in the end. After all, I was in my thirties (or so she thinks -- until and unless she reads this article, haha) and the "kid" looked eighteen. She was very fearful that might be too scandalous for the UT Board of Regents who, after all, lent considerable support and backing to this movie. The University of Texas Board of Regents is often thought of as a very conservative crew. The scene was not included in the final edit after all. Overall, Francesca did an incredible job of making a movie wrought with "immoral sensuality" PG-13 rated. And luckily, my acting coaches had prepared me for the scenes I would see fall to the cutting room floor. I was especially fond of this scene because it is so rare to show larger-sized and "older" women as sexy in Hollywood flicks. Francesca delighted me when I asked her the question, "Why did you specify that you wanted a zoftig woman for the role of Mel?" and she answered, "Oh, did I say that? Well, I have always felt that woman just need to have some plumpness in order to look truly sensual, and that is a sensual role." Like I said, God loves her. I love her! May you take Hollywood by storm and tame it, dear woman!

-- Michele Deradune

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