‘Authors Anonymous’ realizes longtime dream for local radio host

Ensemble comedy was written by David Congalton

slinn@thetribunenews.comApril 16, 2014 

Chris Klein and Kaley Cuoco in "Authors Anonymous."

COURTESY PHOTO

More than 25 years after he moved to California with dreams of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, San Luis Obispo author and radio personality David Congalton is finally making his big-screen debut. 

“Authors Anonymous,” an indie ensemble comedy whose cast includes “The Big Bang Theory” standout Kaley Cuoco, “American Pie” star Chris Klein and “Get Shorty” actor Dennis Farina in one of his final film roles, will make its Central Coast premiere Friday. It’s screening in select cities across the nation. 

“There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment and validation,” said Congalton, the host of KVEC’s “The Dave Congalton Show” since 1992. “It’s extremely satisfying.”

Following Friday’s 7 p.m. screening at the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo, Congalton will participate in a question-and-answer session alongside director Ellie Kanner and producer Hal Schwartz.

“Authors Anonymous,” which debuted March 18 on iTunes and video-on- demand, follows a dysfunctional group of writers who meet every week to critique each other’s work. 

Tension rises and tempers flare when the group’s newest member, ditzy Hannah (Cuoco), experiences overnight success — first landing an agent, then book and movie deals. 

Her envious colleagues — who include an idealistic novelist obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Klein), a cranky military veteran (Farina), a mild-mannered optometrist (Dylan Walsh, “Nip/Tuck”) and his ambitious wife (Teri Polo, “Meet the Parents”) — must find their own paths to fame and fortune. 

Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”), Jonathan Bennett (“Mean Girls”) and Tricia Helfer (“Battlestar Galactica”) also appear in the film.

A Chicago native who arrived in California in 1987, Congalton started work on the script — originally titled “Scribble” — in September 2005.

“I really know the unpublished writer,” explained the screenwriter, who drew on his experiences as past director of the Central Coast Writers Conference at Cuesta College for inspiration.

Congalton said he and his wife, Charlotte Alexander, originally planned to make the movie themselves with the help of another couple. (Alexander, festival director of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, is credited as an associate producer on “Authors Anonymous.”) But after multiple fundraising efforts fell through, they failed to get the film into production. 

Kanner came on board in 2008 after a mutual friend, local casting director Cathy Henderson-Martin, sent her Congalton’s script. 

“I read it and laughed out loud,” said Kanner, who was drawn to the script’s humor and colorful characters as well as its “very relatable” story of creative types struggling to succeed. “I was just excited to be a part of it.” 

Kanner, a former casting director whose credits include “Clueless,” “Friends” and “Sex and the City,” said finding the right cast was key. 

 “We had actors who could really go toe-to-toe with each other, who could be funny and honest with each other,” she said, noting that Farina was the first actor to sign up.

To play Hannah, she and casting director Dori Zuckerman sought “someone who could play that innocence and had the intelligence but (was) more street smart than book smart,” Kanner said. 

“(Cuoco) just brought so much quirkiness to the part …,” she said. “She filled out that character and made it her own.”

When Klein was cast as Henry, the sweet, vulnerable writer who pines for Hannah, the character was changed from an ex-teacher to a former football star, Kanner and Congalton explained. 

The film’s format evolved as well. 

Although Congalton originally envisioned the film as a faux mockumentary in the style of “This Is Spinal Tap” or “Best in Show,” Kanner decided to make it a more traditional ensemble comedy while retaining elements of the former. 

Filming took place in August 2012 in Southern California locations including Burbank, Sherman Oaks and West Hollywood.

“The director knew that this was my first time (making a movie) and she wanted me to have the experience of being on set,” said Congalton, adding that Kanner called on him “half a dozen times over the course of three weeks” to rewrite jokes, reshape characters and share his expertise. 

In one instance, Congalton and his wife advised the cast during a scene set in a bookstore. 

“They had never been to a book signing before. It was quite clear,” he said, so he explained how authors typically sign their work.

Since filming wrapped on “Authors Anonymous,” Congalton estimates he’s seen the entire movie 10 times. He was particularly pleased with Farina’s performance — “He just steals the movie,” Congalton said — although he voiced regret that the actor, who died last July, wasn’t able to see the final cut of the film.

Congalton is currently searching for a director for his next script — “Seven Sisters,” a dramedy about a man who overcomes personal grief by hiking the title peaks between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. He hopes the project progresses a little faster than “Authors Anonymous.”

“What matters to me is I said I was going to go out there and make a movie, and I did,” Congalton said. “I legitimized that dream.”

IF YOU GO

"Authors Anonymous"
7 p.m. Friday, doors open at 6 p.m.
Fremont Theatre, 1025 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
$10.50  
http://fremont.themovie experience.com

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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