"The Encore of Tony Duran" is a labor of love for Palm Springs filmmakers

When the curtains draw back from the silver screen and the lights dim at Regal Palm Springs 9 on Friday, Jan. 14, at 4 p.m., Palm Springs locals are going to be packing the theater to witness the world premiere of a very special film.

"The Encore of Tony Duran" is a labor of love so to speak, a Palm Springs produced film that beat all odds to make it into this year’s prestigious fest. And you can bet Palm Springs residents, Co-Producer Terry Allen Fraser and Co-Producer and star of the film, Gene Pietragallo will be among the audience to watch the debut of their film.

"The Encore of Tony Duran" is the fruition of a collaborative team composed of Pietragallo, Fraser, Director/Producer Fred A. Sayeg and Screenwriter/Producer Mitchell Cohen based on a story first pitched by Fraser.

The entire film was shot on location here in the Coachella Valley and stars Pietragallo as the titular Tony Duran, William Katt, Nikki Ziering, Cody Kasch and Elliott Gould (yes,the Elliott Gould!).

Without revealing too much of the plot, the film tells the tale of a down and out performer losing his self, only to find his dream again under the guidance of a friend (Gould) just when it looks like all hope is lost.

The buzz is terrific for the film – it’s a must see for all Palm Springs locals and the excitement was definitely palpable over the phone when I got a chance to talk to Co-Producers Peitragallo and Fraser about their upcoming premiere right before the holidays.

Gene Pietragallo:

Gene give us a little background about yourself?
I’ve lived in the desert actually for the last 17 years, but I don’t do a lot of work out here. I have a production company…before I came here I was an actor in L.A. I was on a soap opera for a couple of years and I did various sundry shows, you name it. Hill Street [Blues], St. Elsewhere. I was a guest star on the last episode of M.A.S.H.. I always worked a lot when I was a kid, well, when I was in my twenties and thirties.

Can you describe the creative genesis of this film because it kind of sounds like this is your baby?

Well, that’s nice, but really, this is everybody’s baby – especially Fred Sayeg, our director. He really championed it and he took me under his wing. It’s kind of my story – very loosely based. There are a lot of things that I didn’t do that are in this story.

It’s based on a guy that had it all, could have been, would have been, was kind of tapped to be a star. But he went out of his way to blow it. Then as he approaches turning 50, he’s really bankrupt – there’s nothing left of his life.

Elliot Gould’s character in the movie – Elliott’s great by the way – he takes this guy under his wing and becomes his guardian angel so to speak and gives him his life back and lets him embrace his talent again.

What does it mean to you to have this film debut at PSIFF?

It’s astounding the number of films submitted for the fest PJ, but aside of two documentaries; we are the only local film present in this year’s fest. It’s really kind of weird. I was not looking for it. I wasn’t asking anyone for it.

To be honest, I wasn’t even looking to be an actor again at all. I actually went kicking and screaming into it with Fred and Mitchell Cohen, our producer and writer – he’s been great. I’ve known Mitchell for some twenty odd years. He originally wrote the Bobby Darin Story for me and we almost a couple times got it made. There’s a lot of that in this movie.

What was it like to work with Elliott Gould?

He took me under his wing much like the character – he was amazing. I can’t say enough about him. We still talk once a week or so and he’s stayed in our lives – he love’s my mother’s cake. When he first got into town I asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’ and he said ‘I want to go meet your mom.’

It was an honor to work with him and I wouldn’t speak for him, nor would I dare to, but he told me he did this film because he thought the script was so good and the character was so engaging.

We were honored to have him in our film, you know, he’s a movie star.

How much of “Tony” is part of your persona?

Actually Tony Duran was my dad’s stage name – my dad was a singer for a while. It’s a bit of an homage to my dad. A lot of Tony is me, but a lot of Tony isn’t me.

What do you hope the audience gets out of seeing your film?

Well, I hope, when they walk out of the theatre they walk out happy. I think the ending is pretty powerful, so I hope they walk out happy and I hope they walk out singing a song.

Terry Fraser:

Terry, how about a little background about yourself for our readers?

Well, in terms of artistically, I grew up in L.A. I was working in record companies in the mailroom by the time I was 16 or 17. I played in bands and went to San Francisco and played in bands up there. I always loved writing – was always scribbling lyrics, or ideas for some story. I was always based on storytelling – that to me is one of the great joys of life.

I heard this project literally began on a scratch piece of paper—care to elaborate?

I wanted to do an indie film since I landed here which was about five, six years ago. My day job is in hospitality, but I was still writing songs and I wrote a script with a writing partner when I came out here and I just wanted to do a low budget thing.

Then I met Gene Pietragallo around the hospitality and I always really just like Gene, he’s a great character and brings a lot of color. So I was pitching some ideas to him – I was just driving him nuts, but the last time I showed up I said, ‘I know the story we’re going to tell.’ He said, ‘OK, good, what?’ And I said, ‘We’re going to tell your story.’ He looked at me like I was on Mars and asked what do you mean. I said, ‘You have a great story – let’s mix it up with some fantasy,’ or as I like to say, ‘lies with the truth’ and it just evolved from there.

It was just that most of all I wanted to hone in on that Gene has a beautiful singing voice. I just wanted this character to be somebody who found his passion for living again by singing for old folks homes – which we have in abundance out here. …

Then in that first meeting with Mitchell Cohen and Gene and I and we just went from sitting down to all pacing around the room, which is always a good sign. He [Mitchell] said ‘I know what you want, and I’m going to deliver you a great script, which he did. That was how it started, it just snowballed from there.

Can you describe your emotions when you learned the film was picked by the Palm Springs International Film Festival selection committee?


It was just a dream come true because [starts laughing] my mom will actually get to see it on the screen. Art is funny that way, it’s all in just your imagination and it’s not really art until you can touch it, feel it, or hear it, see it. So it’s just a nice validation. It is one of those, ‘Please God, just let it make it into the festival’ then it’s, ‘Please God, just let it get distribution!’ [Terry laughs, adding] ‘I promise this is the last thing I’ll ask for.’

So what’s next for you?

I already have a story I want to tell, but I think I’m just going to keep it to myself for the moment. You know all the stories I want to tell are character driven. I feel if you don’t care about the person then why tell it? I go see $100 million dollar films and I don’t care about anybody on the screen.

I really care about Tony Duran and I think everybody who sees it or reads it does too. Everybody involved with the project worked so hard on it – we all believe in it.

What really strikes me is I can hear that in your voice, and I heard it in Gene’s voice too when he talked about this film. I asked Gene earlier, and now I’m going to pose the same question to you. What do you hope the audience takes away from your film after watching it?

It’s so trite, it’s hard not to sound trite, because it really is the story of redemption. It’s just every human being can dig inside themselves and pull out what they truly are, which is a star. Everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are a singer or a carpenter, whatever you’re doing – no matter how far down you go you can reach inside and pull out your natural – your real you. We are all just spiritual kids of God. I know, corny, but it’s so true.

The Encore of Tony Duran at Regal Palm Springs 9, part of the 2011 PSIFF. Screenings: Friday, January 14 at 4 pm & Sunday, January 16 at 7 pm. For more information visit the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It is possible to search online for movies by title, genre, screening date, film program, country of origin, director, or venue. Tickets and ticket packages can also be purchased online.