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Equity on silver screen

Local film producer hopes new movie will be one of many to feature actors who have disabilities.

Filmmaker Hollis Zemany-McLachlan wants to help smooth the road for actors with disabilities who are pursuing a career in film.

The Glendale resident is in the casting stage for a comedy that her independent film company, Pie Head Productions, is scheduled to start shooting in April titled "Pie Head (A Kinda True Story)." It will be her first full-length feature.

"I am hoping that this will be a groundbreaking film in that we are casting a wide variety of actors with disabilities in 'traditional' roles, and of course, a few roles that were specifically written to accommodate special needs and disabled actors," she said.

Although Zemany-McLachlan does not have a disability, she was inspired by the Screen Actors Guild's Inclusion in the Arts Media of People with Disabilities campaign, which kicked off in October.

"The idea is to make it known there are a huge slew of actors with disabilities who are not being called in for auditions," Zemany-McLachlan said. "They don't have the same opportunities, and what SAG wants to do is change the way a person with disabilities is typically viewed in the casting process."

The cast will include actors without disabilities and those from multiethnic backgrounds, she added.

"The roles are so quirky and silly that we hope the audience will see the film for the sweet comedy that it is, and barely register the fact that a lot of the actors have disabilities," Zemany-McLachlan said.

She and her mother, Louann Petrucci, wrote the script together based on Zemany-McLachlan's experiences as a small-town girl from Pennsylvania moving to Los Angeles and landing a job as a substitute teacher in the inner-city schools in Los Angeles. Zemany-McLachlan is co-directing the film with Rob Walker, and she and her mother are producers.

The idea for the film came to the mother and daughter while on a walk in Glendale. Zemany-McLachlan was relating her worst experiences with people while driving across the country to L.A. and in the classroom, she said.

"The more I would tell my mom, the funnier it would get," she said.

Petrucci saw it as the perfect illustration of the old idea to journey West to find the American dream.

"I literally fell on the sidewalk laughing," Petrucci said. "I finally said 'Hollis', you have a screenplay here. You can't make this up. It's the classic American dream with all the joys, sorrows and dysfunctions in the Westward pursuit of success.'"

So they worked together on the story.

The most rewarding part of her project, Zemany-McLachlan said, is having the ability to cast diverse ethnicities and special needs and disabled actors.

A part in the film is being written just for Nicole Gerth, 24, of Northridge, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, which is a brittle-bone disorder, she said. The condition affects stature. Gerth is 3-foot-8 and uses crutches to walk.

"I really love the Pie Head people," Gerth said. "They were open to having physically challenged people submit to the auditions. It feels really great to be a part of something like this."

Gerth has been actively pursuing an acting career for three years, she said.

She hasn't yet landed a TV or film role for a major studio, but has acted in student films and plays.

"I'm sure my disability comes into play a lot, but I don't necessarily try to look at it that way," Gerth said. "I know that's the first thing people see. My mission is to open people's eyes that disabled people can play any part too. I don't think there should be a barrier."

"We are investigating the matter fully with the driver concerned."

Additional Information

Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain
Website: http://www.glendalenewspress.com/articles/2009/01/07/entertainment/gnp-disabled07.txt
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When: 09/2/2009

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