Pic debut makes the grade

UCLA film grad student David Straus should fit right in with the overachievers of Hollywood. The young filmmaker was supposed to complete three shorts for his master of fine arts degree in directing. Instead, Straus opted to put out a feature film, financed by a group of investors now looking for a distrib deal.

The pic, “Whiskey, Riddles and Dandelion Wine,” follows in a mystical fashion a dying pregnant woman’s attempt to unite her cousin with her best friend so they will take care of her unborn child. Delle Chatman, a professor at Northwestern U., scripted.

The project not only gave Straus his degree (one of the few times UCLA allowed a feature to be used for a final thesis), but provided him with his feature directing debut. He’s in good company: Francis Ford Coppola and Allison Anders accomplished similar student feats.

Straus found financing after devising a business plan in his second UCLA year and later receiving a grant from Valencia Community College in Orlando, Fla. He approached investors in L.A., Chicago and England, and convinced Deluxe, Fuji and Panavision to donate the use of cameras and labs.

“I realized early on that the only way I was going to get my first feature made was to produce it myself,” Straus said. “When I graduate I will have more than a degree — I will have a full-length feature film.”

No reviews are in yet. But Straus is planning to submit his pic to the festival circuit. Let’s hope he can persuade audiences to pay as easily as he found investors.

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