Filmmaker Anne Welles traces the moment she fell out of love with show business to a botched middle school audition. She thanks the film “Jerry Maguire” for restoring her faith in what is now her life’s work.
The George Mason High School class of ’83 alumnus tried out for a middle school musical and “was basically told by the teacher to do something else” as she puts it.
As a result, Welles’ outlook as a secondary school drama teacher and now as a movie director has been shaped by letting others shine.
After a series of shorts, her first feature film, “An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted),” premieres this month.
To call Welles’ path to film directing circuitous would be an understatement.
Because of her setback in middle school, Wells opted instead to get a master’s in art therapy. It wasn’t until she was deep into another career with children that she decided to try an acting class, 14 years after graduating high school no less.
In 1997, Wells was a stay-at-home mom living in San Diego when she watched “Jerry Maguire” and had an epiphany.
“There was a moment in ‘Jerry Maguire’ where [the character played by] Renée Zellweger lost her son at the airport and she wasn’t very worried about that. I thought ‘She must not be a mother,’ and the director didn’t notice that,” she said. “It wasn’t any conscious decision to try to change moviedom because I didn’t even know whether that was a director or actor’s decision”
At the time, Welles was approaching her 32nd birthday but resolved that it was never too late.
She took an acting class and was the first to land a job and an agent. At the time, she was going through a marital separation and resolving to get a fresh start.
Welles moved up to Los Angeles where she started booking commercial work and eventually landing a recurring role on a public access TV show, “Heartbreak Café.”
In 2004, Welles started directing short films to get a taste of the other side and has been working on the directing side since.
She was fortunate at the time to be able to hire actors as well as professional sound people and directors of photography.
“When you are making short films you are often experimenting; you learn a lot along the way, and hopefully you bring all of that to your features, when it is time to jump to making feature films,” she said.
In 2007, Welles moved back to the east coast to teach drama at HB-Woodlawn Secondary School in Arlington and manage the fine arts department while making the short films over the summer.
“She’s held many jobs at a time, ongoing, but she’s always been a filmmaker,” said Christopher Pueller, the executive producer for “An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted).”
Pueller first worked for Welles on the 2009 short “By God’s Grace.”
He answered a call from New York to audition and the two established a working relationship. Because of his background as a financial consultant, Welles eventually offered him the opportunity to co-executive produce as the job requires someone who was capable of regularly handling money.
“I have choices with who I want to work with and who I want to help…and I’ve chosen to jump on board this project with Anne because she is relentless about getting things done and doing it in a good way,” said Pueller.
In 2012, Welles quit teaching full-time to work on films. Many of her collaborators attest that sheer determination will make the difference.
“She’s somebody that I had to force her literally to say ‘take a break’ because she will run herself into the ground,” said Pueller. Actor Mary Drubza agreed. “She likes to tell a story, and though after a while you should just let it go, but it was more about her commitment and determination, she said that [giving up is] not an option.”
Druzba first met Welles in 1998 on an acting project and is now one of a number of actors whom Welles collaborates with.
When Welles’s script was being circulated to her friends, she told Druzba to pick whatever part she wanted and she chose a male character. Welles allowed her to rewrite the part as an androgynous character.
“Before she would rely on people. Now she’s trusting her own talent and she’s got a repertoire of actors and production [crew] who love working with her,” said Druzba.
When asked about awards recognition, Welles responded that fame isn’t a dream of hers and she doesn’t think it should be anyone’s dream.
“The only real value is that I want to change the world. If I can get my name [and films] recognized, I can get what I want recognized,” said Welles.
Welles’s goals are mainly themes that focus on empathy and tolerance in films.
She also takes care with casting to show diversity and people who don’t look conventionally like romantic leads in her films.
“An Accidental Zombie (named Ted)” is a comedy of the paranormal.
The titular character, Ted, goes on a Caribbean vacation and returns with an infestation that could mean he’s a zombie.
The movie has many different takes on stock characters of the occult including a vampire girlfriend, a werewolf with alopecia and a fairy without wings.
“She did a premiere before she got distribution in Ocala, and there was a diverse crowd that went – I’m talking age range and everything – and [I thought] they’re not gonna get her humor but people were laughing all over,” said Druzba.
Welles, who currently lives in Alexandria, doesn’t envision herself doing anything but making films anytime soon.
“Anything’s possible but I can’t imagine falling out of love with it,” said Welles.
Her film opened Tuesday and is available on streaming platforms including YouTube Live, Direct TV, Dish, Fios and Amazon Prime.
It will also be sold on DVD at Best Buy, Target, Barnes and Noble and Walmart. Welles is also considering renting out a movie theater for a local screening though no plans have been announced.
For more information about the film visit anaccidentalzombienamedted.com or the film’s page on IMDB.com.