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updated: 7/28/2014 5:42 PM

Once a movie extra, Wheaton grad now a movie director

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  • Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "Pour me a Drink & Tell Me a Love Story." When not working as a production assistant on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," Teune writes, directs and acts in her own independent films.

      Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "Pour me a Drink & Tell Me a Love Story." When not working as a production assistant on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," Teune writes, directs and acts in her own independent films.
    courtesy of Karen Teune

  • Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "Sunday, Sunday."

      Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "Sunday, Sunday."
    courtesy of Karen Teune

  • Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "Together We Fall."

      Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "Together We Fall."
    courtesy of Karen Teune

  • Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "I Heard Her Say," which she just finished filming in New York and New Jersey.

      Filmmaker Karen Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and Wheaton, appears in a scene of her film "I Heard Her Say," which she just finished filming in New York and New Jersey.
    courtesy of Karen Teune

  • Video: Karen Teune YouTube Channel

  • Video: Sunday Sunday movie

 

If you hit the pause button during the bouquet-tossing scene of the 1997 movie "My Best Friend's Wedding," you might catch a glimpse of Karen Teune in her yellow dress.

Teune, at the time, was a starry-eyed Wheaton Warrenville South High School student who loved acting. She spent weeks working as an extra on that movie, filming at locations in Chicago and Vernon Hills. She barely got any screen time, but she got something else: clarity about her future.

After that experience, she knew she wanted a career in film.

And she got one.

Today, at age 34, Teune's an independent filmmaker, actress and also a production assistant on NBC's "Parks and Recreation."

She has also worked as a production assistant on the movie "Friends with Benefits," starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, on TNT's "Perception" and at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, among other gigs.

Teune's schedule now involves working on "Parks" during the week -- helping the actors and directors with reading lines and running errands. Then on weekends and breaks, she writes, directs and acts in her own movies.

She just finished filming her sixth short film in Brooklyn, "I Heard Her Say," about a struggling artist who reunites with her estranged sisters and must learn to find beauty in the humblest things and, ultimately, herself.

"I definitely call myself a filmmaker now," said Teune, who grew up in Carol Stream and, later, Wheaton. "Being a production assistant is to help pay the bills, and it's invaluable in terms of learning. A huge part of the business is meeting people. It's definitely not glamorous stuff (to be a production assistant), but it's huge to be a part of this 'Parks and Recreation' family."

Teune makes the most of the opportunity. She pays close attention to what the directors are doing on the "Parks" set and applies what she's learned working on big network shows to her small-budget films.

She's writing and shooting a TV pilot with some of her "Parks" co-workers and plans to make her first feature film next spring.

Teune's road to Hollywood wasn't a straight line, though. "My Best Friend's Wedding" got the ball rolling.

"I'd never been on a movie set before. I remember seeing these directors and actors, just exhausted, but having the time of their lives. I thought it was the coolest environment -- passionate, creative, with this huge community of people," she said. "I remember seeing the set and thinking, 'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.' The community of a film and TV set is just my favorite part of it."

Teune spent two years at a small liberal arts college in California but then dropped out to seek acting jobs in Los Angeles.

"I thought, I just want to get back on a set, and learn more about the set. I wanted to assist the director and be next to the camera," she said.

A year later, she ended up back home, studying art and film at Wheaton College (many of her family members are Wheaton alumni).

Then things took another turn: After finishing school, Teune moved to China and taught English.

"Looking back, I see it was so important for me to follow my heart and experience life. Now, as an artist in my 30s, (I'm) drawing from all of that," she said. "I'm a big risk taker and I'm a very creative mind. I think that's why I'm in this industry. Your brain is always firing."

Teune left China for New York City, where she worked with the Tribeca Film Festival. She started making her own movies, while landing production assistant jobs in New York and Los Angeles.

Her 2011 film, "Pour Me a Drink & Tell Me a Love Story," got into a few prestigious film festivals, and she did other comedies -- "Sunday, Sunday" and "Together We Fall" -- about female protagonists. Next, she's delving more into drama.

"I'm so driven to make my own projects," she said. "That's the reason why I'm here."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone in showbiz who would make a great column, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

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