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Husband-and-wife team Patricia Heaton and David Hunt chat about their Netflix-distributed documentary, ''The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania''

By Alix Strauss
Updated June 06, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Patricia Heaton and David Hunt: Jemal Countess/WireImage.com

One key way Patricia Heaton differs from Debra Barone, the character she played for nine years on Everybody Loves Raymond: She can actually get along with her spouse — so well, in fact, that the two recently worked together on a new movie, The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania. The documentary, about a quirky beauty pageant, was produced by Heaton, directed by her husband David Hunt, and — in a new move for the online movie-rental company — is being distributed and promoted by Netflix (starting today, the DVD is being offered exclusively to its almost 5 million subscribers). EW chatted with Heaton and Hunt about the film at their premiere screening and party in New York.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Pennsylvania’s Coal Queen Pageant seems like such a random event. How did you ever find out about it?
HEATON I was out to dinner with my posse of girlfriends, and my longtime actress pal Sarah Rush mentioned she was going to her reunion, which we assumed was her high school reunion. We found out it was the 50th anniversary of the Bituminous Coal Queen pageant, and that she had won the title in 1972. After the shock wore off and she described what happens at the pageant and about the girls who compete for the title and the charm of her small town, I knew we had to document it.

David, what made you decide to write and direct the documentary rather than just produce it?
HUNT I started out as a director in college before I was acting. And honestly it didn’t occur to me to direct this, because we offered the opportunity to two friends who [ultimately] weren’t available. We were getting very close to filming and only had three weeks of prep time, and only 10 days to shoot in Pennsylvania, so Patti said, ”Dave, you’ve got to do it.”

Being married is challenging enough, so working together must be brutal. There’s been some talk about your going to couples therapy and the throwing of pots. What’s that all about?
HEATON We’ve progressed in our relationship from me throwing a pot off the stove at Dave to having a discussion about it beforehand…
HUNT Oh, those pot-throwing halcyon days?. This project wasn’t really hard on us, because Patti was in L.A. when I was shooting in Pennsylvania. We had a harder time as actors/producers while we were filming [the 2005 TV movie] The Engagement Ring, because when you’re giving the other person notes and comments you don’t know if it’s coming from the producer’s mouth or as a husband or wife.
HEATON Mostly Dave would tell me about issues he was having on Coal Queens, and I would be at home on eBay nodding and listening to him while bidding on pottery. That’s what keeps the marriage together.

You guys have been spotted doing the film-festival circuit, hitting hot spots like Palm Beach, Jackson Hole, Sonoma… Did you win any awards?
HUNT We did. We won Best Documentary at the 2005 American Film Renaissance, and the Crystal Heart Award at the 2005 Heartland Film Festival. We also test-screened in L.A. and in London.

How did you guys hook up with Netflix?
HEATON They came to a screening in L.A. to see what kind of response the audiences were giving us and they fell in love with it.

What made you and your 5-year-old production company, FourBoys Films, team up with them?
HUNT Unless you win the lottery with a film like March of the Penguins, Netflix is a way for independent films to be seen and heard. I want people to see it in the theaters, but I’m also realistic.
HEATON It’s a perfect relationship because it establishes Dave as a director and writer, and us as producers. And it’s good for Netflix, because they get national recognition when we go on TV to promote them and the film.

What are you working on now?
HUNT We’ve got about 10 to 12 projects in various stages of development. We’ve a number of books we’re optioning, original screenplay ideas we’re developing, and a movie Amazing Grace that we produced, which will be released in February ’07. And we’ve just shot a pilot.

What’s life after Raymond like?
HEATON It’s been really exciting because I love being able to produce and develop projects… [Jokingly] though I’m selling all the Raymond memorabilia on eBay. The jackets are selling like wildfire. And I keep in touch with my costars regularly. I e-mail Ray, I see Doris for lunch, I see Peter in New York, so it’s not like we’ve lost touch or anything.

Plans for the future?
HEATON In an ideal world, Dave would be directing and acting, and I’d be doing theater. The reality? We’ve got four boys, so the next thing we’ll be directing and producing is the school fundraiser…
HUNT I think this year we’ll do a Pirates of the Caribbean theme.

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