Michael James Daly (left) and Michelle Iannantuono won Best Comedy Short Film at GenreBlast Film Festival | Provided

Charleston actor Michael James Daly’s career started with The Karate Kid. It was the first movie he saw in theaters that sparked his desire to star in movies. “Growing up, I kind of lived my life through movies and TV,” Daly said. “There was something about that whole world [that made me] want to be a part of [it]. I want to be a part of that world.”

Daly has since had a long and varied career, spanning over 20 years, and culminating this year with his short film Fame Fatale, which recently won Best Comedy Short at the GenreBlast Film Festival. Daly himself also took home the award for Best Actor in a Short Film, his first professional acting award win.

Fame Fatale follows Daly, playing himself, as he navigates a day in his life. The film starts in his past, highlighting some of the harsh criticisms a young Daly (played by Brooks Hawkins) faced as an overweight gay kid trying to be an actor. In the present, the adult Daly gets bad news from his agent before attending a horror movie convention. At a panel full of accomplished film directors, Daly is verbally assaulted before finally snapping and getting his revenge.

The short film, co-written by Daly and Charleston filmmaker Michelle Iannantuono (who also directed the production), is an ’80s-tinged comedy-horror story that’s actually based on a true story. While no over-the-top blood was spilled in real life, Daly was dressed down by a panel of filmmakers at a horror convention in 2015, an incident that stuck with him. 

“The whole experience was so surreal that it’s all in slow motion in my head,” Daly said. “There definitely was a reaction. I could sense the people in the room staring at me. And the uncomfortableness.”

Daly went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City for college, before heading to LA to try his hand at theater. In the early 2000s, he booked musical theater gigs because of his tap dancing talents. But personal struggles caused his early film career to take a backseat until the mid-2010s.

Since then, Daly has worked on a plethora of film projects. His credits include short film projects like Lake Moultrie Massacre and Screaming Hell. He also landed a role in the Charleston-produced CBS television series The Inspectors. But the horror convention incident kept coming back to him. Daly doesn’t consider himself a writer, so he reached out to Iannantuono to ask for her  help with writing and producing the story. 

“There were so many fears I had to walk through,” Daly said of the story adaptation. “When it first happened, I had so much anger towards it.” The writing duo created the script for Fame Fatale in 2018, which touches on much of Daly’s life before and up to the convention incident. The script went out on the screenwriting festival circuit before it was filmed in 2021.

“Daly was the first professional actor I ever worked with,” Iannantuono said. “We met in 2016 when I was a completely green no-budget writer/director who was so afraid of offending actors that I’d do 17 takes instead of giving notes. But Michael was endlessly patient and kind, and our collaborations over the years have only grown in scope and significance.”

Daly has appeared in several of Iannantuono’s previous films, including 2018’s Livescream and 2020’s Detroit Evolution. “He’s one of the few constants in my film career,” Iannantuono said. “Helping bring his story to life in Fame Fatale was something I didn’t think twice about. I’m so happy to see someone as skilled, professional and big-hearted finally have his moment.”

Fame Fatale really hits a nerve with film festival crowds. The story’s setting and plot speak to filmmakers, actors and anyone who has ever gone to a panel. The short has played at PopCon, Macon Film Fest and Horrorhound Cincinnati. Fame Fatale has won Best Comedy at ConCarolinas and Best Homegrown Horror at the Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival to join its GenreBlast awards.

Being able to now pitch himself as a writer-actor increased his profile in the film community, both locally and abroad. “So now I’ve got a little bit more shine on me as a product,” Daly said. “Now it’s emailing those directors … [and] hopefully they can see me in a different light.”

Daly has an upcoming role in Sallywood, a feature film starring Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland, so his acting career is certainly on an upward trajectory. But Fame Fatale has helped him deal with the harder portions of his early career, and given him hope for the future.

“I was able to take all the crap that happened to me,” Daly said, “and turn it into something important. Having made that, and then having that product be taken so graciously at these film festivals, and then winning … it’s amazing.

“This is something that’s really important to tell,” Daly added. “Now I have something that can significantly help another person.”

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.