Richard LinklaterThe news spread quickly around Austin film circles today via a casting call notice on the Short Film Texas website: Richard Linklater was starting casting for his new feature film Bernie, which will be shot in East Texas and Austin this fall. The film will reunite him with actor Jack Black, who co-starred in Linklater's School of Rock back in 2003. Bernie will also star Shirley MacLaine. Variety confirmed the news this afternoon. Castle Rock and Mandalay Pictures are producing the film.

Bernie's storyline is a far cry from School of Rock or Linklater's most recent film, Me and Orson Welles. It's based on a 1998 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth, "MIdnight in the Garden of East Texas," about Bernie Tiede and the Texas town of Carthage. Small-town undertaker Tiede, whom I assume will be played by Black in the movie, confessed in 1997 to murdering his companion, Marjorie Nugent, "the richest lady in town" -- that would be MacLaine. Linklater appears to be aiming for a dark comedy with the material, and according to the casting call, hopes to cast nonprofessional actors in the smaller roles.

This isn't the first I'd heard about Bernie, thanks to Austin film writer Joe O'Connell. He's been working to track down details and confirmation on this project for the past couple of months. He caught a whiff of the story back in June, when Linklater described the project as "my Fargo in East Texas." A few days later, O'Connell published a photo of the real-life Bernie with Marjorie Nugent as well as a link to part of the original Texas Monthly article (the rest of it is subscribers-only). He even found a 2006 made-for-TV movie, Strange Felony Files: Deadly Sinner, based on Tiede's life. I believe I'll wait for Linklater's version, myself.