Could Trenton’s Kevin Williams be the next Kevin Smith? Smith, the Jersey-bred director of "Chasing Amy," made his mark with "Clerks" — a low-budget feature filmed entirely in his home town of Red Bank. Now Williams, with credentials in film, finance, and marketing, is unveiling his own short feature, "On Bended Knee," filmed in his own hometown of Trenton. Much of the
action is set at the Park Place Cafe, and the film will be unveiled there, Friday through Sunday, January 30 to February 1.
Kevin Williams, who goes by the name K.J. Williams in his film pursuits (not to be confused with Kevin Williamson, director of "Scream" and "Scream II"), wouldn’t mind following in any of the other Kevins’ footsteps.
At 19 minutes, 34 seconds ("that’s about three hours shorter than `Titanic,’" notes Williams), "On Bended Knee" is a romantic comedy about the hours before a man makes a marriage proposal.
Beginning with a phone call, followed by a fax, followed by another heartfelt phone call, Williams’ casting call first appeared in U.S.1’s "Auditions" section on June 4 and 11, 1997:
"A central New Jersey filmmaker is auditioning non-union actors and crew for a low-budget short film shooting in late July in Trenton and Mercer County. Need male and female leads in 20s, and an Elvis impersonator (non-speaking part). All races and ages welcome. No pay, but tapes, fun, food, and experience."
Lending a little extra credibility to the call was the formidable name of Williams’ company, Shamrock/Stine Productions, a name he created by combining a tribute to his mother’s Irish roots, and his father’s German-Welsh background. With an additional paid ad ($100) in the New York actors’ paper, Backstage, and a listing on the hotline and website at the Philadelphia film office ($50), Williams’ casting call netted him a monster pile of 710 resumes and headshots. "I was surprised," says Williams. "For a few days I was getting over 100 a day, and I took it as an extreme positive. I got headshots from people in Illinois, Tennessee, and Wyoming. Someone told me they saw the listing on AOL — which I don’t even have myself."
Despite the potentially overwhelming volume of inquiries, Williams reports the initial casting sessions in Trenton and New York went well. "My two leads, Laura Rose and Josh Cohen, both came from the New York City call. Josh is a stand-up comedian by trade. I was really happy with them both, and they hit it off well right away as a couple — which I think says something good about my
Cohen plays the lovestruck young man, Tom Lawrence, who Williams describes as "a local Trenton boy with only a few hours left before the biggest moment of his life. He’s proposing to his upper crust Princeton girlfriend, Renee," played by Rose.
"You never see that time leading up to the proposal," muses Williams. "You always see when the guy proposes, and you see the aftermath, but you never see this." The movie also features some insight on how the King would handle the situation.
Trenton actor Adan Olmeda Jr., who plays the roommate, and Toribio Bo Torres, who plays a young Elvis, both read about the casting call in U.S. 1, as did all the extras. And, true to the ad, everyone worked for food and fun.
Featured in a cameo as Elvis is Frank Grosso, owner of the Park Place Cafe, who has been polishing his Elvis impersonation since 1990. The film was shot in 3-1/2 days in late July, primarily at the Park Place Cafe and also at Terry Pratico Jewelers in Plainsboro. Terry, one of the store’s owners, is married to Williams’ brother.
Marc Schotland was photography director and cameraman with assistant Lorenzo Papa of Trenton — both had worked on student projects with Williams in New York.
Following the lead of such directors as Martin Scorsese ("Goodfellas"), Williams cast his mother, Grace, in the film. "She only has one line, but it’s a key line. And that was by far the toughest scene to direct." Was this because Grace, the mother of six sons and a daughter, of whom Kevin is the youngest, is more accustomed to giving directions to her son, than taking them? "You said it, I didn’t," replies Williams.
Williams, who turnsd 30 this year, majored in business at La Salle (Class of ’90), and has an MBA in marketing from Tulane. When he’s not making movies, he is a part-time market researcher at Response Analysis.
His filmmaking debut began on the heels of a five-month graduate program he completed last spring at the prestigious film school of New York University. "I’ve always been a serious movie buff," says Williams. His parents introduced him to film, and his late father, who worked as a technician at Princeton University Press, would occasionally bring home books on film they had published. From these Williams learned at an early age that movies are not just for escapists.
Williams cites "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" as the most impressive film of his early viewing years. It was a movie he saw just once in the theater and then on television — "that was before cable and video cassettes, when it was a big deal to see a big movie on TV," he says. "It brought so many elements
together, the visuals, the sound (bom, bom, bom) — everything brings in the audience. And I realized there’s more to making a film than just shooting a camera." His other important film experiences included "Grease" and "An Officer and a Gentleman."
Williams’ favorite movie of all time, however, is "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which he saw when he was 13. "It’s a movie that is exciting, it brings you back to the excitement of a kid seeing something for the first time," says Williams. With the advent of cable, his movie fascination was confirmed, and he quickly became a self-confessed "HBO junkie."
For Williams, the arrival on the Princeton scene of the "I.Q." movie crew galvanized his attention. It also gave him the hands-on, on-the-job training he was seeking before deciding whether to make the movie plunge. For six weeks Williams worked as one of two assistants to the extras casting director, Marshall Peck. "I picked the extras, including the stand-in for Walter Matthau," says Williams. "With that I learned a lot. I learned how the casting process goes, and how to look for someone who’s going to tell your story but not overwhelm your story."
"The more you learn about the technical and physical aspects of film, the better the results are going to be from a financial and creative standpoint," says Williams. His original budget was $2,900, but, like "Titanic," he had a slight cost overrun, with the extra expense due to post-production. "It is a business, even on small level, and there are management and financial skills you
have to have. If you don’t have them, you’re going to waste your time and money."
"After the premiere, I’ll be sending `On Bended Knee’ off to film festivals. From that I hope to be able to meet people who can back a project I’d like to do, or who would want me to direct or shoot a project." Williams notes that Michael Bey, director of "The Rock," got his start in commercials in New York.
His goal? To shoot a full-length feature in Trenton, taking advantage of the sweep of its varied landscape, from 19th-century industrial, to urban decay, and suburban sprawl. It’s even got picturesque Princeton.
"The final shooting cost for `Clerks,’ before they had distribution, was $27,000," says Williams, who knows his facts and figures. "Smith submitted it to Sundance in 1994 and Miramax picked it up. Now he’s got `Chasing Amy,’ and he’ll be shooting his new movie shortly. I’m going to try to get Kevin Smith to see my film."