Producer Orian Williams talks fondly about growing up in Houston, Alief Elsik High class of 1984. As a teen Williams worked at Hastings Records in the Galleria and briefly for Pace Concerts. After obtaining a telecommunications degree at Baylor, Williams moved to the West Coast to become a filmmaker in 1990.

As a producer Williams made films like Shadow of the Vampire (2000) and Control (2007), director Anton Corbijn’s film about Joy Division. Williams’ latest production Big Sur, an account of Jack Kerouac in his later years, opens at the Sundance Cinemas Houston this weekend.

Williams also worked on a 2008 documentary One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur. “I was brought on by the Kerouac estate to help on the documentary. I thought this has to be a feature,” says Williams in a phone interview with Free Press Houston.  “I brought in half the cast through friends and connections, hired the Polish Brothers; we found the money and pulled it together. The documentary taps into what was going on with Kerouac at the time by going inside the head of Jack through the performance of Jean-Marc Barr.

“On one level you have Kerouac’s voice over, his poetry and his thoughts. You have image of Big Sur, which is very compelling. Then you have other characters that bring Jack’s thoughts to life. Big Sur can be a place of happiness, but also complete depression. Jean-Marc just exudes all things Jack. This is long after the events in On The Road. He left New York at the bequest of Lawrence Ferlinghetti,” continues Williams.

Big Sur obtained permission to shoot in some rather pristine locales in the scenic California community including the Bixby Creek Bridge. This is the county where Henry Miller lived and The Esalen Institute was formed. At one point weather closed a road and the crew had to drive a couple of hours in a circuitous route to get to the location on the other side of the road. “We screened the film at the Henry Miller Library, which is right there on the coast road,” says Williams.

“The time Kerouac spent in the cabin in Big Sur was supposed to be an idyllic retreat but instead became a nightmare. He was coming off alcoholism, but then he went back on the drink.” Big Sur chronicles Kerouac as he battles his demons. In addition to Barr as Kerouac, Big Sur also features Josh Lucas and Radha Mitchell as Neal and Carolyn Cassady. Kate Bosworth, Anthony Edwards, Patrick Fischler also co-star. Big Sur allows the audience to vicariously live in this time period near the end of Kerouac’s life, absorbing atmosphere through poetry, music, cruising the coast highway and binging on alcohol. A scene where Kerouac awakens in his cabin and starts scrambling eggs is as idyllic a sequence as one will see short of experiencing it firsthand.

Williams introduced director E. Elias Merhige to Nicolas Cage, who had the script Shadow of the Vampire. Williams mentions he has a couple of stories in development currently with Merhige including a movie about Jack Parsons who was both an occultist as well as a pioneer in rocket fuel technology.

Williams had purchased the rights to the biography of Ian Curtis, Touching From A Distance, from the author Deborah Curtis and years later completed the film after finding financing and hiring Corbijn (who at first turned down the offer), perhaps best known for his photography of bands.

Williams recalls the seed of his filmmaking desire starting at places like Houston dance/rock venue Numbers. “I’d go to Numbers and I’d watch the videos, and watch the images come from music that I loved. Then I started to pay attention to whom the directors were. It all culminated in my job, which is producing,” says Williams.

Another project Williams has in pre-production revolves around British rock and roll mover and shaker Kit Lambert. “The day I wrapped Control in England I met a journalist for the music magazine Mojo, Pat Gilbert. He was working on a book and after hearing about Lambert I thought it was an incredible film idea,” says Williams. “Lambert was a pretty dark soul but on the outside looked like an accountant. He was like a Brian Epstein kind of guy, a suit. He was secretly gay, an addict, came from a distraught family; had a lot of things going against him. Through all this, plus trips to the Amazon among other things he found an artistic side to life. Lambert discovered the Who, then the High Numbers. In a way he was as responsible for keeping the band going as he was bringing them down. He created the rock opera, he produced Tommy.”

Gilbert wrote the script and Pete Townshend will score the film with Cary Elwes (who was in Shadow of the Vampire) attached to direct.

— Michael Bergeron