It takes guts and vision for a guy born in Mississippi, raised in Texas and based in Los Angeles to move his life to London in the hope of getting a vague movie idea off the ground. But that’s what Orian Williams did, and it paid off.
“Control,” the debut feature of seminal rock photographer Anton Corbijn, a haunting B&W biopic of doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, rocked Cannes in May when it opened the Directors’ Fortnight.
It’s quite something when the most acclaimed new Brit pic of the year so far, with such a distinctively English subject, comes from a Dutch director and a Yank producer.
But to Williams, that’s not so incongruous. As a teen in relatively hip Houston, he imbibed Joy Division and other English bands of the era while reading London style mags including the Face and Blitz. That influence still shows today in his all-black combat attire and indie kid haircut. “‘Control’ is the accumulation of all my loves — photography, cinema, literature, music,” he says.
Williams dabbled in journalism, PR, acting, the music biz and commercials before his first break as a producer when he helped director E. Elias Merhige make his debut movie, “Shadow of the Vampire,” for Nicolas Cage’s company, which shot in Luxembourg.
Williams optioned the memoir by Deborah Curtis, widow of Ian, and emailed London-based Corbijn out of the blue to suggest he should direct. After initial hesitations, Corbijn came onboard. But the project began to drift, so Williams decided he had to move to London.
“It was a leap of faith. I left behind my car, my family, my life,” Williams recalls. “But me being on Anton’s radar gave him confidence. Los Angeles is so far from England and the whole story, I knew I had to surround myself by this atmosphere.”
“Orian is very good at getting people enthusiastic for projects,” Corbijn says. “He manages to do a lot of great PR, and I am not a networker.” Corbijn even invested some of his own money to make sure he could make the film exactly the way he wanted. “I was so confident in Anton’s vision and his ability to make the film. I fought for him to have that power, I wanted him to have final cut,” Williams says.
Next for Williams is “The Boom Boom Room,” starring Willie Nelson and Dita Von Teese, the drama debut of Aussie doc director Lian Lunson, who is also the scribe. It’s likely to shoot in Australia next January, continuing Williams’ peripatetic ways.
“I’d love to work in as many different countries as I can,” Williams says.
Provenance: Jackson, Miss.
Inspired by: Robert Evans. After taking a break in Texas to reassess his Hollywood career, Williams drove back to Los Angeles with renewed determination, listening to the audiotape of Evans’ autobiography “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” Within an hour of arriving, he had bumped into a girl who invited him to dinner at Evans’ house. “He inspired me that anything is possible. He created this glamour to the idea of producing, that it’s about connecting with people, rather than having a college degree in producing.”