Archive for Thursday, June 4, 1998

S LOW-BUDGET FILM PACKS SOME STAR POWER.

June 4, 1998

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``Just because a man ain't got much, don't mean he ain't got nothing to give!''

That line comes from Kevin Willmott's feature film ``Ninth Street,'' a 93-minute movie about a notorious stretch of black-owned jazz clubs, bars and businesses in Junction City that for decades catered to Army troops stationed at nearby Fort Riley.

But the line also describes the Lawrence filmmaker's determination to make the movie in spite of financial obstacles. He was driven because he had a story to tell, one based on his childhood memories of the area known as ``the Harlem of Kansas.''

``Technically, we started making the movie in 1991, but we never had any money,'' Willmott said. ``We shot as we had money. We shot two days and then (came back to it) a year later.''

Willmott wrote the script for ``Ninth Street,'' whose cast includes Martin Sheen and Isaac Hayes, about 17 years ago when he was a student at Marymount College in Salina. Ten years later, the first footage was shot. The film was completed in 1993 and spent several years in post-production.

``Post-production was a real challenge,'' he said. ``If I can give filmmakers any advice, it's that you need to keep most of your budget for post-production.''

Adding to the delays was a dispute with one of the investors.

``We had to pay them off,'' he said. ``We almost lost the film on a couple of occasions.''

The film cost under $125,000 because most of the people who worked on the film were volunteers.

``We had 700 extras who worked without pay or food. The crew deferred their salaries,'' he said. `` ... We never had over $5,000 at any one time, then we got $50,000 from an investor that allowed us to get most of the shooting done.

``But it was never about money for us. It was a real thing of passion. I grew up in Junction City and my parents met on Ninth Street. I grew up and heard the stories.''

The film is set in 1968 and revolves around two winos, Bebo (Don Washington, who played Harry Belafonte's body guard in ``Kansas City'') and Huddie (Willmott), who together try to combat the young gangsters who threaten their street and those they love.

The drinking buddies introduce movie goers to a number of characters: Pop Bottle Ruby (Kaycee Moore, a Kansas City actress who appeared in ``Daughters of the Dust''), Momma Butler (Kansas City jazz singer Queen Bey), the pimp Love (Lawrence actor Byron Myrick); Tippytoe, a cab stand owner (Hayes, who won an Oscar for the ``Shaft'' theme song and is popular now for his involvement in ``South Park''); and an activist priest (Sheen, who has appeared in a number of feature and TV films, including ``Gettysburg'' and ``Wall Street.''

Willmott said the film features three songs written by Hayes as well as music performed by jazz musician Wayne Hawkins. Willmott and former Lawrence resident Tim Rebman share director's duties. Producer is Rick Cowan. Music supervisor is Kriss Avery.

``Ninth Street'' will receive premiere screenings at 7 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Friday at the Gem Theatre, 18th and Vine, Kansas City, Mo. Willmott said the film will then be shown in Junction City and Salina.

``Then we'll let the buzz grow,'' he said.

Willmott has several other projects in the works: He has co-written a script for filmmaker Oliver Stone titled ``Little Brown Brother''; has rewritten scripts for several Hollywood studios; and will begin filming a ``faked documentary'' called ``C.S.A.,'' a satire about what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is jbiles@ljworld.com.

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