Steamboat grad’s 1st feature film to premiere here | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat grad’s 1st feature film to premiere here

Kari Dequine Harden/For the Steamboat Today

Steamboat graduate Owen Williams' first feature film, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” premieres Saturday evening at the Chief Theater.





Steamboat graduate Owen Williams’ first feature film, "Under the Hollywood Sign," premieres Saturday evening at the Chief Theater.

— Owen Williams is thrilled to be coming home.

And with him he's bringing two things that are as near and dear to the heart as it gets: his 7-month-old baby girl, Cordelia Skye, (her first trip to Colorado) and his first feature film.

Williams spent his childhood in Steamboat before he journeyed west to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles.

His first feature film, "Under the Hollywood Sign," premieres Saturday evening at the Chief Theater, and tells the "painful and hilarious story of an actorʼs fading dreams and the need to reinvent his purpose in life."

Williams stars in the film alongside his wife, Sherry Romito. It is the first feature-length film for Spirit Hound Productions, a company Williams and Romito recently launched together.

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Also the film's director, Williams co-wrote the film with friend and actor Ryan Anglin.

The movie is described as "semi-autobiographical," and last month, earned Williams the best actor award at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. The movie "puts the war stories out on paper," he said.

Williams moved to Steamboat when he was 5 years old and graduated from Steamboat High School in 1994.

Basketball dominated his youth, and his senior year he was an all-star point guard for the Sailors.

He went to California to play basketball at St. Mary's College, but "changed gears” early on. Williams never actually played basketball on the college team. "I discovered beer instead," he jokes.

On a whim, he signed up for an acting class. The students were asked to observe a real-life emotion outside the classroom and then act it out. While Williams acted out a homeless man eating a hamburger, he looked up to see his teacher crying.

"To have that kind of affect – it really charged me," he recalled. "It was a feeling I hadn't felt before, or hadn't felt since playing basketball."

As with the sport, acting gave Williams a creative outlet, a way to express himself, and an audience. He was hooked.

Arriving in the City of Angels in 1999, Williams got a job waiting tables at an Italian restaurant and sent out a mass mailing of headshots and resumes.

His first acting gig came relatively quickly and gave him the role of Scott, a college kid visiting his girlfriend's dorm for three episodes of the MTV series, "Undressed." Things get dicey when "Scott" finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him.

Right out of the gate, Williams said he was in a shower scene half naked and trying to act sexy while surrounded by 20 crew members. "I thought I'd made it then," he laughed.

But in the reality of the inconstant and at times unsparing industry, it wasn't smooth sailing from there on out. It was a grind, "and I'm still grinding it out now."

However, the past year has been one of his most successful in the business, Williams said.

There was the whole having a baby thing, along with finishing "Under the Hollywood Sign." Starting their own production company was a step toward "empowering ourselves," Williams said. "It's nice to have the power in our own hands and not be just sitting on the living room couch hoping the phone rings."  

With Spirit Hound, "We want to make projects that speak from the heart and search for truth," he said.

According to the company's website: "Spirit Hound is dedicated to finding creative ways of raising consciousness, shifting awareness, and helping to heal the planet with projects made from scratch and always from the heart."

For Williams, the Steamboat screening is a dream come true. While it is a film that is largely personal and exposes vulnerabilities, Williams said there's nowhere he'd rather share that than in the community where he grew up.

The movie is dark, it's comedic, it's heartfelt – and it's not the "Entourage" side of making it in Hollywood.

"It can be really funny and really sad, and that's the story we wanted to tell," Williams said. "A lot of dreams are crushed. It's hard. And you end up being a really good waiter."

Williams said that these days he and his wife are able to make a living acting. There are good months and bad months, but he is continuing to work at something he loves, and for Williams, the film's exploration of the challenges of pursuing a dream is a universal theme.

Growing up in Steamboat was "one of the most magical experiences you can have," Williams said. "Steamboat supports its youth – I can't imagine better support. Knowing you have a whole community behind you, and being raised by the community – I miss Steamboat so much for so many reasons."

Williams said he is determined to give his daughter access to everything he loved about growing up in the Rocky Mountains.

Williams and Romito met in an acting class 13 years ago, and about seven years later, he proposed to her from a hot air balloon in Steamboat.

The same acting class continues to provide a support group of friends and colleagues, including a few who helped make the movie.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of The Family Guy and a friend of Romito's, helped fund the film. Romito got to know MacFarlane – an avid singer – while she was working at a karaoke bar in L.A.

MacFarlane has since been supportive of their creative endeavors, Williams said, including a web series called "Van Man." The show is about a couple that buys a van in preparation for the apocalypse, so they can be ready to move at a moment's notice.

The van – an orange 1984 Volkswagon Westfalia, is "a bigger star than any of us," Williams said. He's owned the van, Guadalupe, for a decade. It has a starring role in the film, as well as Spirit Hound's latest pitch for a reality television show called "Sacred Spaces." 

Williams said they are currently talking with different networks about the show, which would feature himself, Romito, the baby and the van as they explore different "sacred" destinations around the U.S.

The pitch is very close to Williams' heart – and an attempt at a reality show that is more substance and less Kardashian.

At their one bedroom apartment in L.A., the VW van serves as an office and where they do a lot of their writing. It's also a place Williams can go to cool off when the Broncos lose.

A large part of the theme in "Under the Hollywood Sign" – balancing career and family – entered Owen's life in an unexpected way with the arrival of Cordelia.

"I was wrong that you can't have a career and a baby," he admits. And with Cordelia has come added creative flow and inspiration, Williams said.

Fatherhood, Williams said, has driven him to re-evaluate priorities and focus on the things closest to his heart.

Doors for "Under the Hollywood Sign" open at 6:30 p.m. at the Chief Theater at 813 Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $10. For more information, go to http://www.chieftheater.org or http://www.spirithoundproductions.com.