Carmike Grand Prairie 18 Cinema recently got its own taste of a Hollywood-style red carpet premiere right here in Peoria.
This giant 15 or so foot high banner has hung above Carmike’s concession stand for the past few months— I’m typically there seeing something at least once a week, especially in the summer and it’s been there for quite some time. It promotes a movie that was filmed in Peoria, by a Peorian, and pretty much stars Peoria. And guess what? It’s going to premiere in Peoria too!
The film “College Debts” was a labor of love from the mind of Aaron Warr, a good longtime friend of mine. He’s one of the nicest, most generous and eccentric people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, a consummate showman that brings his own kind of flair to everything he does—in this case, his own movie premiere right in his hometown.
Aaron divides his time between Peoria, Chicago and Hollywood these days, picking up production assistant and extra work wherever he can. These experiences have given him a lot of connections and knowledge that allowed him to make College Debts (originally titled “My Guaranteed Student Loan” before finding distribution). Filming took place way back in 2009 over a quick period of about three weeks (pretty normal in the independent film world-after all, the first “Rocky” film was shot in just 28 days).
One of the film’s most compelling elements is its cast, an eclectic mix of local talent and also familiar faces you’ve seen in movies, television and music, including actresses Janet Carroll and Celeste Holm as the protagonist’s two grandmothers. You may remember Janet Carroll as a prolific actress perhaps best known as Tom Cruise’s mother in “Risky Business”.
Celeste Holm was a true Hollywood legend who even won an Oscar for “Gentleman’s Agreement”, the Best Picture winning film of 1947 directed by Elia Kazan (if you know me, then you know I’m a huge Oscar trivia nerd). “College Debts” would turn out to be the final screen appearance for both ladies, who have passed since filming. You could also see other assorted recognizable characters in the film, including the “Snapple lady”, a designer from the show “Trading Spaces”, one of the Village People, and even Richard Pryor Jr. (The resemblance onscreen is striking).
Last Friday night, August 14th, was the premiere, and it was, as I suspected it would be, a lavish affair. One of the radio stations I work for, Peoria’s 92.3 was on hand to help promote the event, so it was fun to be “in the know” on all of this and I grabbed a few shots while I was right there on the red carpet for the big event!
Here’s a shot of Lord Mic the midday jock from 92.3 along with Bianca and Kit, the 92.3 street team as they set up the 92.3 table right next to the red carpet.
As people arrived, they were ushered to the red carpet photo spot.
It was a busy night for Aaron (in the football jersey) as he greeted guests and took photos with a lot of folks.
Kit and Bianca greet guests and give away swag from Peoria’s 92.3 while Lord Mic handles the on-air duties.
And here’s the shot that inspired this post: earlier in the week, Marty posted a shot of himself with Randy Jones, the original “Cowboy” from the Village People. Well, Randy had a role in “College Debts” and came to Peoria for the premiere! He was interviewed by the station and chatted it up with us for a few minutes. He was (very) friendly and I would have loved to hear some more of his stories. When I got home I chuckled to see that “Can’t Stop the Music” is now available on Netflix.
It’s always nerve-racking when you create something for an audience…your brain is constantly worrying about things like “Will people come? Will they like it? What if they don’t?” But if this crowd is any indication, there are no worries about such things tonight! The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger as the time got closer to 8:00pm.
It was finally showtime! And everyone leaves the red carpet and files into Carmike’s “Theater #1”
We make our way into the theatre and its packed. Fortunately, there’s a few seats left in the top corner of the theatre, enough for me, Jenny, a friend who was in the movie, and his dad.
Aaron introduces “Cowboy” Randy and gives an opening speech thanking everyone. And then it’s showtime!
Watching the film served almost as a game of local “Where’s Waldo” with people and locations I knew. I also recognized a lot of the faces I had seen in the lobby before the show when they appeared onscreen, now seeing themselves for the first time on the big screen six years later. Who I didn’t recognize was our friend that came with—his scene got cut from the film. Hey, that’s show business…
Because the film was shot back in 2009, you saw a lot of places sort of frozen in that time, and you were able to see some locations again that are gone now, like the Hub in Edelstein and the old Haddad’s West Peoria market (both lost in fires since then). Some of the spots I recognized in the film appear different than they are now, and in the final scene (shot at Peoria Players) I even caught a glimpse of one of my unfinished sets in the background.
“College Debts” is a film very much keeping in the style of such college-themed cult comedies as Orange County and Dead Man on Campus, but with its own insane twists and turns (which included lots and lots of drag queens.) It’s playing for just a little bit longer at Landmark Cinemas, and since this is a blog that preaches spend local, then what better way to do so than with a trip to see a Peoria movie?