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Provocative Cincinnati-based film 'Who Is Amos Otis?' streaming on Amazon Prime

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Courtesy Greg Newberry
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company veteran Jason Katawick stars as Amos Otis, the mysterious man on trial for shooting the president.

Local actors star in Who Is Amos Otis?, a courtroom drama about a man charged with assassinating a polarizing U.S. President in the Queen City.

Director Greg Newberry was rushing to get his Who Is Amos Otis? movie — about a man changed with assassinating a divisive Trump-style U.S. president during a Cincinnati visit — before Trump faced re-election in November 2020.

He didn't make it.

But he was able to release the trailer Jan. 4, 2021 — two days before the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters foreshadowed in the movie.

"I sent the trailer to some friends in Los Angeles, and they just flipped out. And two days later the insurrection happened, and my phone blew up," Newberry says.

Trump supporters will flip out for other reasons.

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Courtesy Greg Newberry
White supremacist Frank Jenkins (Donald Volpenhein) gives a Nazi "Seig Heil!" salute when sworn in on the witness stand.

Newberry, a local boutique advertising agency owner and a Democrat who ran for office in the 1980s, was inspired to write Who Is Amos Otis? after Trump was elected in 2016.

However, the name "Trump" is never mentioned in the film. In fact, the disruptive president is never named in Who Is Amos Otis?, which began a 90-day run Jan. 6 on Amazon Prime and other pay-per-view platforms.

Newberry says he was troubled by "the daily barrage of headlines and tweets that fueled the dangerously expanding divide among Americans … by race, class, culture and religion not seen since the days of Gettysburg. I wanted to create a story that illustrated the devastation we could cause to our future if we failed to act. The stakes for our country were too high to do nothing."

So Newberry, who has written Hollywood film scripts and directed over 80 TV commercials, wrote a screenplay about a mysterious assassin named Amos Otis (not the former Kansas City Royals outfielder). The Who Is Amos Otis? website asks the question: Is he a "presidential assassin or democracy's savior?"

AMOS OTIS AJ Ford, Micahel Bath, Rico Reid, Jason Katawick in holding cell.jpg
Courtesy Greg Newberry
FBI agent Tucker (A.J. Ford), prosecutor Art Bradley (Michael G. Bath), public defender Jason Johnson (Rico Reid) meet with Otis (Katawick) in his jail cell.

Then the O’Bryonville resident shifted gears and wrote his story as a play. He rented Memorial Hall in September 2019 and directed the courtroom drama for a weekend with an all-Cincinnati cast: Josh Katawick, Rico Reid, Michael G. Bath, A.J. Ford, Christine Brunner, Derek Snow, Christine Jones, Mike Dennis, Donald Volpenhein, Peggy Allen, Denise Dal Vera and Carol Brammer.

"The audience reaction was just overwhelming and unexpected. It sparked a lot of discussion. It really resonated with people." he says.

Wanting more people to see it, he re-assembled the cast nine months later and filmed Who Is Amos Otis? in just five weekends in summer 2020. He used the same Northern Kentucky United States Post Office courtroom seen in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the Ted Bundy film shot here in 2018 with Zac Efron and Jim Parsons.

The other option for Newberry, who has had four screenplays optioned by Hollywood studios, was to have an agent shop it around West Coast studios and try to get a big-name star committed to the project.

"If we shopped it around for talent, that would take a year," he says. "And it would take five years of my life to get this completed. I didn't want to wait that long," says Newberry, who was the writer, director, executive producer, casting director and location scout for the film.

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Courtesy Greg Newberry
Amos Otis (Katawick) confers with his attorney (Rico Reid) in court.

The play and film are essentially the same, except for the opening scene added for the movie showing Otis (Josh Katawick) doing some target practice along a river. Killing the president is not shown in either script; both focus on the court trial for Otis, with some Twilight Zone twists.

The press kit describes the plot this way: After assassinating the President, Amos Otis pleads self-defense and must convince the jury that America was not only under attack from an unhinged ruler — but that his actions saved the country and the world. The assassin's provocative testimony and ingenious defense turns the proceedings upside down and puts our country on trial. He confronts our political climate head-on while daring the jury to side with a murderer on a suicide mission to save them. No one can tell if he's a mad man, con man or savior of the world. Not even his attorney.

The unheard of 10-day shoot (most features take a month or more) was possible because the performers knew their lines from the play, says Newberry, who sometimes spends all day shooting a 30-second TV commercial. Ninety-five percent of the film was shot in a courtroom or jail cell. To fast track the editing, Newberry delivered a hard drive of the day's filming each evening to editor Mark Cretcher.

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Courtesy Greg Newberry
Greg Newberry had written four screenplays optioned by Hollywood studios in addition to writing, producing and directing over 80 commercials.

Newberry, a baby boomer who "grew up with the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcom X," explains that that there is a "long history of presidents and emperors being killed in theater, film and television. At the end of the day, it’s art. For this story, the death of a fictional president is a literary device that allows us to see what might have been."

Another literary device was not naming the president. "I wanted the president to be an enigma so people could create their own president in their minds based on their perspectives," he says.

The reaction to the film has been very positive — most likely from Democrats and Never Trump-ers.

"The response to this has been really great. It looks like $5 million," Newberry says. "I couldn't be more proud of it. Everyone worked so well together on it. Creatively, it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done."

Who Is Amos Otis? is available on pay-per-view on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, AT&T, DirecTV, Comcast and other platforms.