By Ron Leir
Karl Petry is in touch with things beyond the world as we know it. Over the years, using his psychic ability, the Kearny resident has worked with police to investigate crimes or to locate missing persons or property and has investigated hauntings of all kinds.
He, like the famous Houdini, has an entry in Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s “Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits,” rated as the most widely read reference book on the paranormal.
And now, he’s to be the focus of a film based on his life and some of the “case files” Petry has developed.
Executive producer Pamela Kramer, a casting director/producer of paranormal/sci-fi projects, and co-producer Michael Giordano are teaming to make a proposed TV series called “Absent Witness,” which they’re pitching as “a paranormal drama based on the true events experienced by Petry.”
“We’re still in the pre-production stages,” Kramer said, “getting the pilot together. We’ve shot and edited a ‘sizzle’ reel, a longer version of a typical movie trailer.”
That reel – which conveys information about Petry’s life through a series of brief flashbacks – is designed to serve as a “pitch” to a possible distributor, she said.
The concept for the proposed series – for which six episodes have been written thus far – is “not a reality show,” Kramer said. “Think of ‘Law & Order’ – it’s acting out real-life events in Karl’s personal life and how he dealt with his abilities. … The goal is to get people to understand the paranormal better. We’ll show special effects but we want to keep it as pure as possible.”
Actor Michael Chmiel, who was seen in the role of William Henry Vanderbilt on the History Channel series, “The Men Who Built America,” in 2012, is playing Petry in the paranormal production.
The Petry product had its roots in a horror film class which Kramer has taught in New York since the early 1990s. About a year and a half ago, Kramer invited Petry to be a guest panelist for a Q & A session at one of those classes.
As it happens, Kramer herself has an affinity for other-worldly phenomena. As a young girl, she recalls beginning to sense “auras,” which Wikipedia describes as “a perceptual disturbance … [which] often manifests itself as the perception of a strange light, an unpleasant smell or confusing thoughts or experiences.”
“I saw visions of people who’ve ‘crossed over,’ ’’ she said.
Later, working through yoga and meditation, Kramer evolved as an empath – able to discern another person’s thoughts about the past, present or future.
“Over time, we got to know each other, Karl got to know of my skills,” Kramer said. “Karl’s abilities are somewhat different from mine but pretty intense. We kind of cross over in the middle.”
Having found the stories Karl outlined to her class “pretty compelling,” Kramer seized on the idea of translating those stories to film and brought in, as a production partner, Michael Giordano, who, Kramer notes, is a Tarot card reader but “not a classic psychic.”
To portray Petry, the team called on Michael Chmiel, who, while not possessing any psychic powers himself, said he knows a lot of people who do have those attributes so the terrain wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to him.
Chmiel, who had a featured role last year in an Investigation Discovery TV series, “Bloody Marys,” spent several days with Petry in Kearny so he could study his subject upclose and, in some ways, he saw a mirror image.
“Karl likes jeans and black dress shirts, which is exactly me. He’s soft spoken and mellow, which is kind of like how I am in life,” Chmiel said.
They even share the same taste in music. “Fifties, sixties oldies – the kind of stuff I grew up with, listening to those song with my father – both of us have an affection, an affinity for this type of music,” the actor said.
Chmiel, a native of Southern California who has lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota and earned an MFA at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, before moving to the East Coast, has enjoyed working on the project. “It’s been great getting to know Karl in different lights, his personality and expression.”
As for Petry, he feels Kramer has met a great casting choice, adding that, “On the set, I’d see [Chmiel] walk like me, talk like me – he’s a better Karl than me.”
Petry, who is in his 60s, has always known of his special abilities but kept them under wraps until some 20 years ago. Since then, he’s done what he characterized as “high profile” cases involving murders, people or money that have gone missing, and ghost investigations – all of which he’s done for free. He supports himself by doing forensic video-taping and photography.
But his psychic skills are well-documented and have drawn the attention of other entertainment industry representatives, Petry said. “I previously turned down a proposal for a reality show because I don’t like that type of presentation. And people will think it’s phony.”
A reality type show, Petry said, gives viewers the misleading impression that a case can be solved in a few minutes. “But it doesn’t happen overnight or on demand – one case I worked on in Kearny took eight months.”
Petry, a former member of the U.S. Air Force who grew up in Newark’s Ironbound section, has produced some of his own films, some of which have paranormal themes, such as “The Ironbound Vampire” (1999), “The Ghosts of Angela Webb” (2004) and “The Larksville Ghost” (2005).
Now, he’s looking forward to a happy conclusion for “Absent Witness,” also the name of a book that Petry is in the process of writing. “We’re very confident this TV series is going through,” he added.