Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Continuing the sinister saga of making "City Island" (with apologies to Richard Rush for stealing the title of his "Stunt Man" making-of doc--really quite good and ultimately more interesting these days than "Stunt Man" itself--Christ, stop me!), I finished the "City Island" script in early October of 2001. My agent Lucy Stille and manager Gary Ungar both were enthused but--as with most of my work--cautious of what, exactly, its chances in the marketplace were. It was not an obvious spec script sale--nor was that what I was looking for. Clearly it needed cast and a produer, though not necessarily in that order.
First up for my choice for a producer was Richard Gladstein ("Cider House Rules", "Finding Neverland"). I'd known Richard on and off for a few years and at one point we almost had launched another movie together. He liked the script but felt it was "small"--and coming off of the above mentioned Oscar winners was a bit reluctant to take it on with full force. I understood and moved on.
Next came Doug Mankoff and Andrew Spaulding, partners in a company called Echo Lake. Two very good guys who were very taken with the script and wanted to work with me. They optioned it and we got to work...on a rewrite. Now, rewrites are something of a given in this business but I've had a lot of lousy experiences watching things that are in perfectly good shape get screwed up--or become a "victim of bad notes" as a friend of mine puts it. So I was a bit stubborn about this process as I felt, and still feel, that the script as written was sort of...what it is. I mean you can't tell this story too many different ways and I wasn't all that enthused about experimenting. I wanted to make the damn movie!
Nonetheless, Doug and Andy pushed me a bit and for this I'm grateful. Though the changes they suggested were essentially minor--nothing structural was altered--they made the script better, tighter, a little more thoughtful and a lot less windy. When nobody could stand anymore notegiving or notetaking we went out to get an actor to play Vince.
Usually this is a hopeless process, taking months for actors to read (or not bother reading) scripts and then, inevitably, turning them down for reasons that will remain buried with them. But the very first actor we sent it to, the excellent Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") loved it. He and I met and liked each other. He would have made a fine Vince Rizzo and he had a break coming up in the summer from his show. So I thought "Let's get moving".
But his enthusiasm provoked an ambivelence on the part of my producers. In effect they felt: "Even though we love Chiklis, if the first actor we sent it too loved it, maybe we can get..." And then, of course, the second-guessing game began. What about Bruce Willis? Robert De Niro? Al Pacino? Hell, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise...I'm exaggerating but you get the idea.
The longer we dithered, the less enthused Michael Chiklis grew. Who can blame him? He thought I was for real in making this film with him. I thought so too. Soon his participation was a memory and we began a torturous two year process in offering the script to actors who--as I anticipated--really didn't want to bother with reading it after all. By the way, all of the above is pretty normal stuff for the movie business. If that's normal, imagine the bad stuff--plenty of which happens.
Meeting Michael and trying to make the movie with him was far from being a total waste. I visited him on the set of "The Shield" one day and the director of that particular episode was David Mamet. We had a nice talk. Mamet told me that Michael "has spoken very highly of your work"---which coming from Mamet (even though it wasn't him directly complimenting me) made me feel touched by God. Best of all, I had a meeting with Kim Cattrall (can't remember how this came about--perhaps she was a friend of Michael's?) Kim --a lovely woman then at the peak of her "Sex In The City" success--and I had coffee at a place on Madison Avenue and then took a walk. The stares I got from other women on the street--along the lines of: "If he's with her, he must be very special"--made me briefly understand how a sixteen year old girl might feel when walking into a sports bar...
Below is Andy Garcia in a clip from the movie doing some driving work and talking with his director via walkie...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:54 AM