MAKING CITY ISLAND: PRE-PRE-PRE PRODUCTION
So there we sat, Andy Garcia and I, miles away from the actual City Island (dig above ariel view) yet determined to find a way to make "City Island" the movie happen. I can honestly say that I never doubted we would--but I also knew the journey would be filled with the usual dead-ends, heartbreaks and non-starter attempts. Andy suggested sending it to a few companies that might seem likely homes for the material--after all, we were bringing a script, a star and a director and thus were entering with more than the usual artillery, which is generally a good thing.
I believe we went out to Sony, Fox Searchlight and Paramount Vantage. All three passed. Now, while this isn't unusual at all--what's truly unusual is when they want to do something--it still always chips away at a little bit of your heart. It's like somebody turning down your kid for something your kid wants to do. (Like maybe he wants in on the wrestling team but is too wimpy? I don't know--you know the feeling I'm getting at. You want to protect your beloved from the coldness of the worlds judgement). To put what a "pass" truly means into perspective, let me jump ahead about three years to just a couple of months ago. I'm sitting down with a female executive at a production company on the Warner Brothers lot. "City Island" is obviously by now a finished film, which she likes. In fact, she tells me, she read it back when it was submitted to Paramount Vantage, where she was then an executive. And she thought it was terrific back then and knew it would make a good movie.
I couldn't help but ask: "Then why did you guys pass on it?"
She shook her head, threw her hands up and said words to the effect of: "...changes in executive structure...in-house priorities changing...company wanting to go in a different direction..." Etc. In other words, it had little if anything to do with my script and star. And this is probably the truth--that most things don't happen in Hollywood simply because the white noise of the business creates its own chaos and confusion and it's easier to simply...pass.
Furthermore, a "pass" is something of a rite of initiation. Most things that finally get done have a long and cherished history of passes they collected on the road to getting made. People love revisiting which studios turned down which future franchises, which stars said no to which future Oscar roles. Collecting passes makes you part of the game. It hardens the armour. And you can always go back later and try again because...who knows?...chances are good that whoever passed the first or second or third time has moved on to another company and by now "in-house priorities" might have changed in your favor.
But back in 2007, passes were passes and didn't help us get any closer to making the film. I suggested that we send it out to some actors for other roles and start building up the cast. Andy agreed and we brought in Sheila Jaffe, who had cast my previous films, to start helping us with a list of names and some ideas as to availabiities. One of Andy's best traits emerged here--that of being completely behind the material and willing to reach into his phonebook if necessary to get the script out to actors he knew. It's a little hard for me to remember all the names now, but two of the early submissions we made were to MIchelle Pfeiffer (for the role of his wife) and Justin Timberlake for the role of his son. Timberlake knew Andy and got back--via his manager--fairly quickly to say that he liked the script but was about to begin an endless tour and so couldn't commit. Fine. We'd check back when we had financing.
The real surprise, though, was Michelle Pfeiffer. I think she was our very first stop and her CAA agent called to say that she liked it. It wasn't exactly a "yes"--more of a "wait and see...she's reading other things...liked the script and likes Andy..." (The two had worked together once before).
And then, after a few weeks of nothing, she passed as well.
Still, you have to measure these things optimistically and so far people seemed to be responding well--albeit negatively--to what we were putting out there. It wouldn't be long until we attracted some interest somewhere.
And then, in what seemed like a flash, two different actors suddenly expressed interest which led to a third actor expressing interest. Marcia Gay Harden read it and liked the role of the wife. Chloe Sevigny read it and liked it (for Molly). And Marcia Gay Harden's agent, Chris Andrews, also represented a young actor named Steven Strait who he'd shown it too and who wanted to meet me about the role of Vince's older son.
Thus we went from a movie with no money and no cast, to a movie with what looked to be a hovering cast and still no money. But you can't have everything all at once and I set out on the trail of meeting with these actors and hopefully seducing them into saying: yes, I want to be attached to your movie. In general, the more reality that you can bring to your project--and four committed actors is a lot of reality--the more seductive the whole thing is to people looking to back movies. The more of my movie that I can show and tell--here's my script, here's my star, here's my supporting cast--the easier it is to get people to see the vision and possibly jump in, especially considering that much of the hard work has already been done.
Of course, it's also easier for them to pass as well...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 1:21 PM