Welcome to City Island. Above is a view of this magical and strange place where I am currently living, working and blogging. We wrapped our first week of shooting Friday night at eleven PM. I took off for the city in the morning and somehow a day and a half has passed. Thus it’s Sunday afternoon and I have everything on the “to-do” list still staring me in the face, except the laundry.
A few rhetorical questions; 1) Did David Lean do his laundry on the weekends? 2) Is this truly the first full account of a film being made being covered via the blogosphere? (Can’t imagine nobody else has thought this one up…) 3) Is it alcoholism if you wake up at dawn on your day off and drink a lot of white wine?
Many kudos to my excellent assistant “Cecilia Bee” for keeping this thing going during the work week. Even though it makes perfect sense not to focus on anything but the film, I can’t help but think that Soderbergh would be blogging himself while shooting–as well lighting and editing.
Quick history of this script and then I have to move on to my shotlist. It’s the only script I’ve written (out of about thirty) that I can date precisely. Started it after the labor day weekend, 2001. That weekend my wife and I took an early morning walk to the East River and I told her the vague idea I had–a prison guard who finds out his secret love child is in his prison. Her enthusiasm and my general good mood of the moment sat me down to write some notes. And suddenly the idea that this prison guard also has a secret ambition–to be an actor–made me move from notes to script. No outline. Just started writing the people. I was on the roll of my life and got to page 50 on the eleventh of September. As some of you might remember, the immediate sensation after the attack was one of complete senselessness. Why write? Why make films? Why live a normal life? Why do anything? It seems a little odd now but that was–at least if you lived in NYC–the general tenor of things at that supremely odd moment. So I put the Rizzo family down and didn’t do much for a couple of weeks. And then I realized that I was of no use to the firefighters and clean up crews downtown, that I couldn’t solve the world’s political problems (and indeed had and continue to have very little interest in politics to begin with–they really are the least profound thing in life)…so what the hell? Finish your fucking script. Writing and piano playing are the two things I was born understanding how to do. So I finished it–in another couple of weeks.
My agent quickly read and liked it but it became one of those infuriating “good but hard to explain” projects. Everybody liked it. But how do you make this? Answer: get an actor. But I didn’t. Instead I got a producer (a few of them). They meant well. But we didn’t agree on much. And a lot of time was spent talking. Like three years. I made two other movies while we were talking about this one. And finally, when it was time to renew the option, mercifully they’d had enough. Meanwhile, Michael Chicklis (great actor, good guy) had come and gone…and I was fresh out of luck. No producers, no actor, just me and my script and a few years older and wiser.
But everything happens for a reason and my agent, seeing the flounder session that “City Island” was morphing into, asked what I might think of Andy Garcia as the lead. Seeing as we’re repped by the same agency, I was surprised that we hadn’t thought of him before. “Send it” said I. They did. He liked it. Andy and my first phone call was write before Thanksgiving, 2006. When the film is truly done, our partnership will be two years old.
Somehow when things click into place the inevitability is astonishing. The road was still bumpy–even with Andy involved a lot of companies passed based on the reasoning that the film was “execution dependent”. (Aren’t they all? Who dreams up these movie business terms? And do they get paid a royalty every time some shmuck uses it?) Anyway, many months passed during which Andy and I became obsessed with finding a way to make this happen–to make our dream project a REM reality. Next aboard was my old friend Zachary Matz–excellent producer and pal who started to plot with me and Andy how little the movie could be made for. And that’s when my wonderful friend Lauren Versel (pictures w/Steven Strait below) showed up–with a company she’d started with equity financing. From the beginning Lauren had a serene confidence that we would pull this whole thing off. Which is a hell of a lot nicer than having a worried producer who sees nothing but obstacles–the situation I was in a few years ago.
I have to go. Keep reading. Dig Cecilia Bee’s clips–we’ll be posting both behind the scene clips as well as dailies. Send this link to your friends.I can’t tell you how my heart leaps when I see the stat counter take a jump. As well as when I see my characters come to life on set, courtesy of the best cast I’ve ever worked with. Meanwhile, since I’m constitutionally unable to blog without posting a youtube clip, check out Frankie Laine from 1954. Why Frankie? 1) I listen to his Mercury records every morning before going to set–hence I will forever associate this movie with him. 2) There’s something about the way Andy is playing Vince that reminds of Frankie Laine. And 3) My excellent production designer–Franckie Diago–is…named Frankie. So is my father, Frank De Felitta. So you see…