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(Reposted from the New York Times)

NEW YORK — Don’t look to Richard Dreyfuss to defend Bernie Madoff.
Dreyfuss, who plays this rapacious investment guru in ABC’s miniseries “Madoff” (airing Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. EST), isn’t about to plead Bernie’s case. “But actors don’t only play people they approve of,” says the Oscar-winning actor who for years tried to launch a film project that would star him as Adolph Hitler.

Then he cites another object of his scorn he did portray — former vice president Dick Cheney in the 2008 feature”W.”

“I think he deserves to go to jail for a million years,” says Dreyfuss, “but I could still play him. People forget that inside everyone is a bit of Dick Cheney, and as an actor you find those little moments when you’ve been a little bit Cheney. Or a little bit Bernie. Then you extrapolate that out to build the character on.”

Whatever his MO for channeling his inner darkness, it works for him here. Charmingly, chillingly does Dreyfuss inhabit this self-proclaimed Wall Street “magician” whose colossal Ponzi scheme lost as much as $40 billion for tens of thousands of clients in more than 100 countries ranging from movie stars to elderly retirees.

Beside him for this monumental rise and fall was his devoted wife Ruth, who in “Madoff” receives a raw but compassionate portrayal by Blythe Danner.

“She didn’t know,” declares Danner. “She was guiltless, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Emmy- and Tony-winning actress met with Ruth Madoff — who now lives in seclusion stripped of family, riches and good name — to prepare for the film.

“I didn’t ask her a lot of probing questions, but it was good to get a feeling of who she was: a composed, lovely lady,” Danner says. “She was picking up and going on as best she could. But you sensed a lot of pain.”

Dreyfuss says he had a similar opportunity: to speak by phone with Bernie Madoff.

“I turned it down. I thought, ‘What’s he gonna do, tell me the truth?’ It would be an exercise in futility.”

His crime was notable only for its epic scale. Indeed, the ripple effects of his racket even reached the “Madoff” production last year, according to the film’s director, Raymond De Felitta.

During the shoot, New York-area country clubs proved cost-efficient “for mopping up several locations — a dining room, an apartment, a golf course — at one site,” he notes. But he was caught off-guard by the welcome with which the film crew (and its fees) were greeted.

“I told the guy at one Long Island country club, ‘I remember when country clubs didn’t allow film crews to shoot there,'” De Felitta says. “He explained, ‘Madoff wiped out a lot of our membership. We need the money.’ From prison, Bernie was helping us make the film!”

De Felitta (who also directed the 2009 indie feature “City Island”) calls Madoff “villainous. But you have to show him as human.”

Helping humanize the portrait is Madoff’s relationship — domineering yet caring — with his wife.

Dreyfuss calls attention to a tender moment after Madoff’s bare-knuckles disclosure to his family that he’s a fraud who’s headed to jail, and they’re broke. His two sons storm out of the room. “But he can tell that Ruth still doesn’t understand. She says to him, ‘What do you mean?'”

Reverting to his customary mode of protector, Madoff tries to soothe her: “I don’t think we should go into the details right now.”

“It’s so loving,” Dreyfuss says.

“It could have been very dismissive,” says his co-star. “But the way you played it, isn’t.”

The chemistry is obvious between them: For Dreyfuss, 68, and Danner, who on Wednesday turns 73, “Madoff” is their fourth project together.

“I’ve known Richard since he was 19,” says Danner.

“That was the very beginning of my career,” Dreyfuss laughs, “and SHE had already won a Tony!”

They were performing “Major Barbara” at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, with Danner in the title role of the Shaw classic.

“I used to walk her to her car in the parking lot,” Dreyfuss recalls, “and I had SUCH a crush on her — oh, my God! But she was married, so that was that.”

Their latest joint venture won’t be the last cinematic word on Madoff’s infamy. “The Wizard of Lies,” starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, awaits HBO viewers next year.

“All during our shoot, we knew about it,” says Dreyfuss. “Quite frankly, as an actor I kept looking over my shoulder: Are they gaining on us?”

Unlike the chronologically plotted “Madoff,” HBO’s film is expected to take a retrospective tact framed by Madoff as he serves his 150-year sentence.

“In order to understand Bernie Madoff,” says Dreyfuss, unforgiving but still clearly captivated by the man, “you probably have to see both films.”


(Reposted from the Director’s Guild) by ANN FARMER Not only does having a single director on a miniseries assure a unified vision, it can help the logistics of a complicated production. We asked five solo directors to describe their experience doing it all. A smoke machine wasn’t enough for Raymond De Felitta. While directing a furtive, backroom scene for the upcoming ABC miniseries Madoff, which features Richard Dreyfuss as the notorious American swindler Bernie Madoff, De Felitta instructed a crew member to blow actual cigarette smoke onto the set. It curled languorously and seemed to suspend in the lights. It also imparted a subtle film noir feel, which De Felitta deemed appropriate to the subject matter. While directing a furtive, backroom scene for the upcoming ABC miniseries Madoff, which features Richard Dreyfuss as the notorious American swindler Bernie Madoff, De Felitta instructed a crew member to blow actual cigarette smoke onto the set. It curled languorously and seemed to suspend in the lights. It also imparted a subtle film noir feel, which De Felitta deemed appropriate to the subject matter. “I love the Madoff story. I love New York true crime stories,” says De Felitta, an independent filmmaker (Rob the Mob, City Island) who jumped at the chance to make this four-hour miniseries, his first foray into television. “I went after it and sold myself,” he says. To his delight, the ABC executives who hired him were “very supportive of me making it like one of my movies.” “And it was all mine to direct,” he adds. “So I felt I could impose a style and a special feel for the material, which is what I do on my independent movies.” An increasing number of directors these days are seizing opportunities like this to solo-direct entire television miniseries and limited series. They like the creative freedom and control it affords. Unlike episodic assignments, in which a director works at a fevered pace and usually picks up where the previous director left off, single miniseries directors get to set the look and tone, and usher their vision through to the very end. Being the sole director on a miniseries also has advantages in terms of story unity, logistics, and cost. This year, David Wain (Childrens Hospital, Wainy Days) was able to pull an entire eight-episode limited series for Netflix, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, out of what was originally intended to be a feature-length film, and it took only five extra days to shoot. As the sole director, he could readily shoot scenes out of order, shaving time off the schedule whenever feasible. “I think there is a bit of a trend to realizing the creative cohesion and cost savings in having one director who can cross-board the whole season of something,” says Wain. “It’s happening more and more.” Miniseries were hugely popular in the ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s, but by the turn of the century, the expense of producing them precipitated a decline. More recently, the success of the three-episode Hatfields & McCoys (2012), among others, helped revive the form as the various network, cable, and streaming options competed for viewers. “Miniseries was a four-letter word for a while,” says David Von Ancken (Salem,Californication), a director who has benefited from a resurgence of the form. He recently directed Tut, an epic miniseries for Spike that the cable and satellite channel dubbed its “most ambitious project to date.” In recent years, the format has come to include limited series, which are built around a closed-ended narrative and a cast of characters, as in the case of True Detective. “That’s how it was packaged,” says Cary Fukunaga, who directed the first season ofTrue Detective, about two Louisiana detectives (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) pursuing a serial killer. The next season was set in California with a new story and different directors and actors. “The idea was to get a feature filmmaker and get feature film talent in a kind of anthology show,” says Fukunaga. “That was the concept we sold to HBO.” Whether it’s a dramatic production, a crime series, or even a comedy, miniseries and limited series can allow a single director to stamp a production with his or her own vision. To explore the creative and logistical challenges, the Quarterly interviewed five directors who have worked in this way.

Raymond De Felitta | Madoff

Raymond De Felitta was itching for a television directing gig when he landed Madoff, a four-part ABC miniseries. “I wanted to do it very much,” said De Felitta, as he directed Richard Dreyfuss as Madoff in some final scenes at ABC Studios in upper Manhattan last July. De Felitta circled around Dreyfuss, seated at a small conference table opposite Michael Rispoli, who plays Frank DiPascali, Madoff’s right-hand man, who later turned on him. “This is a man-cave kind of office,” says De Felitta, referring to the smoky, darkish room. Although the public offices that Madoff’s unsuspecting investors visited were sleek, this space, where Madoff and his co-conspirators cooked up their Ponzi scheme, appears ordinary, even a tad ramshackle, with storage boxes stuffed into corners and discarded candy wrappers lying about. A telling sign on a closet door states, “Do Not Enter. Do Not Clean.” Getting those set details right was critical for De Felitta, who lobbied to bring on board the same production designer, DP, costume designer, and editor he uses on his indie film crew. Most of them had never worked in TV either. But De Felitta was impressed by ABC’s flexibility in allowing him to bring in his team. “That was bold of them,” he says. Similarly, many of the actors, including Blythe Danner, who plays Ruth Madoff, and Rispoli were people he’d worked with before and wanted to cast. De Felitta had to win approval for his ideas from more producers and executives than he was accustomed to. However, he says, “It wasn’t nearly what I thought it would be. I thought they welcomed me and my style of work.” Before shooting the smoky office scene—in which DiPascali surprises Madoff with an expensive watch in gratitude for making him filthy rich—De Felitta let the actors try some moves. Dreyfuss flashed a Cheshire Cat grin that suited his inscrutable character. “When I heard he was attached, I was excited,” says De Felitta. “To make the story interesting, you have to make the story human. Dreyfuss is lovable. You’re going to want to give him your check.” De Felitta was also pleased by how ABC indulged his preferred mode of rehearsing. “It may not have been the typical way that TV gets done,” he acknowledges, “but they let me spend time with the actors.” He took Dreyfuss and the two actors playing his sons to the beach-house location ahead of time to build rapport. “They talked about vacations and their real families,” says De Felitta. “It gave everyone a nice warm feeling with each other. “I’m very into naturalistic performances,” he says. “I find that if you improv and then go back to the scripted scene, the scripted scene comes alive in a way that it wouldn’t if you’d just rehearsed it normally.” De Felitta suspects that his shooting style was also atypical of TV directors. “I shoot loose. I like scenes to run on.” At the same time, he studied what sets other ABC shows apart in order to capture the house style. “Specifically,” he says, “ABC has a very distinct style in terms of their pacing and editing. They come at you and they don’t let up. It’s quite riveting. Especially in a story like this.” For De Felitta, it was satisfying to have jumped into this television miniseries project and been given so much freedom. But he also relished the opportunity to adapt his indie aesthetic to television. “It’s been a real merging of the two worlds in this movie,” he says.

71EeCaXNUcL The new book by Raymond De Felitta is now available! Pick it up on Amazon today! “City Island and Two Family House: Two Screenplays” (and too much information on the making of two independent films) by Raymond De Felitta Two Family House introduces you to Buddy Visalo, a frustrated factory worker who can’t get over his dream of being a singer. City Island welcomes you into the Rizzos, a family marked by its members’ inability to be honest with one another—starting with the dad, a prison guard who’s secretly taking acting classes. Written by Oscar-nominated filmmaker and director Raymond De Felitta, these two feature films won Audience Awards at Sundance and Tribeca, respectively. They are also both the result of two separate seven-year journeys from script to screen. Now you can benefit from De Felitta’s persistent struggle to see his stories through in this complete guide to independent filmmaking that includes not only a full shooting script for each film but also essays on the making of each movie, movie stills, and production notes to further illuminate the entire process. Serving as a tribute to the second-generation immigrant stories that motivate his own work and a blueprint for how to become a successful independent filmmaker, this is a must-read guide for any aspiring screenwriter. Yes, the road ahead is fraught with difficulty, but your artistic pursuit is worthwhile. And, as De Felitta reveals, it doesn’t just have to be a pipe dream—but your vision realized for screen.  

City Island, Interviews
By CARL KOZLOWSKI [From] Amid a spring movie season awash in mega-budgeted, big-studio releases, only one film has consistently shot up the box office charts week after week – rising more than 200 percent last weekend alone. That film is the delightfully funny movie “City Island,” starring and co-produced by Andy Garcia, and as a bonus to conservative film fans tired of seeing intact families with traditional values mocked, it’s a loving tribute to familial togetherness and communication as well. —– The amazing thing about “City Island,” however, is the fact that it wasn’t supposed to make waves at all. It was about to be dumped into the home video market with only a minimal theatrical release. But then audiences started responding with wildly hysterical laughter and sincere appreciation for the film’s classic American storytelling, and as a result it has climbed from a four-theater opening weekend all the way up to 269 screens in its sixth weekend last week, with even greater numbers hoped for in the weeks to come. For writer-director Raymond De Felitta, seeing the film succeed despite its meager beginnings is a dream come true. After all, he had struggled to make two prior films in his career: the 2000 Sundance sensation “Two Family House,” which never registered financially despite being a critical and cult favorite, and 2005’s Paul Reiser-Peter Falk film “The Thing About My Folks,” which didn’t score on either the financial or critical side. Hollywood is watching De Felitta now, however, as the film’s unusual ability to grow financially each week already drew the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which wondered if “City” might become another once-in-a-blue-moon phenomenon like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which overcame a similarly tiny start in theaters to grow into a $240 million domestic smash. “I think the problem with Hollywood’s portrayal of the working class is that a lot of people who write movies either don’t know the working class, or came from it and forget that they did,” says De Felitta in an exclusive Big Hollywood interview. “Hollywood doesn’t really get it wrong a lot, because they work in broad strokes in general. But these are the Italians in the outer boroughs that I grew up around. So I know how they speak and where they’re from, so for me it’s natural and the easiest thing to write.” While “City Island” is ultimately a celebration of genuine family values, its comically convoluted plot takes some detours that at first seem to be headed into Hollywood’s typical immoral morass. While Garcia’s corrections officer character sneaks off to mainland Manhattan for acting classes and auditions he’s afraid to tell even his wife about, she speculates he’s having an affair and launches into a risky flirtation with a prisoner who’s finishing his probation period at Garcia’s home and who is actually Garcia’s son from a prior relationship. Further outrage might seem warranted for the subplot about Garcia’s teenage son, who surfs the Internet for porn sites featuring fat women feeding themselves. Yet every time the film seems to be heading in the wrong direction, De Felitta manages to find an inventive twist that brings the characters back to solid moral ground. 11161 “Comedy is always funnier if it’s dangerous, if it borders on the brink of catastrophe,” says De Felitta. “It’s kind of what’s your taste in movies – a movie about danger where it’s really dangerous, or where it goes a different way? It takes me longer to warm me up to a movie that’s dead serious.” And as crazy as those plot points may sound, it ultimately is a film you can share with everyone from the teens to grandparents. “It was important for me to do it in a way that could reach a lot of people. I didn’t want to make an R movie – not because of kids, but because a lot of adults and old people avoid them,” says De Felitta. “A huge part of the movie audience is older people, because that’s what they do with their days. They love to go to movies, but they don’t want to see something that upsets them. Nothing I’m saying in the film is really controversial; it’s just a little weird. If it’s done with the right aplomb, I think it’s fine for anyone.” That fact was borne out in the film’s test screenings, where indie distributor Anchor Bay found that the response results were “amazingly high.” The result has left both the indie and De Felitta with a good problem to have. “You can never tell what will have a chance in the world,” De Felitta muses. “It feels like we have something, that people are really responding to it. But then we have to ask can we open in more theaters? Can we afford more ads? We gotta keep feeding the monster.”

Two Family House
By Richard Natale [From the Los Angeles Times]
It’s as if you can hear Frank Sinatra crooning “My Way” in the background as “Two Family House” writer-director Raymond De Felitta discusses his circuitous route toward becoming a working filmmaker–a route that ended up being very personal. “There’s no real way to break into Hollywood,” De Felitta says. “They either chase you or you have to find other ways to do it.” De Felitta, the 35-year-old son of novelist and screenwriter Frank De Felitta, was born in New York, but raised in the San Fernando Valley. After attending the American Film Institute and making the Oscar-nominated short “Bronx Cheer,” De Felitta had the “CAA experience,” as he puts it. At age 25 he was signed by Creative Artists Agency and dispatched to “pitch my heart out” to any executive willing to take a meeting. “Everyone was very nice to me,” he says, “but I wanted to write things nobody could set up, mostly about New York in the 50s.”
He finally broke into the business–and yes, he did it his way. If he wanted to make movies about New York, he reasoned, maybe that’s where he should be. Within a couple of months of moving back, he had begun filming “Cafe Society,” a Manhattan mystery set in the 1950s, which was accepted into the noncompetitive Directors Fortnight sidebar to the Cannes International Film Festival in 1995. Reaching into his deep drawer of scripts, he resurrected another ’50s tale he’d written while waiting for his big break in Hollywood. “Two Family House,” which won the audience prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and which opened in limited release on Friday, is based on a true story about his uncle Buddy, a hapless dreamer whose misadventures included buying a home on Staten Island and turning the ground floor into a bar. As De Felitta describes him: “He had many schemes that never came off and he used to laugh about them in that wistful way Italians have of enjoying their failures as much as they do their successes.” The premise of the story is based in truth. His uncle did try to evict an Irish couple who were living upstairs in the house and the woman gave birth to a baby who ended up causing “quite a scandal,” De Felitta says. But that’s where the real story ends and fiction begins. While he was writing the script, the character of Buddy led him away from his usual proclivity for downbeat stories. “I wanted to give Buddy a happy ending, so I rewrote his life,” says De Felitta in the same wistful way his late uncle might have said it. “I wanted to explore the side of the family that remained blue-collar. I wanted to learn more about them.” ‘They Had a Real Island Mentality’ In the film, De Felitta has accomplished the difficult task of romanticizing Staten Island, that peculiarly pre-suburban borough of New York that rarely shows up in movies, “Working Girl” being one notable exception. In a recent episode of “Sex and the City,” one of the characters compares Staten Island to a small European country where they listened to 20-year-old music and everyone still smoked. But De Felitta found the steel-arched Bayonne Bridge, which connects the island to New Jersey, a perfect backdrop for his film. “It’s a beautiful structure and I tried to get it into every shot I could,” he said. Staten Island also offered the isolation he needed to delve into the tightly knit, fiercely clannish, yet surprisingly fragile Italian American community. “They had a real island mentality,” he recalls of his childhood visits. “You could be a hundred miles from New York, especially in the days before the Verazzano Bridge [which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island]. They probably went to Manhattan once a year for the Macy’s dollar-day sale.
“To understand the ’50s, you have to look at neighborhoods. They were central to life then. There was a tribal thing that went on in neighborhoods that were composed of a particular race, religion or ethnic background.” Buddy (actor Michael Rispoli) encounters the specter of racism–particularly against African Americans. De Felitta says he approached the topic in a realistic manner. “I don’t think they were really racist. They were just ignorant. They were afraid of [different] people and they spoke that way to make themselves feel safe.” Disparaging comments about African Americans in “Two Family House” arise in a casual manner and De Felitta says he was careful not to underline them or make value judgments. “It’s just the way they talked. In movies today we have a tendency to want to erase history and not show things that might upset people,” he said. “I wasn’t out to ‘teach a lesson’ in the classic Hollywood style. But it was important to include that and I think audiences will understand it in that context.”