Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Producer Tommy Reid talks 'Danny Greene" documentary

[DANNY GREENE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE IRISHMAN screens Friday March 25th at 6:15pm, Saturday March 26th at 9:45pm and Sunday March 27th at 7:05pm at the Cleveland International Film Festival.]

Interview by Pete Roche

Tommy Reid’s busy year has reached a crescendo.  The KILL THE IRISHMAN producer has been racking up frequent flier miles zipping back and forth from his Los Angeles headquarters to red-carpet premieres of the new Anchor Bay / Code Entertainment film in New York, Florida, and yes—even Ohio.  Reid joined actor Ray Stevenson and writer Rick Porrello at a special Cedar Lee event for Irishman last Wednesday, then flew back to the City of Angels for more press and some well-deserved respite.

But the younger brother of actress Tara Reid (AMERICAN PIE) will return to Cleveland this week for the premiere of his documentary, DANNY GREENE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE IRISHMAN.  Assembled during the production of its big-budget Hollywood sibling, it will debut at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, with screenings scheduled March 25-27th.  But ticket-seekers will need the luck of the Irish to get in; renewed interest in the notorious 1970s Cleveland racketeer resulted in quick sellouts.  A stand-by line will be arranged at each screening.     
Cleveland Movie Blog caught up with Reid by telephone on the eve of St. Patty’s Day to discuss what it was like getting KILL THE IRISHMAN to the big screen while simultaneously compiling the authoritative documentary on the Celtic-minded mobster.

CLEVELAND MOVIE BLOG: You’re back in L.A. but were in Cleveland a week ago for the local premiere of KILL THE IRISHMAN.
TOMMY REID:  Yes. Gonna be coming back next week for the screening there.

CMB: You’re coming back for the CIFF?
REID: Exactly—I have the documentary screening there.  From my understanding it’s already sold out.

CMB: Yeah.  The website says they’re currently all out.  But that’s why we’re calling—to discuss IRISHMAN and DANNY GREENE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE IRISHMAN.  Are you originally from around here?  I saw you attended Ohio State University.
REID: I’m from north New Jersey—a town called Wyckoff.  That’s where I was born and raised.  I graduated from Ohio State in 1997. 

CMB: How did you become interested in the Danny Greene story?  Did you read Rick Porrello’s book To Kill the Irishman and imagine it onscreen?
REID: I was back at Ohio State, and my buddies—my roommates and I—would always talk about the mafia and we’d always religiously watch GOODFELLAS, the GODFATHER saga, and talk about the mafia where we were from.  And I’m from a suburb outside New York City, so we’d always talk about John Gotti and [his underboss] Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, who were big in the news at the time.  And they would tell me stories, almost urban legends, about this figure—Danny Greene.  

Then I moved out to Los Angeles after I graduated from Ohio State.  I went to film school in NYC then moved to LA.  And while I was working at a prominent talent and literary agency my buddy told me there was an article in the Willoughby Times about Rick Porrello, who was going to write a book about Danny Greene.  It wasn’t finished yet.  So when I got that article, my buddy Dominic ripped out the article and sent it to me in California and I tracked down Rick.  Then I flew out to meet him and see if I could get a copy of the book in galley format.  Then I read the book and decided I wanted to option the motion picture, the subsidiary rights, and make it into a movie. 

It’s a very factual book.  Rick doesn’t stray or go into anything other than the facts.  That allowed me to have the backbone to the story, Danny Greene’s journey.  There was enough information there, in the facts, for me to move forward and start creating a natural journey in a movie.  So I developed the screenplay with a writer, and it got immediate attention in Hollywood.  Then it eventually led to [director] Jonathan Hensleigh, who did a little polish on it for the movie and made it what it is today.

CMB: Clearly it had to be streamlined to fit the parameters of a two-hour Hollywood movie, but your documentary should fill in the gaps.  You interviewed a lot of people who actually knew Danny Greene—worked with him, tried arresting him, or were affected by his campaign.
REID: The documentary came out of the trials and tribulations of not being able to successfully make a movie in the time that I did.  After ten years, I became so specialized in this Northern Ohio crime scene and the mafia and Danny Greene’s life that I had to do something about it.  You start to wonder, ‘Am I ever gonna make a movie?’  So basically I decided to take it upon myself to get out there and go film and interview the people who had relations with him, were part of his family, or went opposite him—the government, the police who knew him and investigated his case.  That’s what led to the documentary—not being able to make the [larger, dramatized] movie. 

And the thing about the documentary is, I have exclusive interviews no one’s ever heard before, and pictures and footage no one’s ever seen before.  That really makes it more special.  Some of the people have since passed away.  So this makes it more than hearsay.  The ones you see on Biography—those are just authors who never knew Danny Greene, never met him or anyone who was part of his life. 

CMB: You even spoke with a nun who helped raised Danny, Sister Barbara.
REID: Sister Barbara Eppich, correct.  She lived on the same street as Danny Greene and knew him growing up.  His early childhood was basically laid in front of him for the rest of his life.  He was abandoned as a child.  He had a grandfather who looked after him later, but who worked nights.  So you had Danny on the streets at night roaming.  He learned how to survive and live his life at a very young age on the streets.  Sister Barbara talked about he’d come to school all dirty, how the nuns would shower him, clean him up.  He was sleeping all the time, but was a phenomenal athlete.  He was the best athlete on baseball, basketball.  So it was pretty much laid out early on how the rest of his life was laid out, based on what had happened to him.

CMB: Yes, the big movie kind of skips those stones to get to the main story—Danny, the adult criminal.  So, this film [the documentary] has been done for what, two years?  And you’d done a bowling movie prior to that. 
REID: We shot it in 2009. 7-10 SPLIT has been renamed STRIKE.  Basically, that’s the journey of a failed actor who is a great bowler, and the PBA commissioner sees him and knows they could use a personality like him to spice up ratings and membership in the PBA, which was dwindling.  It’s a fictitious story.  A bowling comedy geared toward college students.  Through is rise to fame and fortune, in taking the PBA to new heights, he loses his girlfriend and best friend and ultimately has to get them back in his life—to become the person he was before he became this character. 

CMB: Your next film is a similar kind of story—a story of Ted Whitfield. 

REID: SCREWBALL is another fictitious story about Ted Whitfield, the world’s greatest wiffleball player.  It’s set in 1994 when the MLB goes on strike, so everyone turns to professional wiffleball and Ted Whitfield, who is trying to break the home run record.

CMB: And that’s coming down the pipe?
REID: No—it’s out, they’re both out.  You can get them on Netflix and iTunes.  So you can get STRIKE and SCREWBALL.  And the DANNY GREENE story will be available on DVD in the fall.  It’ll have its premiere in Cleveland at the film festival, but then it will be out in the fall when KILL THE IRISHMAN goes to DVD. 

It’s hard to make a movie, let alone one that does well.  This is Cleveland’s story.  I just knew it would resonate.  When you hear something like this, and it’s that unbelievable, so much so that you think people made it up, and you’re like, ‘No—they really did try to blow him up like, eight times.’  These are facts.  All this stuff happened.  I want everyone in Cleveland to see it and know the story, because it’s their history.  It means the world to me that you guys are making this known to the locals.   

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