Mike Fleming

All the while that producer Marc Fiore was making pricey pay-or-play deals and holding press conferences in New York and Cannes to trumpet John Travolta, Al Pacino, Lindsay Lohan and Joe Pesci taking part in Gotti: In The Shadow Of My Father, there were big questions on whether Fiore really had the cash to make the movie. It has become clear in the last two weeks that he does not; I’m told that the film is in play and that without a new backer, the mob movie could sleep with the fishes. Conversations are going on right now to figure out new funding and to bring down the budget.

What happened? I’m told that Fiore’s major backer, a New York-based construction mogul named Fay Devlin, recently began questioning what he had gotten himself into after Fiore paid high prices to sign talent to pay-or-play deals. Already more than $10 million has been spent, and I’ve heard they’re on the hook to pay Travolta $10 million to play John Gotti Sr, Pacino $7 million, co-writer/director Barry Levinson more than $4 million, co-writer James Toback $1 million, and Ben Foster low seven figures to play Gotti Jr. Those are high prices for an indie film. A pay-or-play deal from an indie company isn’t the same as one at a studio, but talent and reps had no reason to be unduly concerned because Fiore made escrow payments on time and was so confident his backers would write the check that foreign sales agents at Summit didn’t pre-sell overseas territories after Levinson went to Cannes to hawk the film. Things went awry only recently when timed payments to several of the stars didn’t materialize. An expected early 2012 start date now seems unlikely.

Here’s the irony: Despite the exit of original director Nick Cassavetes a week after an ill-advised press conference, and despite a lawsuit by Pesci, I’m told by reliable sources the script that was completely overhauled by Levinson and Toback is now quite good; there is now a compelling father-and-son story set in the backdrop of an iconic organized crime family in New York. New backers would probably ask the talent to rework deals, but from Levinson on down, they all really want to make the film. Whether Fiore is still calling the shots in a reconfigured Gotti film remains to be seen. A spokesman declined comment on the funding but said the film is still on track to be released in late 2012, and he also said that Fiore Films is anticipating the structure of the film will stay intact. I don’t believe that is the case at this moment.

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