Mobster movies…gangster films…mafia flicks. At one point in time, you could not go to the cinema without seeing one of these genre flicks displayed in the marquee. Nowadays it seems like those types of films are “swimming with the fishes”. Perhaps it had to with the negative reaction to the final two seasons of HBO’s The Sopranos. Maybe people just got tired of the whole Mafioso lifestyle and any of its relative counterparts. Who knows? Speaking for myself, I have always loved those genre pieces but even my enthusiasm cooled down ever since 2007 due to Sopranos overkill. That is until last month when I had the pleasure of screening Chicago Overcoat (Beverly Ridge Pictures) prior to its official DVD release. You can read my review by clicking here.
Chicago Overcoat is a mobster flick I enjoyed so much that I wanted to dedicate a few days to interviews with the cast and crew. And what better way to start things off than speaking to the scribe and brains behind the story’s inception.
Please welcome to The Man-Cave, my guest, screenwriter/producer John Bosher!
The Man-Cave (TMC): Hello John. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about Chicago Overcoat.
John Bosher (JB): My pleasure. Thank you for all of your support.
TMC: As the story’s creator and screenwriter, where did you get idea for Chicago Overcoat?
JB: The first thing we conceived was the title and as I recall it was actually the director, Brian Caunter’s grandmother, who brought it to our attention. We really liked the sound of "Chicago Overcoat” and even more so its meaning, which is a coffin. Our original ideas were about police corruption but the more the storyline progressed, we could not escape the term’s association with the Chicago Outfit. We also knew we should make the main character a hit man, the type of gangster who would put people in a Chicago Overcoat. Because of the era of the term’s prevalence, we decided to make our hit man at the end of his rope, looking to get back a piece of both his and the Outfit’s glory days.
TMC: What type of research did you do to help you write the script?
JB: Brian and I read a few books as well as spoke with several police and organized crime consultants to get a sense of the who, what, when, where and why, but didn’t want to make the story too factual. It’s easy to get caught up in the confines of reality and lose track of the story you originally intended to tell. Perhaps the largest true-life influence was the FBI’s Operation Family Secrets trial, which was beginning as we were writing the first drafts of the screenplay in the spring/summer of 2007. The desperation displayed by the imprisoned mob boss character, portrayed by Armand Assante, as he orders the death of several turncoat witnesses before he stands trial, is largely based on the angst we imagined the defendants in the Family Secrets trial had experienced.
TMC: Have you always been a fan of this genre?
JB: No question. Both Brian and I have always been huge fans of gangster stories and crime dramas in general. Whether they are period pieces like Once Upon A Time In America and Goodfellas or works set in contemporary times like The Sopranos and The Departed, we eat them up. I think criminal stories are so popular because it’s an aspect of life most people never come close to and they can vicariously experience the freedom of living outside the limitations of law and morality through these characters.
TMC: Too many of these types of films take place in New York, so Chicago as the backdrop was very refreshing. Why did you pick Chi-Town for Overcoat’s setting?
JB: Aside from the title somewhat making the decision for us, Chicago seemed like a natural setting for the story. Ask anyone around the world where they most associate organized crime and nine out of ten will say Chicago. They might even pantomime a Tommy gun firing for you. In addition, there hasn’t been a truly Chicago-based gangster film since The Untouchables in 1987.
TMC: When did you begin writing the screenplay and how long did it take?
JB: Brian and I started writing the screenplay in January 2007 and wrote about four or five drafts before bringing in Josh Staman and Alex Dowd a few months later to polish it off. Overall, I’d say it took about six months.
TMC: Screenwriters have told me that they always have an actor in mind when they create certain characters. So did you have Frank Vincent in mind for lead character Lou Marazano? He seemed to fit the role perfectly.
JB: Absolutely. We started writing the lead role for Frank immediately once we decided to make the character older. We knew we weren’t going to end up with De Niro or Pacino as our star so we thought of other genre favorites who were on the same level. Frank is so popular and recognizable, especially having just come off The Sopranos, so that the decision was really a no-brainer. Beyond his popularity, Frank is an excellent actor who we’ve always admired but is seldom allowed to exhibit his range. The Lou Marazano character in Chicago Overcoat is a different type of gangster than audiences are used to seeing Frank play. He’s a lower ranking enforcer with an interesting sense of vulnerability. The opportunity to put one of our favorite actors from childhood in such a role was too much to pass up. In fact, Frank’s performance as Lou Marazano is actually in consideration for a prime time Emmy nomination. I’d also like to include a special shout out to our casting director and associate producer, Chris Charles, for convincing the actors and their agents that this project was worthwhile and single-handily landing our amazing cast.
TMC: What was the most challenging aspect to writing this script?
JB: I’d have to say balancing out the narrative was the one aspect we struggled with the most. The story is really about Frank Vincent’s character and the most successful moments in the film are the ones that deal with his family dynamic and the power struggle within the Outfit. However, involving the police element was necessary not only to raise the stakes but also show the parallels on the other side of the law. We stacked the police narrative a little too high in the screenplay and ended up with some challenges in post-production making sure the story remained focused on Frank’s character arc.
TMC: Were there a lot of rewrites on the set and if so, were there any changes you wished remained in the film?
JB: Oddly enough we did not have any rewrites on set, which is extremely rare. A screenplay is never truly complete until the final film is up on the screen. They say you write and rewrite a film five times. It all starts with the screenplay but things change, sometimes drastically, while shooting, editing, completing the soundtrack, then ultimately once again in a film’s marketing, and Chicago Overcoat was no exception. I stand by all the changes we made to the original script and feel to this day they were warranted and for the right reasons. I just wish we could have made them before we shot the movie and been able to shave a few days off the shooting schedule.
TMC: Let me ask, who fell asleep at the wheel and did not pick this film up for a theatrical release? Top to bottom, this film was made for the big screen.
JB: I wish I had a more black and white answer to that question. I suppose the main reason is the economic climate totally reversed on us in the interim period between the film’s conception and completion. Distributors were becoming increasingly squeamish and unwilling to take chances with deserving indie films unless they could attach some high-concept marketing gimmick like Paranormal Activity.
TMC: (jokingly) Maybe if it was in 3D, I guess?
JB: Haha. I don’t have much faith in 3-D. I think there’s a reason it’s come and gone several times over the past five or six decades with nothing new about the technology in each reemergence except new generations to experience it.
TMC: What is your all-time favorite mobster film?
JB: Yikes! That’s a tough one. I think the best mobster film is probably Goodfellas but my personal favorite would have to be Miller’s Crossing by The Coen Brothers.
TMC: Favorite overall mobster character, either on film or in print?
JB: Hands down Tony Soprano. Although he has an unfair advantage having been featured in over 80 hours of story. It’s hard to find a character in a two-hour feature that you can relate to as much as Tony simply because the writers had so much time to develop his character arc and the family history that contributed to his sociopathic persona. I loved the flashbacks with his father, Johnny Soprano, and always wished they’d do a spin off series about Johnny and Uncle Junior when they were young, featuring more of Tony as a child.
TMC: Who is your biggest writing inspiration?
JB: I would say Quentin Tarantino but only as it relates to his work in the 1990s. Kill Bill and beyond makes me want to choose another candidate. Not that his more recent films aren’t great but I certainly don’t find them inspiring. That said I’d have to go with The Coen Brothers. Some people consider the Coens to be pretentious but not me. I think they can handle any tone in any genre while still maintaining an undeniable consistency between all their works and over the course of three decades no less. In addition to their writing, The Coen Brothers’ sense of visual style has always been a major influence on Chicago Overcoat cinematographer, Kevin Moss.
TMC: Let me ask this question for my readers genuinely interested in screenwriting. Do you have any tips or advice for those trying to get into the business?
JB: I suppose I have two pieces of advice. Firstly, be objective. Often times there is a major difference between your first idea and your best idea. There are so many factors that go into making a successful film above and beyond the personal creative tastes of the writer/director. You have to realize this is a multi-billion dollar business and always ask yourself if your idea is marketable to a large enough demographic and if the timing is right. Making a good film is only half the challenge and getting a distributor to bring it to the world often times has nothing to do with creative integrity. Secondly, don’t take things personally. One of the major reasons people give up prematurely in this business is having a fragile ego. You have to experience disparagement in order to gain perspective. I think most successful filmmakers would agree they learn more from criticism than they do from praise. Expect a lot of rejection as well. It’s all about baby steps and very few people in the industry are handed success on a silver platter.
TMC: What are you working on now?
JB: We have several features in various stages of development including one slated for production later this year. It’s a gritty action/adventure story based on the novel The Wrong Man by William Ingsley, which is available on Amazon. Look for the film summer 2012.
TMC: If you would like to promote anything, John, the floor is yours.
JB: Follow Chicago Overcoat on Facebook and Twitter. We regularly announce additional screening times and further release dates as well as giveaway DVDs and memorabilia. You can also follow Beverly Ridge Pictures on Facebook and our website (www.beverlyridgepictures.com) for information on our future projects.
TMC: Thanks once again John for taking the time to visit The Man-Cave and talk about Chicago Overcoat. Well done, sir.
JB: Thank you Geof! Anything for The Man-Cave.
If you have not seen this film yet, you can pick up a copy from one of the links below. I encourage you to check out a film that breathes new life into the stale genre, Chicago Overcoat by Beverly Ridge Pictures. Thanks to MTI for distributing a film that unjustly sat on the shelf for way too long.
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Geof is a boy genius who launched this site all the way back in 2009. When he is not tasting new beer or reviewing movies, he's busy playing video games or developing a master plan in his fortress of solitude. Usually being fueled by yet another raging Dr. Pepper buzz. Also a contributor at the Italian Film Review.