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Tribeca Takes: Raymond De Felitta on City Island

Director Raymond De Felitta is blogging the behind-the-scenes story of his TFF 2009 hit, City Island, starring Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies. Join him on this cinematic journey!

City Island: Raymond De Felitta
Director Raymond De Felitta


I’m currently writing a book about the making of my movie City Island, which will be released theatrically on March 19, 2010. This book/work-in-progress is posted—a new chapter every day—on my weblog at Through the end of January, I’m writing about the efforts made to find cast and financing earlier this past decade after I’d written the script. By February, I plan to be up to the actual making of the film and will blog a day-by-day account of the shoot, complete with call sheets, behind the scenes stills and outtakes. By March, I will be writing about the circuitous route the film took to reach theaters, aided greatly by having won the Heineken Audience Award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. On the day the movie opens, I will be writing about its fate in “real time”—posting reviews, viewers’ reactions and press coverage as they occur.


What follows is an excerpt from my blog. I hope you will follow me on my journey.


Raymond De Felitta


The act of writing a book about the making of any film suggests the film has already achieved an importance in the eyes of the world, which requires the tome to be added to the already sagging bookshelves of cinema literature. More often than not, such books are contrived after the movies have passed into legendary status (Star Wars, Titanic, Making of Gone With The Wind, etc.), and serve as looks backward at momentous production histories that seem to have been prematurely infused with a sense of destiny.  
Then there are the books about the catastrophes. The classic, of course, is Steven Bach's Final Cut—about how Michael Cimino's Heaven’s Gate literally destroyed United Artists. My favorite in this genre, though, is Ted Gershuny's apparently forgotten Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture, an account of the doomed death march of Otto Preminger's penultimate production, the execrable Rosebud.
But what about our movie, City Island? We don't know which camp it's destined for, if either. It hasn't been released yet, though it's been finished for a year. Its fate hangs suspended, awaiting a 2-city opening this spring, reviews that will most likely determine how many more cities the film opens in, and the vagaries of a marketplace which increasingly has little room or need for so-called "small" or "character-driven" films.

Cast of City Island


On the other hand, once we started screening City Island last year, we were surprised to find that it made people laugh. A lot. And people talk back to the screen as the story develops—always a good sign, because it means the audience has broken through the fourth wall and become part of the action. And then there's the ending. Oftentimes people cry openly at the resolution. (Actually, my preferred reaction isn't open sobbing, but rather the sound of men in the audience stifling their emotions—lots of uncomfortable coughs and deep sniffles trying hard to sound like unemotional remnants of an old cold.)
All well and good, of course. My friend and mentor Peter Bogdanovich asked me if the audiences generally laughed and cried in the same places. I said yes. "Then you have a hit," he said calmly. Then again, maybe our movie will get slammed and quickly close up shop, heading south to DVD land and hello HBO-ville. We simply don't know at this moment in time.
And thus the point of writing this online book. This is a book about the making of a movie, the final outcome of which is still unknown. I might be writing about as anonymous an indie movie as has ever been made—a filmic bottle-in-the-sea, if you will. Or maybe the story of the Rizzo family and their secrets, lies and emotional confusions will resonate with a public hungry for a little humor and humanity at the local multiplex. Either way, what I write here will be infused with the experience that every filmmaker has while making his or her movie: one full of hope, uncertainty, shambling self-confidence, and deep anxiety.


Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia

City Island
has been part of my life literally for years—I wrote the screenplay in 2001 and am seeing it finished, fully realized, almost a decade later. It's not that I didn't get to do other things—like live life, for instance, and make a few other movies—in all that time. But my primary goal—telling this story—was a distant one that often seemed unlikely to come to pass. Until it did.   
So follow me, if you will, on this little 10-week ride. If you already know the experience of filmmaking, what you’re about to read won’t surprise you but will provide an odd kind of comfort—because this stuff happens to everybody who makes movies. And if you've never made a movie, be glad that you're observing the insanity from the protective distance of a computer screen. For in the words of the great Josef Von Sternberg: "“Man has yet to invent a machine more complicated to build, impossible to use or unpredictable in the quality of its finished product, than the motion picture.”


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