EXCLUSIVE: After a series of false starts, the movie about notorious New York City crime boss John Gotti and his relationship with the son who followed in his footsteps is back on solid footing. Kevin Connolly has been set to direct, with John Travolta still aboard to play Gotti Sr. The financing has been firmed by Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, Fiore Films and Herrick Entertainment. Lionsgate Premiere will release the film domestically through its multi-picture deal with E/F/O. Travolta and Connolly will make the trip to Toronto to stoke interest in foreign sales as this movie moves toward a January production start.
It is the latest development in the run up to a Toronto Festival that has buyers sparked not so much by must-have completed acquisition titles playing in the festival, but by projects that will be shopped for pre-buys. Many of the hottest festival films were pre-bought and arrive at Toronto with distribution already spoken for.
While the early missteps taken on Gotti–Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Lindsay Lohan, Kelly Preston and Anthony Hopkins were all linked to it at one time or another along with filmmakers Nick Cassavetes, Joe Johnston and Barry Levinson before shaky funding imploded each version after splashy press conferences–there is no denying that the story is compelling. John Jr sold his life rights to the project and that informed a script that is in large part a father-and-son story set in the backdrop of an iconic organized crime family in New York. The elder Gotti was a Gotham tabloid fixture known as the Dapper Don for his impeccable designer suits, and also the Teflon Don for all the times the federal government came at him and failed to get a conviction. He was finally undone when his right hand enforcer, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano testified against the boss. Gotti died in prison of cancer. Gotti “Junior” (he was actually John Gotti III) followed in his footsteps, some would say reluctantly, though law enforcement claimed he became acting boss of the Gambino crime family after his father was deposed. After serving time for racketeering, he told his story to 60 Minutes and has said he is long retired from that life.
Connolly is the Entourage star who grew up on Long Island reading about Gotti on the front pages of the Post and Daily News, and who did a nice job directing the ESPN 30/30 docu Big Shot. That told the story of John Spano, the Dallas businessman who actually completed an acquisition of the New York Islanders, until he was exposed as a con man. Connolly also directed episodes of Entourage for HBO and helmed the small film Gardener of Eden. This is a potential big step up for him. It is not clear whether any of those other attachments will follow through (Ben Foster at one point was in talks to play Junior). Given the heightened interest in Johnny Depp playing Whitey Bulger in the festival film Black Mass, and the success of mob films from Goodfellas on down, there seems to be a strong appetite for well-told mob movies and this is one of the most iconic gangsters in recent memory, with violence to match any of those other films.
The Highland Film Group is handling international sales. The most recent draft of the script is by Leo Rossi and Lem Dobbs, who developed it under producer Marc Fiore. The film’s producers include Randall Emmett, George Furla, Norton Herrick and Fiore. Co-producers include Tim Sullivan and Tony Callie of EFOF and Ryan Black of Grindstone. Barry Brooker and Stan Wertlieb of Lionsgate will executive produce alongside Wayne Marc Godfrey and Robert Jones of The Fyzz Facility, who are co-financing as part of their ongoing credit facility with EFOF.
Travolta is represented by WME and Principato Young Entertainment. Connolly is represented by UTA and 3 Arts Management. EFOF is represented by WME.
E/F/O produced the Michael Polish-directed 90 Minutes in Heaven that opens Friday, and is an exec producer on Everest, which Universal releases September 25th. Herrick’s film credits include Lone Survivor and 2 Guns.