EXCLUSIVE: In a Hollywood moment where Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman became hits fueled by the music of single acts, what better time to tell the long-gestating movie story of Neil Bogart, complete with the music of the iconic artists who flourished on his Casablanca Records label in the ’70s including Donna Summer, KISS, Parliament, Village People, The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight, Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield?
Production will begin July 16 in Montreal on Spinning Gold, a film written and to be directed by Timothy Scott Bogart, son of the late musical idolmaker who died in 1982 of cancer and lymphoma at age 39.
Bogart’s Boardwalk Entertainment has fully financed the picture with Jessica Martins’ Hero Entertainment, and here is the cast: Samuel L. Jackson plays Parliament leader George Clinton (the Godfather of Funk), Kenan Thompson plays Motown’s Berry Gordy, Jason Isaacs plays Al Bogart (the record producer’s father), Jason Derulo plays Ron Isley of the Isley Brothers, Jay Pharoah plays WBLS radio DJ Frankie Crocker, D.L. Hughley plays Parliament’s Bootsy Collins, 11-time Grammy nominee Jazmine Sullivan plays Gladys Knight, Steven Strait and X Ambassadors’ Sam Harris play respective KISS leaders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Neil Patrick Harris plays KISS co-manager Bill Aucoin, and a top young singer is about to be set to play Donna Summer.
Playing Bogart will be Tony-nominated Broadway actor Jeremy Jordan, with Michelle Monaghan set to play his wife, Beth. Caitlin Fitzgerald will play Joyce Biawitz, Bogart’s second wife and co-manager of KISS and Donna Summer. Dan Fogler, SNL‘s Chris Redd, and James Wolk also have key roles.
The film is being produced by Laurence Mark, whose musicals include The Greatest Showman and Dreamgirls, Bogart and Martins. Harvey Mason Jr., Evan “Kidd” Bogart, Gary Randall and Wei Zheng are also in producing capacities.
Bogart told Deadline that, with the exception of a three-month option to Sherry Lansing at Paramount in the 1990s, he has resisted numerous overtures for the rights to frame a drama around the life of his father, including one where a producer sent two different scripts and a huge check. Bogart said he didn’t read the scripts or cash the check. While he and his brother rebuilt the Boardwalk brand his father started post-Casablanca into a successful business, and as he cut his teeth writing and producing TV and films, Bogart eventually came around to the feeling he was the one to tell his father’s story. His father had the reputation of a master promoter and showman who broke a swarm of acts that defined the ’70s disco era, but Bogart also was a man who would spend $4 to earn $3, and he didn’t leave much behind for his sons.
“My father was making $100 million a year, at the height of Casablanca, but he quote-unquote ‘forgot’ to pay his taxes, and my inheritance amounted to three years at NYU, a Dodge Daytona and the rights to this story,” he said. “I was going to protect this with all I had.”
The film will recapture the highs and lows, the extravagant parties and decadence, as Bogart says he won’t sugarcoat the excesses of sex and drugs that were prevalent in the music business during his father’s heyday. But he also won’t judge the people depicted in that world. As he spoke to Deadline, Bogart was sitting among sets that re-created his father’s office and the home he grew up in. The director sees the movie in the style of films like Boogie Nights and All The Jazz.
“There were many parts to Neil Bogart, including gambling, womanizing, drugs, but for my father, they were his superpowers,” Bogart said. “If he wasn’t a gambler like his own father, he wouldn’t have been able to run to Vegas to come back and make payroll. He was a functioning Quaalude user who would operate under the influence in the office or at my Little League games. But when Frankie Crocker scared the shit out of J. Edgar Hoover and every record exec turned his back on him after Frankie was arrested in the payola scandal, my father created a fake album to give him an advance that paid his legal fees. It would be wrong for me or the film to judge these people, though the audience certainly can.”
Said Bogart: “When I ask people who were around my father what it was like, they inevitably say a variation of the same thing. That is, ‘I don’t know how I survived it or if I would do it again, but I had the greatest f*cking time of my life.’ That is the compass of the movie — a story of an enormously tightknit group that made magic happen, who believed in their dreams and made them come true.”
The son, who at 49 said he is a teetotaler who has been monogamous and with the same woman he met at age 18, did get one quality from his father: a willingness to bet big, which he is doing by co-financing the under-$30 million film.
There is a lot of goodwill among the Casablanca alums. KISS frontmen Simmons and Stanley will give the actors playing them something similar to when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga sang their A Star Is Born songs unannounced at music festivals. KISS has invited their doppelgangers to be their opening act during some upcoming tour stops, so that the scenes can be filmed with a packed house.
Among the songs that Bogart has rights to that will be featured in the film — and its soundtrack — are Summers’ “Last Dance“ and “I Feel Love,” Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” the Isleys’ “Fight the Power” and “It’s Your Thing,” Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Withers’ “Lean on Me,” Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” and “Superfly,” Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite,” Village People’s “YMCA” and “In the Navy,” “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, and numerous others.
“I’m self-financing, we put this together ourselves and only answer to ourselves,” Bogart said. “And after it’s done, I will take it to studios are are right now looking at the returns on Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman,'” he said. “These are great stories of artists finding themselves, set to an entire soundtrack of our lives.”
ICM Partners is repping worldwide distribution rights on the picture and the soundtrack is being released through Boardwalk Records.