Executive Producer Revisits Brooklyn in the ’80s in Mob Series ‘Gravesend’ Streaming on Amazon

William DeMeo went back to his roots for “Gravesend,” a four-episode series streaming now on Amazon Prime and distributed by Virgil Films.

He wanted to recall his neighborhood in the 1980s — the music, the cars, the people and the mob.

Though he toyed with the title “The Neighborhood,” the writer, director, star and executive producer settled on the name of his hometown.

“Gravesend is a section in Brooklyn where I grew up where a lot of these mobsters come from,” he said. “The name was pretty cool, too, because in the life of the mafia, the grave is usually the end of the road.”

Having acted in such productions as A Bronx Tale, “The Sopranos” and Gotti, DeMeo is no stranger to mafia stories, and Brooklyn in the 1980s was teaming with them.

“I can name 20 mobsters off the top of my head, very well-known mafia figures, who all came from this area, and they were all around and there was a lot of testosterone around,” he said. “The younger guys coming up wanted to prove something. They were some really dangerous, uncertain times. If you crossed certain people, there was a problem.”

In “Gravesend,” DeMeo plays Benny Zerletta, a young soldier in the Colezzo crime family circa 1986, who is conflicted, but entangled in the life — much like Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos.” (DeMeo starred as one of Paulie Walnuts’ crew, Jason Molinaro, in “The Sopranos.”) One similarity between the two series is that Soprano has a confidant in his therapist, and Zerletta talks over his problems with the statue of St. Anthony. But DeMeo stressed that “Gravesend” mostly just shares the same genre.

“There’s Westerns, there’s movies about law enforcement. You can’t change the genre, so you try to come up with different scenarios and circumstances,” he said. “’Sopranos’ was New Jersey, and with all respect to Jersey, Brooklyn is Brooklyn.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

DeMeo said he chose to wear multiple hats for the series because he wanted control over a story so close to him.

“You know, it’s my neighborhood. It’s my story. It’s where I grew up,” he said. “All of those characters and the things that happened back then are very realistic to the way it really was. There are people that are very similar to these characters. This is the way it really was. The actions and the clothes and the music and the neighborhood, the people on the streets, the kids getting ice cream, the people outside of Coney Island, all of that, with the diners and the testosterone level. Literally, it was a dangerous place to be.”

“Gravesend” also explores a different time period than the HBO saga.

“The reason I picked the ‘80s was because it was the heyday of the mafia,” he said. “If you think of ‘The Sopranos’ — which was a show that I was on — it started in like 2000, and it showed how the mob was depleted and that they were meeting in malls and that they were kinda hiding out more as opposed to the ‘80s, the John Gotti era. Guys were more out in the open, and there was more stuff happening. There were a lot of killings going on in the ‘80s. Paul Castellano got killed in the middle of Manhattan at Sparks Steak House. The ‘80s is a time where you can show more of them in the streets. They were very powerful in the ‘80s.”

Follow us on Instagram

It was also a time with distinctive tunes, and the music was a big part of setting the time period in “Gravesend,” with scenes at bars and dance clubs. It’s a soundtrack not often used in a mafia story, he noted.

“When you think about mafia movies, or just in general the Italian mob, you think of the Scorsese type of music, and it seems most of the time they’ll go with like the Rolling Stones or they’ll go with Italian music like Dean Martin,” he said. “I felt like that music that we listened to then back then, the freestyle music and stuff like that, that’s what we listened to. That was very popular music in the clubs and when you were driving in your car.”

The rides also helped evoke the setting and time period. As a car enthusiast himself, DeMeo was able to get his hands on some classics, including his own Buick Grand National.

DeMeo (left) with James Russo in “Gravesend”

Connections among New York actors helped him build a veteran ensemble cast, including Louis Lombardi (“The Sopranos,” “24,” “Entourage,” The Usual Suspects), James Russo (Django Unchained, Donnie Brasco, The Deuce), Paul Ben-Victor (The Irishman, “Santa Clarita Diet,” “Vinyl”) and Nick Turturro (BlacKkKlansman, World Trade Center).

“I have relationships with a lot of those actors,” he said. “You don’t have to second guess these guys. You know they’re gonna deliver. I don’t have to worry that they’re gonna come off as Hollywood guys. They’re New York actors most of them. They get it.”

The pizzeria made famous by “Saturday Night Fever” is one of the settings in “Gravesend.”

During one scene in the series that takes place in the pizzeria made famous by John Travolta in the Brooklyn-set Saturday Night Fever, Benny muses over his favorite Italian actors. As for DeMeo himself, Travolta, a personal friend he bonded with on Gotti, is his favorite. “I’m a huge Saturday Night Fever fan, so I love him,” he said. “But [Al] Pacino, who doesn’t love Pacino, and I worked with Robert De Niro in Analyze That. Robert De Niro discovered me from A Bronx Tale. [Sylvester] Stallone. To me, that’s the four.”

Each of the four episodes of “Gravesend” culminates in a cliffhanger, including the last, and DeMeo hopes to get back into production in the next six months to satisfy the fans — barring any continued stoppage due to the pandemic.

“I have thousands and thousands of messages through my social media asking, ‘What happened, when is there going to be more?’” he said.

Doc ‘Refugee’ Coming to Digital April 14 From Virgil

Virgil Films will release the documentary Refugee April 14 on digital and VOD.

From the executive producer of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Refugee is a harrowing account of Europe’s migrant crisis. It follows a family of Syrian refugees separated by the borders of Europe who fight to be reunited as they migrate from Syria to Germany.

In 2015, at the height of the Syrian war, Raf’aa, a Syrian mother, was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. With her husband Nazem in the hospital, and the bombs getting closer to Qamilshi, she fled Syria to find asylum for her family, leaving Nazem and their two children Ahmed and Hamoudi behind. They had hoped to reunite in Europe within a few weeks, but by the time Nazem and the children left, it was too late. The political climate had changed and the borders to Europe were closed. Safe in Germany, Raf’aa is traumatized by what she witnessed on her journey and prays her children have not endured the same. Meanwhile 2,000 miles away, Nazem and her children live through their own nightmare in one of the worst refugee camps in Europe. Over the next 18 months, viewers witness a testament to the human spirit as the family fights to be reunited and how a father shields his children from what it means to be a refugee.

Refugee from Virgil Films on Vimeo.

 

Doc ‘One Child Left Behind: The Untold Atlanta Cheating Scandal’ Coming to Digital HD April 7 From Virgil

The documentary One Child Left Behind: The Untold Atlanta Cheating Scandal will come out on Digital HD April 7 from Virgil Films.

In 2009, 1,176 Atlanta teachers were investigated for test cheating; 35 were indicted, 12 went to trial and 11 were found guilty on RICO charges, which are typically reserved for the mafia and drug lords. The guilty, serving 30-year sentences, finally break their silence in this tell-all, controversial film that takes a closer look at the legislation called No Child Left Behind, the politics behind it, and a race and power struggle that spawned one of the most complex scandals in American history.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Directed by celebrated Producer and Showrunner Jodi Gomes, the documentary brings the accused, whistleblowers, cheaters and innocent together on film for the first time to tell the real story. The U.S. Education debate takes a front seat in this harrowing, investigative film that will leave many wondering how our education system could fail so many. Was the controversial legislation, ‘No Child Left Behind’ to blame for such widespread cheating in Atlanta public schools, or did politics, race and greed for $50 million in federal funding fuel the fire? Discover the real story with exclusive interviews from the convicted, whistleblowers, accused, cheaters, prosecution, D.A., defense attorneys and most importantly, the students left behind.

Follow us on Instagram

One Child Left Behind: The Untold Atlanta Cheating Scandal from Virgil Films on Vimeo.

 

Doc ‘Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street’ Due on Digital and DVD March 3 From Virgil

The documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street will come out on DVD and digital March 3 from Virgil Films and Entertainment.

Winner of the Dorian Award for LGBTQ Documentary of the Year, Tyler Jensen and Roman Chimienti’s film is about the classic fright movie The Advocate dubbed as “the gayest horror film ever made” — 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. For Elm Street 2’s closeted young star, Mark Patton, such a tag was a stark reminder about the homophobia rampant in Hollywood at the time — and the painful experience he had making the high-profile film and living through the polarizing critical aftermath. Scream, Queen! follows Patton as he travels to horror conventions across the United States. Each new city unwraps a chapter from his life that is met with equal parts joyful and bittersweet detail, as he attempts to make peace with his past and embrace his legacy as cinema’s first male “scream queen.” Scream, Queen! also finds Patton confronting the Freddy’s Revenge cast and crew for the first time, including co-stars Robert Rusler, Kim Myers and Clu Gulager, as well as Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund.

Follow us on Instagram

In addition, the documentary explores the status of Freddy’s Revenge as an LGBTQ cult classic and illustrates how the career turbulence experienced by Patton — whose resume includes stints on Broadway and a role in the 1982 film Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean — wasn’t out of the ordinary for the time.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“There were plenty of gay actors like me,” says Patton. “They starred in one movie and just disappeared. A whole generation just vanished.”

The film ended Patton’s acting career.

“I was not an out gay actor in 1985. Nobody was. Hollywood was very homophobic and AIDSphobic, and when you signed on for roles, they often gave you a blood test,” he said. “So, if you were gay, you were hiding. I was a 25-year-old man, working very hard to have a career, and it was terrifying.”

Remembering Industry Veteran Bill Southard

The news of the passing of our friend Bill Southard struck all of us really hard. I use the terms “our” and “us” because Bill was a friend to everyone who ever worked in the home entertainment business. Just take a look at the outpouring of grief on social media from those that knew Bill and you will find a sadness that fills their hearts in every message posted.

Joe Amodei

Bill was just one of the good guys that stayed true to his love of God, his wife, Susan, and their son, Andy. He was also a great worker who excelled in any position he was in. It’s no secret that over the years the family of home entertainment folks has shrunk to a precious few, but Bill was able to withstand the mergers, layoffs and closings to still enjoy a position at Ingram Entertainment.

They were lucky to have him.

Bill was one of us that was there from the beginning. I worked with him at PolyGram Entertainment. Always a pleasure to be around, Bill treated customers in a way that we all learned from. In an age where you were expected to entertain, Bill became legendary for his extravagant VSDA dinners. If you were lucky enough to attend, you never forgot it. If you witnessed a long stretch limo pulling up in front of the hotel, you knew it was Bill. He treated the customers like they were royalty and reaped the rewards for doing so.

But Bill was more than a good co-worker. He was a true friend. Even though an entire country stood between us, he was still one of the first to reach out to me when I lost my daughter Kate and subsequently was one of the few who knew and helped me through a bout with cancer a few years back.

At times months would pass where we didn’t talk, but I always knew he was there. I’ll miss knowing that. I’ll also miss him calling me “Joey.” My closest friends call me that and throughout the years, whenever I heard his voice, I knew it was a pal on the other line.

People come and go in our lives, but some live on in our hearts long after they have gone. They leave a mark. Bill always had the sense that we will all be together again in heaven, and I think of that today. It’s comforting. One of the best gifts I have ever received is a Bible Bill gave me years ago. He had my name engraved on it. It sits on my bookshelf here in my office as a reminder of our long friendship. There are a lot of us out there that have similar stories of Bill. We are all so lucky to have had him as a friend.

See you up there buddy.

Love,

Joey

Joe Amodei is president and CEO of Virgil Films & Entertainment.

MMA Doc ‘El Viejo’ Coming on Digital Feb. 25 From Virgil

The documentary El Viejo will be released on digital HD Feb. 25 from Virgil Films and Entertainment.

The film follows a 51-year-old retired wrestling coach, Thom Ortiz, who doesn’t let age derail his dreams of becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter. Against all odds, he uses unconventional means to juggle the challenges of health, fatherhood, career and training to compete in a sport that’s dominated by younger athletes.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Directed by Matthew Hickney and written by Shane Ellison, the documentary won Best Documentary Feature at the Festigious International Film Festival Los Angeles, Best Arizona Feature at the Arcosanti International Film Carnivale, the Gold Medal for Best Featurette at the Global Independent Film Awards, and was a winner at the Los Angeles Film Awards.

El Viejo from El Viejo on Vimeo.