It has been almost four years since New Metric Media (Letterkenny) bought the option to Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto’s Last War, a non-fiction book I co-authored with Antonio Nicaso.
At the time it was sort of exciting, like buying a batch of lottery tickets. Since then New Metric has kept plugging away and, starting this Thursday, a six-part limited series inspired by the book will air Thursdays on City TV.
Here are eight things I’ve learned from this journey:
1. This stuff is real
Plenty of interesting — and big budget — things are being done in these parts. As the Star’s Tony Wong has pointed out, film and television is a big bucks industry in the GTA. In 2016, investment hit $2.01 billion in Toronto’s film, TV and digital productions.
It’s also a growth area.
There have been three record-breaking years in a row for investment in Toronto, and six straight years when domestic and international screen-based productions exceeded the $1-billion mark.
2. Shakespeare geeks rule
I wish I had paid more attention in high school English classes when Shakespeare was taught. I might be a lot better off financially. I’d certainly be more literate.
The Bard was all over the place in the making of Bad Blood.
Early on, scriptwriters Simon Barry and Michael Konyves pitched Bad Blood as a “Shakespearean-level revenge tale.”
Now Bad Blood’s European distributor, Sky Vision, markets it with this description: “Desperate to fight back, Rizzuto can’t wait for his release and when he finally walks free, an epic Shakespearean revenge plays out . . . ”
And star Kim Coates has a big Shakespeare connection too.
You may remember Coates as Alexander (Tig) Trager in Sons of Anarchy or Master Sergeant Tim ‘Griz’ Martin in Black Hawk Down. Long before these roles, he played the lead in Macbeth at the Stratford Festival.
(Theatrical people get queasy with the word “Macbeth.” If you’re one of them, now’s the time to spin three times or spit over your left shoulder. Hopefully you’re not in an elevator.)
3. No heavy lifting (a)
Some people — namely producers Mark Montefiore and Pat O’Sullivan of New Metric Media — work extremely hard on a TV series. They have exacting budgets and schedules, and multiple business and creative partners to contend with. They’re constantly juggling art and business and personalities and deadlines.
Authors-turned-consultants have a far easier ride.
For Bad Blood, Antonio and I read over scripts, answered some general questions and watched early versions of the show. Occasionally real life threatened to intrude and things livened up. One notable occasion was when there was a Rizzuto-related mob hit in Montreal the night before principal filming began there.
Most conversations were far less exciting. There was a question about how to pronounce ’Ndrangheta, the term for the Calabrian Mafia. I felt a particular pride hearing Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas) say it correctly: en-DRANG-getta.
There were also conversations about appropriate transportation for characters onscreen. Naturally, bikers rode Harleys. My big contribution to the show is that TV Vito Rizzuto (Anthony LaPaglia) drives a Jaguar in the show, just like real-life Vito.
4. No heavy lifting (b)
My agent, Juliet Forrester of Premier Artists’ Management, suggested I read tips from author Michael Lewis on an writer’s role when a producer buys his or her work. Lewis’s approach is notable since three of his books (The Big Short, The Blind Side and Moneyball) have been turned into movies that received Academy Award nominations.
Lewis put his advice in Vanity Fair on Nov. 20, 2015:
“My role in making the movies of my books — the role of the author — has been essentially that of a spectator. I think it is fair to say that the people who make movies from books would just as soon that the books’ authors be dead. I don’t take this personally. . . . In my view authors who sell the movie rights to their books should just cash the check (sic) and shut up. So what if you don’t care for the movie? The people who bought your book didn’t set out to offend you. Sometimes they simply don’t know how to make a good movie; sometimes the movie doesn’t turn out as everyone had hoped; and sometimes the movie is better than your book.”
That said, I’m comfortable that the creators of Bad Blood don’t want Antonio and me dead. They haven’t said that in so many words, but they’ve been unfailingly pleasant.
5. Things are quickly changing
When I first met producers Montefiore and O’Sullivan, and associate producer Cameron MacLaren at Pinewood Studios in Toronto, they were just getting their office furniture.
That was three years ago.
Now they’re popping up at award ceremonies like at the Canadian Screen Awards, where Letterkenny won three times, and in Hollywood, where Coates got the 2017 ACTRA National Award of Excellence.
6. If your kid wants a cool job that might finance your retirement, push him or her to be a showrunner
I had no idea what a showrunner did before this. I didn’t know they existed. Now I find it one of the coolest jobs imaginable.
The job has taken off with the explosion of cable TV and miniseries. Showrunners determine arcs for particular stories and the overall series.
The granddaddy of the species is Larry David of Seinfeld.
Generally, they don’t tend to be famous, but they have definite clout. They’re a combination of writer and producer, and the good ones can write like a poet and handle stress like a test pilot.
The good ones are also catnip to investors.
Certainly our project was kick-started when we landed the team of Barry (Van Helsing, Continuum) and Konyves (Barney’s Version).
7. They like us. They really do
There’s an explosion of critically — and commercially — successful stuff being made by people from our own community.
Cardinal, created by Sienna Films based on Giles Blunt’s novels, is wowing them on the BBC. The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the Margaret Atwood book, is a major hit internationally. Odd Squad, created by local children’s production company Sinking Ship, recently won five Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
8. Not a documentary
We set out to make a dramatic series that feels authentic and entertains audiences, and we succeeded. We never wanted to make a documentary.
If you want to know precisely what happened in Rizzuto’s final years, you can always (shameless plug) read our book, whose title has since been changed to Bad Blood.