Berg was famous for his chilly style—his nickname is Iceberg—but the kind of cash Fiore promised produced a thaw. Berg quickly hooked Fiore up with an even more prestigious director in the ICM stable: Academy Award winner Barry Levinson. The director had been in the business for more than 40 years, making classics like Diner, Bugsy, and Rain Man, the 1988 film for which he won his Oscar. At 70, Levinson, too, was pushing against the clock.
Levinson, a man from the same generation as Gotti Sr., was captivated by the material. He loved the story about Senior’s Mafia mentor, Aniello Dellacroce, another brash, foul-mouthed killer. In 1985, Dellacroce, a rabid sports fan, was dying of cancer and confined to bed. Gotti had a satellite dish installed on his roof. Then Gotti crawled into bed with his mentor so they could watch sports together. “What an amazing sequence,” Levinson told me. “I didn’t want to do a mob movie, but this is completely outside what we know or anything we’ve seen in a gangster movie. That’s why I loooove the project.”
Fiore made Levinson a down payment of upwards of $500,000, a portion of which Levinson paid to screenwriter James Toback (Bugsy, among others), who put the scenes into script form. Talks were started with Ben Foster (X-Men: the Last Stand) to play Junior. Levinson reached out to his friend Al Pacino, 72, to play Dellacroce. Mob films are in Pacino’s blood—and of course the money was nice too. Fiore offered him $7 million for the supporting role.
“He overpaid like crazy,” said one source, though he understood. “Otherwise no one would listen to him.”
But to write checks, you need money in the bank, and Fiore Films had less than he’d let on. The team had already laid out as much $10 million of Devlin’s. Fiore needed to raise about $55 million to make the movie, a daunting sum, since the quarter of a billion hadn’t materialized.
Still, Fiore reminded himself, he was a Hollywood producer, and he did what he thought producers do, which is to go to Cannes to troll for foreign distributors—they thought they could make as much as $25 million. “We paid a fortune to go to Cannes,” Fiore told me. They flew in more than a dozen people—each first-class ticket cost $16,000. They paid for hotel rooms at $2,500 a night. ICM invited foreign buyers to a cocktail party at the Majestic Hotel—Salon Martha, with an entrance off the pool terrace. “Barry makes a nice speech. We are like, ‘Oh, this is unbelievable. This is great,’ ” recalled Fiore.
But Cannes was a disaster. Levinson talked up the movie to the press but was rethinking the cast as he went. He wasn’t interested in Lohan, he said, which Fiore heard about in an emotional 2 a.m. call from Lohan.
“It’s my fucking movie,” Fiore had taken to saying, and he released his own statement. “Lindsay Lohan is a talented and beautiful actress. She is in the film.”
At that point, Fiore and Levinson stopped speaking.
There was worse news out of Cannes. Fiore Films hadn’t closed any foreign sales. Fiore had been naïve. He didn’t know what he didn’t know. He needed a sales agent, and ICM hadn’t rounded one up in time for Cannes.
“There was lots of heat, but there was no one there to close the deals. For Marc to have arrived in Cannes with Barry Levinson and a cast in place and without an international sales agent was crazy,” said Dennis Davidson, the well-known publicity agent who’d been lined up by Berg to represent the film at Cannes. “I have no doubt that had they had a sales agent, they would have come out with a chunk of change.” (“We did exactly what we were asked to do,” an ICM spokesman said.)
By the fall of 2011, Fiore had severed the relationship with ICM. ICM claimed to have no regrets; it wasn’t only his limited Hollywood experience, or his foul mouth; Fiore couldn’t come up with the funds he said he had. “He had excuses, one story after another,” said an insider.
Fiore was humiliated. He felt double-crossed—he didn’t know any longer who his friends were, what kind of plots were being hatched. “I was a pigeon,” he said.
Fiore was right to be paranoid. Because someone was trying to have him whacked. In November 2011, with the movie moribund, John Gotti received a phone call at home. Levinson’s agent at ICM, John Burnham, was on the line, asking how long Gotti’s rights were tied up with Fiore. The clear message was that the movie still could get made—if Fiore could be eliminated.