An interview with Carl J Nicita | Booze Broads and Blackjack | VMA20 BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE | June Edition
To see one’s book ‘come to life’ and become a film makes for a writer’s enormous satisfaction. But if writing on an artistic level offers a wide range of action whose only limit is imagination, transporting one’s own stories into the world of cinema conceals many pitfalls and risks.
Risks you have to be able to handle wisely. Carl J Nicita, the author of Booze, Broads and Blackjack, has masterfully focused on the right partnerships, succeeding in producing an intense Thriller/Poliziottesco film set between Syracuse and Las Vegas that has earned him several international awards.
Booze, Broads and Blackjack also made it through the tight selection here at the Vegas Movie Awards, where it won for excellence as Best Narrative Feature in June.
We interviewed Carl for you; enjoy this fascinating talk about how a good book can pick a winning path in the world of Cinema.
• Hey Carl, again, congratulations on your VMAs victory. That was quite a blow! We know that your artistic background starts from radio, and afterward you played other respectable roles: do you want to tell us about your story and how your adventure as a writer started?
Thank you. When I was a youngster growing up in the small town of Brewerton, NY (just outside Syracuse) in the 1960’s I was fascinated by books, TV, movies and particularly radio. All four mediums showed me that that was a bigger universe out there than my small little town. And they also helped spur my “what if” imagination. What if some day, I could be a writer and have my book in a library? What if I could be on the radio? What if I could be on TV? What if I could live in California, walk the streets of Hollywood, and make a movie? All these things I dreamed about manifested in my life. One of the biggest thrills I had was driving down Hollywood Boulevard and seeing a building with a huge sign attached “Steven Cannell Productions.” His books and TV shows continue to inspire me.
• The film with which you won, Booze, Broads and Blackjack, has its roots in Syracuse, New York, your hometown. Would you like to tell us about the connections between reality and fantasy in your book, and then film?
My belief if is from every form of fiction there are seeds of truth. In my opinion to be a good writer you should write about what you know. The story Booze Broads and Blackjack began fomenting in my mind more than forty years ago, before I moved to California. I was a radio deejay in cold, snowy Syracuse. I loved the city but unfortunately despised winter weather. My dream was to move to California. My buddies and I as young men would hang out at strip clubs (some of them undoubtedly underworld connected) and I would tell them of my dream to work on radio in California and write a book about our exploits. Little did they know, it would really happen forty years later. I will quickly add the whole story is the book is fiction except for the basic facts as mentioned. I never had really been to Las Vegas until after I had moved to California. But since it's now my favorite city on earth, I thought the Vegas weekend fiasco would be an excellent premise for a good plot!
What if some day, I could be a writer and have my book in a library? What if I could be on the radio? What if I could be on TV? What if I could live in California, walk the streets of Hollywood, and make a movie?
• Who or what inspired you in 2015 to write your book?
Through the years, I would attempt to start writing a “novel” but, being busy with work and raising a family made it impossible to concentrate on. Then in 2015, I retired. I finally had the opportunity to pen my fantasy. I originally wrote five chapters and showed a former co-worker named Paul what I wrote. He asked me where the rest of the story was, and I told him I could not write anymore – it was too hard. Paul insisted that I meet with him each week with a new chapter for him to review. After the 12th chapter, I just kept writing and did not stop until the novel was finished. I am grateful for Paul pushing me to complete it.
• Booze, Broads and Blackjack is a poliziottesco movie, really fitting for a subject that has the mafia, shady business, and gambling as ingredients. The film was directed by Rickey Bird Jr. - how did your collaboration start?
I am just the screenplay writer (and executive producer) of the film, but it would not have been possible without Rickey Bird Jr. as the director. Rickey has made numerous short films and one feature, but this was his first attempt at a bigger feature endeavor. How we connected is rather fortuitous. I was doing a book signing, and one of his associates came by and wanted a copy of my book. His name was Ed and he said the title sounds like a good movie name and he worked with a director. I then told Ed I had written a screenplay (always prepared!) and Rickey and I arranged a meeting. After tons of hard work together, the rest is history!
• Film adaptations of subjects taken from a book are a difficult task for a director, especially in order to maintain a certain degree of fidelity to the storytelling. What and how many adaptations and arrangements did you have to make in order for the subject to remain faithful to the book and to be feasible in terms of budget? What were the difficulties you had to face when making the film?
Converting the book, to an actual, producible movie project was a struggle, given a limited budget. The original screenplay I had written had to be revised several times because the book had so many elements that could not be accommodated. One of the biggest concessions was the era. The book was about a deejay in the 1970s. To make a period piece would take a much larger budget than we could ever accommodate so we had to make it feel “older” but keep it in contemporary times. Another issue was in the book, each chapter either began or ended in the mentioning of a popular song, I found this a successful device to keep readers engaged in the book. However, with the movie that the device had to go. There was a total of 54 songs mentioned in the book. It would have required a huge budget to try to work that in. We instead hired a person to score original music to fit the mood of the entire story, which seemed to work out nicely. Then finally a big consideration was set locations. We had to somehow figure out how to make a movie that supposedly took place on two different coasts and involved several different settings including Las Vegas. Let us just say, Rickey was able to pull off the impossible on that, with the budget constraints we had. As for script rewrites, it was a continuous process. I was rewriting right up until (and even after) production started. And, in all seriousness, I probably made thirty or more updates.
Making projects for the big screen might not be feasible right now. But innovative, exciting technologies and opportunities will be emerging. And we can embrace this as a new frontier for entertaining the masses!
• Booze, Broads and Blackjack boasts a respectable Cast: Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos”), Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”, “Killer Rose”), James Duval (“Independence Day”, “Donnie Darko” and “Gone in 60 Seconds”), Vincent M. Ward (who played Oscar on “The Walking Dead”), Erica Rey (“Machine Gun Baby”); Sarah French (“Rootwood”), Joe Raffa, John D.T. Carney, and Thomas Haley. How did you manage to put together these wonderful artists and how did you feel when you realized that big names would take part in your subject?
When making an independent film, with a limited budget it is hard to attract “big” names to attach to the film. But, to be successful you need to have a couple known actors to draw attention to your project. Rickey had worked with Felissa Rose on previous smaller projects. He used her as a starting point and was able to hire her for a role. We also designated her casting director. The logical question to ask was who we could use as lead actors. The first person I envisioned as “Vinny” was actor Vincent Pastore of the Sopranos. In my mind, he fit the role perfectly. Well, it turns out Felissa had previously worked with Vincent as was able to secure him for the part! Felissa also recommended Joe Raffa and Sarah French for their parts. While Sarah did not match up to the character description for her part in the book (and actual screenplay) she auditioned so well, that I rewrote the part to match her to it. Another character in the book was the role played by D.T. Carney that was changed. In the book and original screenplay, the character “Tom Maselli” was a comedic, Italian, ‘short cop’ syndrome fella. Rickey really wanted D.T. to play the part, even though he is well over six feet, with an Irish accent. So that part was rewritten as well. Getting such great actors as James Duval and Vincent M. Ward is attributed to the hard work of Rickey and Assistant Director Rachel Montgomery on convincing them to work on the project.
• We heard that the premiere of the film was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Writers, Directors, Actors, and Producers all over the world have received a major setback that has already added to the considerable difficulty of finding the right partnerships to launch their projects; what do you feel like suggesting to young writers or directors who are in a particular artistic stalemate?
The movie had its original public showing in November 2019, at the Palace Theatre, in Syracuse, New York to a large welcoming crowd. I was able to have Sarah French and D.T. Carney present to meet the audience and sign autographs. It was important for me to have the ‘premiere' there because it was my hometown. And, I remember in November 1959, going to the Palace with my mom and aunt to see Snow White. To be able to have the premiere there 60 years later was incredible! But we still wanted to have a local Bakersfield West Coast Premiere for the entire local cast, crew, and Bakersfield community. That was scheduled for April 10th, and we almost made it, until COVID-19 shut everything down. What I would say to those who’s projects have been sidelined is don’t give up hope. Keep working and stay active the best you can under these trying circumstances. This situation is very fluid. Making projects for the big screen might not be feasible. But innovative, exciting technologies and opportunities will be emerging. And we can embrace this as a new frontier for entertaining the masses!
• Booze, Broads and Blackjack has a sequel in the book: will there also be a sequel on the screens?
The original novel Booze, Broads and Blackjack – a Deadly Combination had a ‘sequel’ called – There’s More to the Story. It really was a newer, expanded edition of the original book, with more information added and a new ending. As for the movie, there is a new surprise ending different from the books. Let’s just say it leaves open the possibility of a sequel.
• Where can our readers and any distributors who will read this interview find out more about you and the film?
More information about Booze Broads and Blackjack can be found at the website: boozebroadsandblackjack.com. Also on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8232528 and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/boozebroadsblackjackmovie
• Thank you, Carl, for this interview and for being part of the Vegas Movie Awards. Is there someone you would like to thank and to whom you would like to dedicate the last lines of this interview?
I really have to thank the entire cast and crew of the movie for making this possible. Particularly Edrei (Ed) McCabe who introduced me to Rickey Bird and Rachel Montgomery, Felissa Rose, John Blythe (Producer), Adam Beck the outstanding DP, Jason Sanders the special effects guy and every single person involved. Without each person’s dedication, this would not have been possible!
One final note, I would like to thank my dearest friend Larry Perkins who along with my buddy Dennis Cowles and Bob Paris was one of the inspirations for the Booze Broads and Blackjack Story and characters. Sadly Larry unexpectedly passed away recently and he is deeply missed by all of us.
And my deepest thanks to Vegas Movie Awards for the recognition and opportunity for this interview!
- Website: www.boozebroadsandblackjack.com