Monday, April 22, 2024

John Travolta Raising Money for Films Brings in Strange Financial Bedfellows


How hard is it to get film financing? Just ask John Travolta. For a few years he hoped to play John Gotti, but the project fell apart because no one involved had real money and the key producer was an ex con.

Now Travolta– who’s already moving to TV from film playing Robert Kardashian in American Crime Story–is trying once more. He’s set to star in something called “I Am Wrath.”  The players are an eclectic group. The director, Chuck Russell, formerly known as Charles Russell, hasn’t worked in 12 years but did make “The Mask” and “Eraser” in the mid 90s. “Wrath” has a swollen list of 8 executive producers and 3 actual producers (they’re the people who actually make the movie).

At least one of the EP’s — Richard Rionda Del Castro — comes with questionable baggage. In 2012, Del Castro the head of Hannibal Pictures, was accused of allegedly forging a signature from an employee of Film Finances, the bond company on a 2011 movie no one ever saw called “The Big Bang” with Antonio Banderas. (It went straight to video.)

Del Castro’s only other high profile project was the late great George Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack,” the 2010 a drama about the life of Jack Abramoff, starring Kevin Spacey. It also went straight to video (although it’s worth a look if you’re a “House of Cards” fan.) Del Castro is the subject of an internet campaign by William Richert, an actor (“My Own Private Idaho”) who directed a 1998 feature called “The Man in the Iron Mask” (not the one with Leonardo Di Caprio). Richert — who says he was burned by Del Castro — wrote in his post: ” Individuals and groups like Rionda and his company, Hannibal Pictures, hurt a whole culture of struggling artists, actors, directors, producers and artisans with their bogus sales reports and false contract listings.”

Rionda is also infamous for suing “Real Housewife” Sonja Morgan. He said she reneged on financing a film.

Some of the other producers of “Wrath” include billionaire Haim Saban’s 25 year old Ness, Richard Salvatore (who comes with money from the Magnolia Bakery)  and Patricia Eberle, who boasts a resume of straight to video B movies — the kind you see for sale in the Cannes market but have never heard of, including “Casino Jack.”

Travolta replaced Nicolas Cage in “Wrath.” The Oscar winner dropped out of the revenge movie (the main character is avenging his murdered daughter, a la “Taken”)– and he’s not picky about his projects, as we know. William Friedkin was the original director, but he left with Cage.

Most recently, Travolta’s “Gotti” project went bust when the producer, Marc Fiore, was revealed in this column as an ex-con with mob ties and a bad history on Wall Street. Some of these productions now have echoes of “Get Shorty,” the Travolta film of long ago in which he played a mobster trying to get a movie made.

Having eight executive producers is not a strange situation for Travolta anymore. Another coming feature, “The Forger,” is set up similarly. Another one, called “Criminal Activities,” has 11 EPs. And “Life on the Line” has a mix of 11 EPs and producers. None of them are likely to bring Travolta back to the Oscars any time soon.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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