(AP) — After being in development for a full decade, the feature film based on Lewes author Charles Brandt’s 2005 mob book “I Heard You Paint Houses” is finally filming in the New York area.
The Martin Scorsese-directed movie tracks former Wilmington Teamster President Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, who confessed to Brandt that he killed union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 and was never found.
If you’re a fan of mob movies, you might want to sit down before you read the cast that the “Goodfellas” director put together for his first Netflix film: Robert De Niro (Sheeran) and Al Pacino (Hoffa), who first shared a scene together in 1995’s “Heat,” will be joined by Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale and Anna Paquin.
Keitel plays Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno, who was assassinated in 1980 by a shotgun blast to the head.
While the cast is stacked, the big question is where moviegoers will be able to see “The Irishman” on the big screen when it’s released in 2019.
As Netflix moves into the business of big-budget films — “The Irishman” is rumored to cost $125 million — it’s unknown if the streaming service will place the film in theaters.
In recent weeks, that fact has made headlines thanks to a Variety article in which Netflix’s film publicity chief Julie Fontaine told the magazine that “it’s premature to say anything at this point” in terms of how they would distribute the movie.
The article also notes that Scorsese is believed to have asked for a commitment from Netflix that the film be shown in theaters.
For his part, Brandt, a 75-year-old former Delaware deputy attorney general who splits his time between homes in Lewes and Idaho, is old school, just like Scorsese.
Brandt really wants to see his big moment on the big screen.
“My personal dream is diminished if it’s only on television,” says Brandt, although younger members of his family think it’s hip that the film would be on Netflix. “When I was the age of my grandchildren now, there was no such thing as television. We went to the movies all the time.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ members met at the end of September to discuss how to handle awards for films from streaming services like Netflix, which has already placed a couple of its films in theaters for short runs in order to be eligible for Oscar consideration.
It’s a fierce debate that’s still ongoing. As Deadline reported, “In the opinion of one prominent Oscar member, Netflix could represent ‘a cheapening of the Oscar.'”
While Hollywood wrestles with the issue, filming continues in the same streets where Brandt was raised.
In fact, Scorsese, De Niro and Brandt have plenty in common. They are all Italian-American men in their mid-70s, born and raised in New York City. In the multiple meetings Brandt has had with them over the years, they’ve hit it off.
“Growing up in that city and Italian at the same time, we had so many wonderful memories to share,” Brandt says.
Brandt has seen the paparazzi photos that have leaked from the film’s set just like everyone else, including Pacino looking almost unrecognizable as Hoffa thanks to heavy make-up.
“He looks just like Jimmy Hoffa,” Brandt says. “It’s incredible.”
Brandt, a film fan who admits to a Turner Classic Movies addiction, says the entire process has been a dream come true: “I’ve felt like I was in film school a couple of times.”
And even better — they’re sticklers for detail, having researchers call Brandt whenever they need an answer, like whether the getaway car at the 1972 hit that killed New York mobster “Crazy” Joe Gallo would have had New York license plates. In the later years of his life, before dying in 2003 at the age of 83, Sheeran also told Brandt he was the one who took down Gallo at Umberto’s Clam House in New York’s Little Italy.
Soon after, Scorsese signed onto the project in 2008 and enlisted screenwriter Steve Zaillian to transform the 310-page “I Heard You Paint Houses” (Steerforth Press, $15.95) into a feature film script.
Brandt was a medical malpractice attorney when he was retained by “Big Frank” Sheeran in 1991, helping him to get out of prison early due to medical issues. While in prison, Sheeran read Brandt’s 1988 book “The Right to Remain Silent” and wanted Brandt to write a book clearing him of involvement in Hoffa’s killing since Sheeran had been rumored to be involved.
That book never happened, but more than eight years later, Sheeran contacted him again. And then over the course of five years worth of interviews, Sheeran confessed to shooting Hoffa to death, emboldened by the death of some of his contemporary mobsters who he still feared.
Sheeran told Brandt that he shot Hoffa twice in the head in a house in Detroit and was told that Hoffa’s body had been cremated after.
In 2009, Brandt had his first meeting with Scorsese, De Niro and Zaillian — a meeting that stretched four hours long. Zaillian, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, has penned everything from “Schindler’s List” and “Moneyball” to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gangs of New York.”
With Brandt in on the process, he’s been able to track the project, meeting with Scorsese and De Niro multiple other times, returning to New York this past summer to help advise on the film. One day, he had a one-on-one meeting with De Niro to discuss Hoffa.
“They really value my notes. They didn’t take many liberties with the essence of the characters of the story,” Brandt adds.
If the film lands its expected 2019 release, it will have been 15 years since Brandt wrote his book.
He never doubted the film would be made, even as he watched Scorsese tackle a string of other projects (“Shutter Island,” ”Hugo,” ”The Wolf of Wall Street,” ”Silence”), but he jokes that he was a little concerned he might never get to see it.
“I wanted to be alive for it. I’m 75 and I was really hoping they would make it while I’m still here,” Brandt says. “With four grandchildren, I thought I had it all and now this comes along, finally. Living it moment to moment is just sublime.”