Dave chats to Scott Nicholas Amendolare about his path into the movie business and the frustrating happenings behind the scenes of his first picture.
Not everyone who goes on to make a feature film spent their teenage years clasping a Super 8 camera and roping their friends into starring in home movies. Just ask Scott Nicholas Amendolare.
“I really wasn’t one of those kids. I was into comic books. I loved werewolves and vampires. I was too busy being a kid. More into art than anything. I watched movies and I loved movies, but I wasn’t ‘into’ them.”
“I went to Florida State as an art major and I took a class with Peter Stowell, who I found out was a leading authority on John Ford. I LOVED John Ford films, but I didn’t know who he was! To me it was a Henry Fonda film or a John Wayne film. I had no concept of what a director did. My family are anglophiles, so I grew up watching Hammer horror. Over time, though, I got to appreciate the construction of films. I remember seeing Metropolis (1927) and Nosferatu (1922) on PBS, not knowing who Murnau or Fritz Lang was.”
“Eventually I felt the need to go to Europe, so I sent in an application to go to film school in Italy. I’m getting shown around this campus and Cinecittà is across the street, but no: it’s all film theory and film criticism. I go back to Florence, which is where I was staying, and I was dating an English girl at the time, so the thought of London Film School came up. I read the prospectus, and it’s broken down into two years with three terms in each AND you make a film in every term. Now we’re talking. So I go over and take the tour with my friend, Lloyd, who’s a student there. He tells me they have a partnership with the BFI, and there’s no term papers. THIS is the place for me!”
“I went to London and I came alive. I found who I was. Here’s the kicker though: all the films that I grew up watching that I knew nothing about, my teachers worked on them! They were involved with Passport to Pimlico (1949) and the Powell & Pressburger films! One of my favourites was The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), and Bob Fuest, he was my course director! All these cats were just showing up. Roy Pointer, for example, he was a focus puller for Otto Preminger on Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). He did it in Cinemascope. I got to meet all these guys! Everything about it was amazing. But it was through completely dumb luck and ignorance.”
“I knew kids in high school who were considered geniuses, but they never got where they wanted because their path was so narrow. They weren’t open. I didn’t have a clue, but I was open to going in any direction. When I got out of college my first internship was on The Last Emperor (1987) and I got Bernardo Bertolucci to speak at film school. That’s what I would tell kids today. Take every opportunity you can and milk it.”
“When I returned to America, I did some script reading jobs. I read for Joel Silver, Richard Donner, Trimark, Vidmark, Tristar, Stonebridge. And you never get credited for reading a script [laughs]. I wanted to write. I did some P.A. work. I got a job in television too with Kushner-Locke on several of their shows.”
Amendolare’s break came in the early ‘90s when a couple of wannabe moguls from the Middle East decided to give a western spin to a movie that originated in their homeland, as the filmmaker explains:
“I had a friend from film school named Alex Rossu, and he had a company called Fortis Entertainment. Tangent: Sandra Bullock called him and bought the name for some insane amount of money. He was from Bulgaria but studied at Cambridge. Crazy guy! He lived down the hall from these Israeli guys, who we referred to as ‘Israeli mafia’. They had connections with Avi Lerner, but really, they were on the fringes. They said they were keen to make an English version of an Israeli film called Madam and wondered who they could get to direct it. I got called in to see Tzury Mimon, who made the original, and these other two cats who were fronting money were there too. They asked if I was interested, and I figured why not! I went away and wrote it, and when it came around to shooting it, Tzury was going to direct it, but his English wasn’t all that great, so they asked if I would do it instead.”
MADAM (1993) (or, depending on your preferred spelling, ‘Madame’) opens with a title card that states “This film is based on the story of ‘April’: a former call girl to alleged Hollywood madam, Heidi Fliess [sic]“, which immediately raises questions about the authenticity of Amendolare’s movie – not least because Fleiss wasn’t picked up until well after it was shot. It’s a doubt the writer-director himself is happy to clarify:
“There are certain things I had nothing to do with, and the Fleiss nonsense is one of them. I was trying to make a socially conscious arthouse flick, but the producers were just looking to make schlock. The idea was about a human being who sells their soul, loses themselves, and then comes out of it. People think there’s a lot of sex in it, but there isn’t. There was never meant to be. It’s suggestive. There were a lot of fights. I said to them, you should be aiming to show this at the Egyptian Theatre and not to be content with PPV. But they thought they knew better, especially as one of the producers was selling jeans on Venice Boulevard two weeks earlier…”
It’s this tug of war that causes a notable imbalance in respect to the feel of the picture, as we follow the life of Danielle Williams (Brittany McKrenna), a TV reporter who goes undercover in order to craft an expose on the escort industry. Despite having a boyfriend at home (an increasingly suspicious David Starzyk), she struggles to stay on the outside of the business, adopting the name ‘April’ and eventually succumbing to the salacious desires of her clients.
“I was working around the stripshow industry at the time so I based some of it on the people I met there. It’s an amalgamation of characters. I thought it’d be interesting to have a woman instead of a guy as well. That wasn’t done at the time. It wasn’t hit. It was a complaint from the distributors too! “Hey – the main character is a woman?!”.”
A subtle study of a personal descent into hell might lie at Madam‘s core, but much of the good work instigated by Amendolare is undone by frequent forays into exploitation. Looking back, the New York born filmmaker did find one ally who seemed to be on the same page, and it was an unexpected one at that.
“Tzury wanted to share my writing and directing credit! Soon after, we met Menahem Golan because Tzury knew him, and he said to Tzury, “You need to take your name off these credits. You didn’t co-write it, and you didn’t co-direct it. Don’t steal from this guy”.”
“Now, I’m not afraid of much,” concedes Amendolare, “But the first time I met Menahem Golan I was afraid. For sure, he was a little rotund man; but all I could see in him was this old lion with the ability to rip me to shreds in seconds!”