Back in March, word surfaced about a casting call for the latest film promising to turn Cleveland into Hollywood East, minus the fake boobs and superhero panhandlers. It’s called Retro: The Kat Jones Story, about a 1940s black burlesque star. Director Mark Gargiulo rolled in with boasts of a $40 million budget, courtesy of a U.K. company called Canal 4.
Auditions were held at Brothers Lounge on April 1, with shooting scheduled for June at an undisclosed West Side warehouse. But Scene movie editor Michael Gallucci, a noted authority on independent black burlesque films of the 1940s, said a month ago: “Details about the movie are kinda sketchy.”
“Bullshit” would be another word for it.
On April 14, Gargiulo e-mailed his production pals saying he was stuck in Columbus and could everyone kindly fork over 60 bucks each to get him through the weekend? After all, his wallet was short $40 million because the check wasn’t due till Monday. Adding to the heartbreak: His prepaid cell phone — a token of status among all the big directors — was out of minutes.
“That wasn’t the first red flag; that was the last red flag,” says one cast member, who asked not to be named. “I think I was so desperate to work, I wanted to believe him.” The actress says Gargiulo procured his talent at local parties and events. “He found vulnerable people.”
Another red flag: Though work had begun, nobody was getting paid. And Gargiulo’s own résumé sent up warning flares too: He claimed to be “the premier international fetish photographer” — a skill, incidentally, that Scorsese and Spielberg suck at — but no such evidence of his work can be found online.
He also boasted that Canal 4 made the 2004 horror-comedy classic Shaun of the Dead. Which it didn’t.
But better news would come when the expected check arrived on April 16. No wait, actually things got worse. “We have the last problem on Earth you or I needed to hear,” Gargiulo wrote to his cast and crew. Canal 4 had gone belly-up, and there would be no $40 mil. “I swear to Christ, I had no idea — I certainly would not have acted like such a pompous ass.”
Reached by e-mail, Gargiulo confirms the bankruptcy woes, but otherwise sounds confident that his black burlesque dreams will come true. “Several participants have become disgruntled,” he writes. “Many will stay the course.”