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WAMG INTERVIEW: NICK VALLELONGA – Director of YELLOW ROCK

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Interview conducted by Tom Stockman November 15th 2012

Since he first appeared at age 12 in the wedding sequence of THE GODFATHER, Nick Villelonga has appeared in 31 movies as an actor. Some of his roles included small parts in THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, PRIZZI’S HONOR , and GOODFELLAS. His first script, DEADFALL, co-written with director Christopher Coppola, was made into a feature film starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Biehn, and James Coburn in 1993. Nick then went on to write and direct independent films such as A BRILLIANT DISGUISE starring Lysette Anthony and THE CORPORATE LADDER starring Ben Cross.

Now Nick Villelonga has directed the western YELLOW ROCK starring James Russo and Michael Biehn. It will be playing at the St. Louis International Film Festival on Friday, Nov 16th at 7:00pm at the Wildey Theatre and Sunday, Nov 18th at 4:15pm at the Hi-Pointe Theatre.

We Are Movie Geeks caught up with Nick Villelonga and asked him about his memories of THE GODFATHER and about directing his first western.

We Are Movie Geeks: Hi Nick, how are you doing? Are you going to be here in St. Louis for the screening of your new film YELLOW ROCK at the St. Louis International Film Festival?

NICK VALLELONGA: I’m doing good. I’m producing a film starring Nicholas Cage called I AM WRATH which we start pre-production in January. I’ve got some meetings about that over the weekend, but I’m going to see if I can get away and make it to St. Louis for the YELLOW ROCK screenings there.

WAMG: I was looking over your bio, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this many times, but what are your memories of being on THE GODFATHER set?

NV: I have a lot of memories of THE GODFATHER. My dad Tony Lip was one of the head matre d’s at the Copacabana Nightclub. Francis Ford Coppola and the casting director were in there, looking for people that would resemble mobsters and people of that era. They spotted my father and asked him to be in the movie, then they asked him if he had any kids because they needed Italian kids for the wedding scene. So we were screen-tested and we got into the wedding scene. That was the first time I saw how a movie was made and I was hooked.

WAMG: Can you spot yourself when you watch the movie?

NV: Oh yeah, I’d have to sit there with you and point me out but I’m all over the place! I knew who Brando was, but to me the big guy on that set was James Caan, who had just starred in the movie BRIAN’S SONG, so to me that was a big deal. I hung out with Caan a lot. I sat with Diane Keaton and Al Pacino though I didn’t know who they were at the time. I sat with Brando for about a half a day. I just studied him, watching him put that thing in his mouth to make his jaws open up. It was really interesting running around following the cameras.

WAMG: Hard to believe that was 40 years ago.

NV: It is hard to believe.

WAMG: You directed a horror film called CHOKER. Do like horror?

NV: I love horror films. CHOKER was like a little experiment, they renamed it DISTURBANCE. I wanted to test some HD filmmaking techniques. It was an experiment at first, then I thought I could really make something out of it, and then people wanted to buy it. It was sort of a throwback to the old Roger Corman style since I had no money for effects so I had to do what I had to to make it interesting. I wanted it to look like a comic book. We shot it in twelve days and it was a lot of fun.

WAMG: How did you come to direct YELLOW ROCK?

NV: I knew (screenwriter) Lenore Andriel for years; we had been actors together in New York. She called me one day and said she had this movie going and that they had a director, but the producing part of it she needed help with. It was a short schedule and there were some problems putting it together so I came in to help. She had cast it but I helped with things like getting trailers and getting things like that coordinated and put together. I was there to support the director and give him everything he needed but a western is quite an undertaking. There is so much to deal with; it’s not like shooting in one house or two locations. There are a lot of locations, a lot of characters, a lot going on. I think the director got a bit overwhelmed and by the middle of the second day it was apparent he was way behind, so Lenore and the other producers came to me and asked if I could take it over. We talked to the director first because I wanted to see if he thought he could still pull this off but he was pretty overwhelmed so I stepped in and we finished the movie.

WAMG: Were you a big fan of westerns?

NV: I love westerns, so I had that in my brain anyway. I hadn’t directed one but felt prepared. I’m a big John Ford fan, a John Wayne and Clint Eastwood fan. I love THE SEARCHERS, STAGECOACH, BUTCH CASSIDY and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. I’d always wanted to do one though I wish I’d had more time to prepare. We had to cut some things and I had to make up for some time that was lost, but I think we have a very satisfying film. It’s a throwback, like a ’50s style western.

WAMG: James Russo, who stars in YELLOW ROCK, had worked with Sergio Leone, one of the great western directors, early in his career (Russo played Bugsy in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA in 1984). Did he ever talk about that experience?

NV: Oh yes, he talked about that a lot. That was very early on in Russo’s career and he talked about how awesome it was working with Leone and now he’s come full circle, he’s working with Quentin Tarantino in his new film DJANGO UNCHAINED. There’s a great cast in that. He also was in OPEN RANGE with Kevin Costner, a western, so he’s a natural in westerns, and he’s great in our film.

WAMG: What about Michael Biehn?

NV: I’m a big fan of his and we’ve worked together a few times. Michael has an amazing presence and you must remember him as Johnny Ringo in TOMBSTONE?

WAMG: Oh sure.

NV: There’s a little moment in YELLOW ROCKET that we put in there for the fans of TOMBSTONE where he said “I want you blood”. We found a way to do an homage to that line in our new film.

WAMG: Where was YELLOW ROCK filmed?

NV: It was filmed out in San Clarita on some ranches out there. Gene Autrey had owned one of the ranches years ago. A lot of western stuff is filmed out there. Some of DJANGO UNCHAINED is filmed there as well.

WAMG: YELLOW ROCK won Best Picture at the 2011 Red Nation Film Festival. That’s a fest for native American themed films.

NV: Yes. It also won the Western Heritage Award, which we were really happy about. The year before, the winner was TRUE GRIT and the year before that it was 3:10 TO YUMA, so for us to win that category in that fest was quite an honor.

WAMG: Do you think there could be a possible sequel to YELLOW ROCK?

NV: Well, yes, I think there could be more adventures of Lenore’s character Dr. Sarah Taylor, so there’s definitely a possibility there.

WAMG: Can you talk about I AM WRATH, the Nic Cage film you’re working on?

NV: It’s a drama with some action but I can’t say too much about it. I worked with Nic before when I wrote a film called DEADFALL he made years ago with James Coburn and Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn. That was how I met Biehn. This new one is something of a revenge movie, bu the stakes are really high and it’s a good role for him. Right now we’re negotiating with William Friedkin to direct but there might be a problem with the timing but we’re hoping to get him. We hope to start filming in Detroit in February.

WAMG: Good luck with YELLOW ROCK and all of your future projects.

NV: Thank you.

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