An Interview with Chad Verdi, Bleed for This Producer

chad-scorcese2Bleed for This, the story of RI boxing legend Vinny “Paz” Pazienza is a film that many on the filmmaking side figuratively bled for as well. Producer Chad Verdi, of Verdi Productions and founder of Woodhaven Films, was driven to enter the industry by his interest in this film. Now the result is receiving Oscar buzz and due to open nationwide on the big screen November 18.

We talked with Mr. Verdi about the story’s journey to the big screen and about his experience on set.

Motif: Tell us a little about the history of this project.

Chad Verdi: I acquired the rights in 2009 from Vinny. He’d been going to New York to try to sell the rights to his story, but it wasn’t working out. I knew nothing about the business, but I knew this was an amazing story and one that really deserved to be told. So my wife and I acquired the rights. Then we needed to develop the story and learn the industry.

To gain experience, we formed a production company and made a little movie called Inkubus. We knew that any mistakes we were going to make, we didn’t want to make on Bleed for This. We wanted to make them on other films first. We went from one movie to the next, and we made another horror film and a couple of romantic comedies and learned from each one.

At the same time, we never stopped developing the script. [Producer] Noah Kraft set up 12 meetings in Hollywood, and one of them was with Ben Younger. After we met with Ben, we didn’t need to do any more meetings – he understood what I wanted to say.

Along the way, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse heard about what we were trying to do. Of course, he’s a great supporter of economic and artistic activity in the state. He said, “I want to introduce you to Martin Scorsese.”

Our 12-minute meeting turned into a two-hour meeting, and he said, “This is one of the greatest stories that’s never been told – I want to be involved.” He understood that this was my passion project.

Once we had Martin Scorsese involved, a lot of doors opened and things really started to fall into place. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he made probably the greatest boxing movie of all time [Raging Bull]… So having Marty be kind of like my Godfather helped a lot … financing. We met with Miles Teller – he was our first choice. I think pretty much everyone was our first choice.

Motif: What was it like finally making the film?

CV: Our original budget was $22 million, but that’s not a fit for an independent film like this. We were able to get the budget to $7 million without diminishing the film. We shot in 24 days, which is a really full schedule for a feature film. We gave the people involved a piece of the back end and they worked with us. And we were able to shoot everything in Rhode Island.

We went to Cannes with only 12 minutes of footage, but it was strong and we sold the film to Open Road [a film distribution company].

While we were filming, we heard about [The Rocky sequel] Creed, and another boxing movie named Southpaw, and we decided, “Let’s hold this.”

Motif: Has it been hard to hold off?

CV: It has. We’ve made this wonderful thing, and we can’t wait to show it to everybody.

Motif: There’s even been some buzz about Oscars.

CV: It’s pretty insane. But it deserves it.

Motif: Coming from a non-Hollywood background, you take a different approach to the business of filmmaking. In what ways, would you say?

CV: I think the biggest thing we’ve been doing differently is saying no. Every single time we say we’re going to do something, we do it. And if it’s not realistic or not something we can do, we say so. Hollywood is full of yeses. They just don’t say no in Hollywood. So if you say no in a yes town, with actors and writers and financers, you gain their respect.

Motif: Do you have any favorite on-set stories? Were you on set a lot?

CV: When I put my name on anything I’m on set every minute. There’s not one shot I missed. Vinny was there a few days. I knew every detail of the real-life story, since I knew Vinny back in the day. Ben leaned on me a lot for authentic details. Bruce Kelly was also there every day. We knew, with the aggressive schedule and tight budget,one big mess-up and this was all over.

I really enjoyed picking out all the locations. We went to most of the actual locations – the Civic Center. We went to the actual road where Vinny had his accident, and recreated it there. Except Vegas – we couldn’t go there, we didn’t have the budget. But it’s amazing how much Twin Rivers can look like Vegas.

Motif: What was your favorite moment?

CV: When it ended. At the end of the last fight scene, I just laid down in the middle of the ring. I couldn’t believe we’d pulled it off.

It’s also bittersweet – with filmmaking, you become really close for an intense period of time, and then you may never see most of these people again in your life. That’s always tough.

I think my favorite moments in the film were the ones between Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhardt. Vinny is such a big personality. But Kevin [trainor x played by Eckhardt] was the boss in the gym, and Vinny accepted that. They have some incredible scenes together.

Motif: Are you in the film?

CV: I am – I actually play myself. I walk Vinny into the ring, which is what I actually did in real life – I was there for the Duran fight. It was actually Ben’s idea to have me do that. There are a few Rhode Islanders who have roles (see interview with Tommy DiNucci at Motifri.com/xxx). I love mixing Hollywood a-list actors with local RI guys.

 

Motif: Now that the passion project that got you into the business is about to go out into the world, what are you doing next?

CV: I’ve been working on Silence, which is Marty’s passion project. You’d think a guy like Marty could get anything done, but he’s been trying to line up this film for 28 years, and it’s finally come together with a budget of $52 million. The original budget was $100 million – that’s an example of something someone had to say “no” to. It was my first experience shooting internationally – we made it in Taiwan. That’ll come out on December 23.

This is not my day job [Mr. Verdi is a co-owner of the Gregg’s chain of restaurants and works in mergers and acquisitions]. As long as it’s fun I’ll keep doing it. Right now, I’m in LA lining up a project, Marty’s in NY editing another one, and we have things happening all over. It’s exciting. There are always more passion projects.

For example, it looks like we’re going to make The Irishman with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It hasn’t been finalized, but that would be a big budget film about Jimmy Hoffa. [Spoiler!] They claim to know where he’s actually buried. That’s DeNiro’s passion project.

So many projects take so long, and you have these legendary talents that want to get their most passionate work done before they close the book on a career. It’s just like Vinny – late in his career, he could have lined some easy fights. But he didn’t want to fight a bum. He still wanted a challenge. That’s how he wanted to close the book on his boxing career.

Bleed for This, the Vinny Paz story, opens nationwide, including most local Showcase Cinemas, on November 18. Look for a review in our next issue.

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