In 1976, my buddy, Ralph De Vito (a screen writer/director), was approached by some investors to produce a low-budget mob drama film he had written, “Death Collector”.
It was Ralph’s first effort as a director. The film was about a neighborhood kid who goes to work for the mafia as a debt-collector. Local guys were cast, amongst them Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent (Joe and Frank’s first appearance in a movie).
After seeing Pesci and Vincent in “Death Collector”, Martin Scorsese cast both of them in “Raging Bull.”
In 1979, Ralph and I formed “De Vito Brenner Productions” to produce 30-second television commercials for entrepreneurial municipal bond firms.
At that time, tax-free municipal bonds were primarily being purchased by high net-income individuals. We saw the opportunity to market to the general public by showing the value-added income of the tax-free bonds versus the US Savings Bond.
Our concept was to shoot and handle the placement of the commercials on speculation, and then after establishing a base line, share with the bond firms a percentage of the ‘incremental’ profit created by our media buy.
We shot some amazing commercials, and were the first to use the tag line “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you get to keep after taxes”. We came very close, but never did close the deal with an industry that had never marketed on TV.
At the beginning of 1980, my oldest and dearest of buddies, Michael (Mickey) Saiber, Ralph, and I came together to produce “Anna”, a wonderful film about the emotional stress of getting old.
We cast the well-known singer and actress, Lillian Roth, as the lead. (Susan Hayward played Lillian in her autobiography “I’ll cry tomorrow”.) Once again, Joe Pesci was cast in a major role as Anna’s son.
After completing 6 weeks of shooting, we took a short break in the action. It was during this time that Lillian had an untimely health crisis and died from a stroke at the early age of 69. As our title character, we could not complete the film without Lillian. Fortunately for Ralph, Mickey, and myself, production insurance covered our costs, and our entire investment was recovered.