Three years ago Anthony Costanza was living the high life. A stockbroker at the international finance company Citigroup, he was earning six figures. Today, the 33-year-old New Jersey native tends bar at O’Nieals in Hoboken and has contemplated selling his prized baseball card collection – complete with Reggie Jacksons, Nolan Ryans and Thurman Munsons – to finance his independently-produced film Welcome to the Family.
Raised by his grandparents in Whippany, N.J., Costanza, who currently lives in Manhattan, attended New York University where he studied psychology and economics. Like all good business majors, after graduation he became a stockbroker. In the mid ’90s, Costanza made a bundle selling retirement plans, bonds and mutual funds. Unfortunately, he found the work unsatisfying. So he decided to return to New York University – this time to study the school’s specialty.
By day, Costanza continued to sell bonds and funds, but by nights and weekends he learned to write, direct and edit movies.
And then, on the eve of his 32nd birthday, to the consternation of co-workers, Costanza quit his job.
“My co-workers thought I was crazy,” Costanza said last Wednesday over coffee at a Starbucks in Greenwich Village. “But I always wanted to be a filmmaker. Growing up, my idol was Charlton Heston.”
Welcome to the Family is the story of Carlo Benedetto, a New York mob boss diagnosed with a terminal disease. According to the doctors, Benedetto has six months to live. Unfortunately, a rival gang wants to whack him anyway because dying of natural causes (in their Mafia-infested minds) is not a suitable punishment for the man who mocked and abused them for years. At the same time, the FBI wants to catch and convict Benedetto before he dies.
Costanza first developed the idea for Welcome to the Family, which was originally entitled Natural Causes, while he was studying film at NYU. And even though he was about to abandon Wall Street for more cultured pastures, he retained his good business sense.
“I wanted to make an Italian mob movie because they are extremely marketable,” Costanza explained. “I’ll make my Last Temptation of Christ down the road, but Scorsese started with Mean Streets. A lot of indie filmmakers feel like they have to tell the story about pig farmers in the Midwest. And that’s great. But if you tell a story like that, it’s not going to appeal to the masses. You’ve got to get people to see the film. Once you’ve established yourself, then you can make anything.”
Last week, Costanza described Welcome to the Family as a dark comedy. But he was also quick to point out that the movie raises more serious issues, like what it means to die alone, which are revealed through Benedetto’s relationship with his nephew Mario.
“I wanted to make a good mob film,” he said. “But I also wanted to have an underlying theme and morals, sort of like the old Star Trek films or Rocky. Rocky is one of my favorite movies of all times. It’s just about a guy who believes in himself. He doesn’t even win the fight. A lot of people don’t know that.”
As a first-time director with a limited budget, Costanza, who used $200,000 of his own money to finance the film, was candid about his movie’s constraints.
“I’m not trying to make the Godfather,” he said. “You don’t need to have Marlon Brando in it. But I also knew that casting was the most important thing. I thought my script was good, but it wasn’t going to win any Oscars so I knew the casting would make it. Unless you surround yourself with talented people, a project like this would never come to fruition.”
Costanza gathered a group of actors including a comedy duo called Joey Balls and Carminuch, who are famous for their songs “Yankees, How Ya Doin'” and “The Twelve Days of Guido Christmas;” along with Hoboken resident Alex Corrado, who will appear in Ridley Scott’s film Hannibal which is due out this winter. With a director of photography he found off the Internet (a talented Canadian who proved indispensable), Costanza filmed Welcome to the Family last fall in and around Hoboken.
“Hoboken offers a little bit of everything: parks, cityscapes and architecture that looks a lot like Manhattan,” said Costanza, who shot scenes at Sullivan’s Bar, Via Mode and along River Street. “A few residents even let me use their homes, which were perfect for the look I was going for.”
As of last week, 90 percent of the film was finished. Unfortunately, Costanza has run out of funds. He is currently working to raise $20,000 to finish the film.
When asked if he has any regrets about leaving Wall Street for a less certain existence, Costanza answered with an emphatic “no!” – even though the one-time stockbroker with the six-figure salary is now tending bar four days a week. “I needed to pay bills,” he said. “And I didn’t want to go back to being a stockbroker. I make $80 a day. I used to make $800. But I could never go back. That job was very consuming. And I don’t think I’d be able to quit again. So, O’Nieals is getting the deal of the century.”
For Costanza, it seems that the self-sacrifice he has endured only makes the project that much more valuable.
“I don’t know anyone else who’s done what I’ve done,” he said. “I know a lot of people who made a movie with daddy’s money. But I liquidated my IRA and 401K plan to make this movie. I’m the only guy I know who’s gone from riches to rags. But I wanted to make my movie.”