The Midriff Blog

Dave Copeland: Blood and Volume

Dave Copeland

Dave Copeland. Photo by John C. Schisler.

Dave Copeland is an old friend and an award-winning writer/ investigative reporter whose work has appeared in dozens of national magazines and newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal online, Reason and Boston Common. His non-fiction first novel Blood and Volume: Inside New York’s Israeli Mafia was published by Barricade Books in 2007 to much hoopla. It’s a really fascinating read recounting how Copeland spent two years researching the little-known but vicious gang that New York City tabloid reporters dubbed “the Israeli mafia” during their brief reign in New York’s underworld in the 1980′s. We loved it. Here he shares his experiences with Hollywood and the characters he meets with promises of getting Blood and Volume on the big screen.

The first one came even before the book was released: an ex-actor who said he wanted to get into directing and maybe star in the film version of the adaptation of my book. He didn’t give up when he figured out there was no six-figure book advance, that I had no money to invest in a film: the best I could do was spot him $84 for a room in a hooker-ridden hotel when he came to Boston to meet me.

When the publisher told him they wouldn’t sell the film rights to someone with no film making experience, he decided he was going to make a documentary about releasing a book. He rented an impressive looking camera for my book release party, but he didn’t rent lights, so most of the footage he shot was unusable. He spent most of that night, plus time at a similar event in Pittsburgh, hitting on my friends. I saw him one more time, when the gangster I had written about met him in New York City and he shot footage of Ron going to his old haunts: the Chelsea Hotel, Long Beach, the Diamond District.

I didn’t hear from him after that, and I didn’t really want to: I had managed to get my hands on a copy of one of the two indie films he had “starred” in (the other one had only been released in Greece and had never even managed to go straight to video). He played the villain in a low-budget kids flick and, frankly, had every scene he was in stolen by the kid hero.

Blood & Volume

Photo by John C. Schisler

The official line on my book, Blood & Volume: InsideNewYorksIsraeliMafia is that it got great reviews but it didn’t sell well, partly because the publisher filed for bankruptcy shortly after it was released and partly because not enough people got killed in it. Yet a lot of the handful of the people who read it picked up on the fact that I wrote it in three acts. They picked up on the fact that I was begging for someone to make it into a film.

And that has meant a steady stream of people with promises coming into and out of my life over the past five years.

Everyone Is My Friend

The next offer to help me get my book turned into a film came from a friend who is no longer a friend. I’d like to tell you this is a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t do business with friends, which it is, but the friendship wasn’t helped by the fact that he’s a narcissistic douche. After awhile it became evident that he he didn’t really want to sell my film. What he wanted was for me to write a script based on a tough period of his own life. It was based on his true story, with the one exception being that at the end he doesn’t lose his girlfriend and come off as the morally suspect person that he was in the real-life incident.

I firmly believe some people gravitate to the arts not because they have any real talent, but because they are too proud to admit they need therapy.

There were others:a British producer whose only screen credit was a documentary about hummingbirds, an Israeli actor who insisted he could make the film for six figures if I agreed to write the script for free. Later on I found out he may have been bankrolled by one of the gangsters I wrote about — unflatteringly — in my book.

I moved and changed my phone number not too long after that.

As Close As I Can Get To A Golden Globe

During all of this I signed with a literary agent who was starting to see the book business as being a bum deal if you wanted to get rich and famous. He whored me out to ghost write a few book proposals for a few thousand bucks a pop for people who were more interesting than me (including one guy who claimed to have solved the JonBenet Ramsey murder but was really just bat-shit crazy). He told me to forget about my old book, that it was a done deal and that he would be setting up shop in Hollywood and getting me work as a screenwriter.

Then one night, flying back from L.A. to New York he was stuck on a plane and the only thing he had to read was Blood & Volume.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was good?”

“I thought you had read it. You told me to forget about it.”

“This needs to be a movie.”

And then, for awhile, things started to seem legit. There were meetings with production companies in L.A., fights to make sure I’d get the first crack at writing the script. In one meeting someone said Jack Black was interested. In another meeing I held a Golden Globe statuette that one of Robert Evans’s ex-wives had thrown at him during a fight. It was around the time “The Hangover” came out so I was told to adapt my straightforward true crime book (one reviewer said it was “‘Goodfellas’ with Israeli accents”) into a Guy Ritchie-esque comedy.

And I have to admit, some of the true stories were funny, like the Israeli mafia I wrote about thinking if they spoke Hebrew on the phone people listening to the wire taps wouldn’t know what they were saying. They didn’t realize that about half the people working in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office had gone to Hebrew school.

You could make that shit even funnier when you went from “true story” to “based on a true story,” but I could never get past the fact that my book was, at its core, about people overdosing on blow and killing each other. Two weeks before it was released in 2007, one of the people I had written out was shot and killed in Tel Aviv, as retaliation for ratting out his underworld boss in New York in the early 1990’s.

There were only so many yucks I could pull out of it.

The agent had me working on other scripts, even though I really didn’t know how to write a script and even though I really just wanted to write another book. I was also turning into some sort of low budget F. Scott Fitzgerald, minus the immortality-inducing book. I was screenwriting when I wanted to be writing, I was building a ferocious drinking problem and the girl I was dating at the time was a modern-day Zelda rip off. The only thing I needed was some Hemingway-like character to drink with and an Ivy League education to waste.

Back To Being Just Another Writer

“Why didn’t you tell me this was going to suck?” the agent said after reading a script for a film idea he had that I had spent several months working on. The verbal promise from a major production company to make Blood & Volume into a film was rescinded; I was told that they had taken on a project that John Cusack was tied to and, in the Hollywood formula, John Cusack > Jack Black.

I’m not sure how true that is. I still haven’t seen the finished John Cusack product and I cringe when I try to re-read the script I submitted. But it was a pretty cool story to tell people when they ask whatever happened to that movie you were working.

Right around then I stopped drinking and stopped wasting time with the wannabe Zelda. I fired my agent before he could fire me. I stopped mentally spending the six figures I had been promised for the film rights and the six figures I had been promised to write the script. I conceded that the 100 or so copies of the book sitting in my front closet, the ones I thought I would resell as collector’s items once the movie and film exploded in popularity, were mine for keeps.

You want one?

Dave Copeland and his Gangster

Dave Copeland (right) and his Gangster

The gangster I wrote about still holds out hope. Hope that the film rights to my book (“our book,” as he calls it) will sell. He’s working with a new author on another book, the one that he probably wanted me to write in the first place. He drunk dials me every few months, gives me updates about his crazy wife and the daughter who continually makes him proud. He calls me the son he never had. He’s also working on a cookbook, one where all the recipes are for meals he ate to celebrate big scores when he was an art and jewel thief in Europe in the 1970′s.

And for that reason, I kind of hope this all works out. I kind of hope he gets the fame he needs to get that book published. I’m hungry and I want to read it.

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