January 18, 2007

JBB Exclusive: Interview with Michael Cole Dinelli!

January 18th, 2007

Michael Cole Dinelli

Michael Cole Dinelli directs Frankie Valli

As reported earlier this week, Frankie Valli is starring as Harry “The Wolf” in “Cash Deal,” an award-winning short film directed by Michael Cole Dinelli.

Jersey Boys Blog had the privilege to speak to Michael Cole Dinelli about his career as a writer, director, and actor; about the his award-winning short film; and about directing the legendary Frankie Valli in this dramatic role.

JBB: How did you get started as film director and writer?

MCD: I actually started out as an actor. I was very fortunate to have been cast in a Broadway play called “The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel” with Al Pacino when I was 19. He was a great influence and taught me a lot about acting.

But I always knew I wanted to be a writer and a filmmaker, especially after my first play, “The Soliloquy of Bernie Ludd” was produced. In addition, I was a staff writer on the CBS television series “Dellaventura” that starred Danny Aiello.

I also wrote “Philly Pine,” a film that became very close to being produced. It was a wonderful New York story to have been directed by “On Golden Pond” director Mark Rydell, and “Godfather” actors James Caan and Robert Duvall would have starred in the film.

JBB: Who were your early influences and inspirations as an actor, director, and writer?

MCD: In addition to Al Pacino, I was influenced by Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, and Spencer Tracy.

JBB: Congratulations on winning the “Best Short” award at the Long Beach Film Festival. Tell us about “Cash Deal.”

MCD: Thank you. The short film “Cash Deal” is an adaptation of my play by the same name. It had a very successful run at the Actors Studio in Los Angeles.

We filmed “Cash Deal” back in 2004, but I didn’t like the first cut. So, I recut it and it was recently released.

JBB: What is “Cash Deal” about?

MCD: “Cash Deal” is about two salesmen, who are actually con artists from the East coast. You really don’t know what they sell, or how they do it. Harry “The Wolfe,” is older and considered “a god” among salesmen, and Jack is a young punk who is Harry’s driver and protégé. After the two men sold an eighteen thousand dollar cash deal to an elderly woman in Georgia, Harry has a heart attack scare. The heart attack scare causes Harry to reassess his life. He tries to instill in this kid a sense of ethics by confiding and opening his personal life to him, but it all falls on deaf ears. Harry tries one final scam to teach Jack a lesson.

JBB: What inspired you to write “Cash Deal”?

MCD: My father was a salesman, so most of the inspiration came from him.

JBB: When writing “Cash Deal,” did you have Frankie Valli in mind for the part of Harry?

MCD: No, I didn’t think of Frankie Valli for the part of Harry at first. However, after chatting with Frankie at a Christmas party a couple of years ago, I got to thinking that he looked and acted a bit like the Harry “The Wolf” character–somewhat tired, a little cynical.

I have a story about Frankie from when I was just a little kid. I remember back to the time when I was about five or six years old. I got lost from my father at the Freedom Land amusement park, and they put lost kids in the entertainers’ tent. That’s where I met Frankie Valli for the first time. The Four Seasons were playing in the tent, and Frankie saw me and asked it I wanted to get up there and sing a bit with him, but I was too shy and didn’t do it. And, 35 years later, I had the opportunity to direct him in a movie.

JBB: How did you know Frankie Valli was right for the part of Harry?

MCD: Well, there were a lot of other actors I could have gotten for this film, but the longer we talked at the party, the more I knew Frankie was right for the part. There are quite a few similarities between salesmen and musicians. Being away from families; spending time in hotel rooms; the disappointments–Frankie could relate to all of it from the experiences in his own life. He understood the part.

JBB: What was it like to direct Frankie Valli as an actor?

MCD: At the time, I knew I would have to work a lot with him, coach him on his lines, and on how to play the character. Harry “The Wolf” was a very smart character, and this role would be a major challenge for Frankie. We had a very small budget, and we planned to shoot it in three or four days. There were 25 pages of dialog in a three or four day period for him to memorize.

Frankie was not concerned with the lack of money-we had a $25,000 budget. Here was this major pop icon, and we were working with little or no money. His biggest concern was to do the best job he could as an actor. He was able to draw upon the personal experiences in his life to play this part. Frankie Valli said to me, ‘I want to please you and the film.’

Frankie found that place to go; he went inside himself. Frankie is a deep, sweet soul. No matter how successful he has become, he is still that kid from Jersey who needs to please.

JBB: Do you have any plans to extend the “Cash Deal” into a feature film in the near future?

MCD: Well, I’ve done that already with a film called “The Pitchman’s Kid,” optioned by television director Michael Pressman. It’s Frankie’s character twenty years earlier when he was at his prime. His 15 year-old hero-worshipping son spends the summer with his salesman father, only to learn his father isn’t really the great guy he always thought he was. He grows up that summer with some harsh truths. The script made the Hollywood rounds and came very close to being set up by Disney.

Hollywood is a tough town. You almost have to do it yourself, and with the new technology, it makes it possible. That’s why I decided to make a short film and finance it myself.

JBB: What’s next for you as a writer and director?

MCD: Right now, I’m working on funding for my first independent film, a psychological thriller called “The Well.”

JBB: As a filmmaker and writer, what motivates you?

MCD: I like stories about the real human condition. I especially like telling character-driven stories. I would advise young writers to focus on people rather than formula.

Jersey Boys Blog would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to Michael Cole Dinelli for taking the time for such an insightful interview.

To view the trailer and find out more about the film, visit the Gravity Wave Films/Cash Deal website. You can purchase the DVD directly from Gravity Wave Films.


  1. I look forward to buying and seeing the DVD.

    Freedomland USA! I didn’t think anybody would remember that place. It was New York City’s attempt to set up a “Disneyland” type amusement park. I believe Freedomland’s principal theme was that it had an attraction from every state in the union, so one could visit North Dakota right there in the Bronx. It failed miserably, lasting only two years as I recall, but I did get to see the 4 Seasons perform there 2 or 3 times back in 1963. Then the World’s Fair came to Queens NY in 1964 and everybody went there for rides and attractions, probably contributing significantly to the demise of Freedomland. The 4 Seasons performed at the World’s Fair very often. The Bronx site where Freedomland used to be is now a housing project, Co-Op City I believe it’s called. I

    Comment by David Cace — January 19, 2007 @ 7:38 am

  2. i have watched the stage show so many times
    is ther going to be a dvd of it please

    Comment by agnes — September 8, 2009 @ 5:59 am

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