For a story that “never needed to be told” in the first place, the saga of Amy Fisher, Joey Buttafuoco, and Mary Jo Buttafuoco captured the rapt attention of a nation. So much so, that three major networks, not to be outdone by the other, produced three separate made-for-TV movies about the subject, each prepared to tell a different side of the non-story.
Triple Fisher, is director Dan Kapelovitz’s critique of the whole bloody affair, a three-way mashup of the films that seeks to paint, what is most likely, the clearest picture we’ll ever hope to get of the scandal – and the media beast that sought to portray it.
Cinedelphia spoke with Dan Kapelovitz’s about this project (20 years in the making!), its production, and another conceptual film currently in the works that aims to stretch the 1982 action comedy 48 Hours, into just that. Literally.
Cinedelphia: What influenced you to pursue the subject matter that forms Triple Fisher?
Dan Kapelovitz: In 1992, the Amy Fisher-Joey Buttafuoco-Mary Jo Buttafuoco love triangle was the major tabloid story of the year. All three major networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – made their own made-for-TV movie based on the story. This was a first (and a last) in television history. Like millions of other Americans, I watched all of them when they aired. Two of the shows aired against each other, so I had to use a VCR to tape one of them. I also remember switching back and forth between those two during commercial breaks.
Each film is told from a different perspective. The one starring Noelle Parker is based on Amy’s version, so Amy is the sympathetic victim of the manipulative Joey. The Alyssa Milano one was based on the Buttafuocos’ story, where Amy is a delusional stalker, and Joey doesn’t even have sex with her. The Drew Barrymore version is supposed to be the “objective” version told from the viewpoint of a journalist, but it’s really just the journalist trying to show what a great person she is compared to all of the sleazy tabloid journalists that were also covering the story.
So cinematically, for example, if you take the shooting sequences, in Amy Fisher’s version, Amy backhands Mary Jo with the gun and it accidentally goes off, and then Mary Jo falls on top of Amy and they struggle, with Amy also being a “victim” (which she claims to be in the film). Then Mary Jo calls Amy a “lying little bitch” before getting shot. With the Buttafuoco version, a much-prettier and nicer Mary Jo is deliberately shot by the evil Amy who then physically throws Mary Jo to the ground after shooting her. And the shoot-out in the so-called objective version is sort of half-way between the two extremes.
At the time, I had the idea to combine the three films into a meta-movie, but back then, it was difficult to even track down all three versions on video. Also, I didn’t have access to a digital editing system, so it would have been a nightmare to edit, and it would have lost at least a couple of generations of video quality.
I had two weeks off between jobs, so I enlisted my editor friend Noel Lawrence (who also helped me put together the “Threee Geniuses: Re-Death of Psychedelia DVD) and we started working on it.
C: How did you decide on a structure with three different films?
DK: We watched the three films dozens of times, then put together a rough version that was basically the story in chronological order. The rough edit took a couple of weeks, but then I spent a couple of years improving the film. At each screening I would see what worked and what didn’t work, and I also came up with new ideas on how to make it better.
C: How did the production of this film shape your vision as a filmmaker?
DK: I really have an appreciation for the original films. Given that these filmmakers had to crank out these movies in a few months, they are really good. I would love to make a traditional made-for-TV drama one day. It’s a real underappreciated genre.
C: How do you want Triple Fisher to be remembered by audiences?
DK: I want Triple Fisher to be remembered as a cutting-edge experimental film that also happens to be a crowd-pleaser. Most conceptual films aren’t very entertaining, but audiences seem to enjoy this one.
C: What does the production of Triple Fisher teach other filmmakers pursuing a similar project?
DK: I would say that if you have a good idea for a film, don’t wait 20 years to make it. If I knew how well this film was going to do, I would have completed it a long time ago. I thought it was just going to be a little project that I could hopefully get screened in a local theater, but I’ve shown it all over the country and even in Australia. It won an award at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. I got invited to this awesome Cinedelphia Film Festival.
I also got to meet Nicky Corello, who is my favorite actor from all of the movies (besides the late Lawrence Tierney). He has a lot of the great lines like “Way to go, Joey!” He never even saw the original film, and I think he actually has more screen time in my film than in the original because I used every shot he is in and use the “Way to go, Joey!” line a few times, which I think is up there with the great lines in movie history like, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” and “Go ahead make my day.” He lent me his original script from the film with his original notes written in the margins. He plays Joey’s best friend, which is a pretty minor character, but he created this whole backstory for the character where he was in the Vietnam War and he kind of lost his mind, and that’s why he treats Joey as a commanding officer type to whom he was extremely loyal.
The real Joey Buttafuoco even came to a screening at the Everything Is Terrible Festival, after which he and I did a Q&A. I never imagined that Joey Buttafuoco would even hear of this film, much less talk at a screening.
C: What do you value most, character, conflict, or premise, when constructing a story?
DK: For this project, I wasn’t really that interested in the story. I was more interested in the concept and how the three different versions could interact. The film is simultaneously a celebration and a scathing critique of the other films and of the made-for-TV genre in general. The films are edited so they comment on each other and on themselves. I also constructed it to be a comedy, so I would use the characters and the conflicts as a way to tell the jokes. Almost every cut in the film is a joke. But I usually tried to make the editing between the films relatively smooth so that audiences can follow the story as three sets of actors portray the characters.
C: Why did Triple Fisher need to be made?
DK: It probably didn’t. One of my favorite descriptions of Triple Fisher that I have seen in the media is “a Rashomon-like retelling of a story which didn’t really need to be told in the first place.” Even though the original story didn’t need to be told, once it was told by all three major networks, maybe Triple Fisher did need to be made to right the wrongs and get to the ultimate truth behind the Amy Fisher saga.
C: What is the next step for Dan Kapelovitz?
DK: The film I am currently working on is called 48 Hrs. Literally. It takes the footage of the 1982 action comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte and expands it so that the final running time will be literally 48 hours. Unlike Triple Fisher, this will be more on the side of the unwatchable conceptual films. In fact, there is an eight-hour sequence that is an homage to Warhol’s “Sleep,” where it is just a shot of Nick Nolte sleeping looped so that it lasts eight hours. And I am working on another sleep sequence, which will also be eight hours, but will include a bunch of dream sequences. Once Nick Nolte’s character meets Eddie Murphy’s character, his entire psyche opens up and he starts to have all of these psychedelic dreams.
I’m also trying to make a rock opera documentary starring David Nkrumah Unger Liebe Hart and some other top-secret projects, and I continue my criminal defense law practice in Hollywood, called the Radical Law Center.
Triple Fisher is screening tonight at the Cinedelphia Film Festival. For more information on the film, and to buy tickets, click here.