CLEVELAND - It was supposed to be a $40 million movie about the 1940s Cleveland burlesque scene. Instead, the film has suddenly lost its funding, leaving northeast Ohio cast and crew members without pay.
NewsChannel5 and a host of other Cleveland media outlets covered the casting call for the movie titled "Retro" with great fanfare three weeks ago. The movie's director, Mark Gargiulo, boasted the project was given approval for a $40 million budget from Focus 4 Pictures, a movie company allegedly located in the United Kingdom.
The film was supposedly given the "green light" in an open letter to Cleveland Film Commission Executive Director Ivan Schwartz from well-known UK film producer Malcolm Kohll. "Retro" was to center on the life of 40s burlesque star Katrina Jones, a single African-American mother living in Cleveland with her mom.
Ironically, the cast and crew call for "Retro" was held on April Fools' Day. One of those in attendance to audition was local actress Terra Incognita, who told NewsChannel5 Gargiulo promised her a prominent role in the film, but claims the situation quickly deteriorated after the casting call.
Incognita said she put many hours into the project and now that the film suddenly lost funding, she's been left with nothing to show for her effort.
"It's been disappointing, it's been mind boggling, upsetting, and a whole range of emotions," Incognita explained. "Just trying to figure out what his motivation was, it's a very elaborate scheme."
Incognita and others on the cast and crew told NewsChannel5 they're concerned there was never a $40 million deal in the first place. Incognita claimed cast and crew members asked to see a copy of the script for the movie, but it was never produced.
"If he's the director of a $40 million movie, wouldn't there be some kind of history to qualify him for that?" questioned Incognita.
NewsChannel5's Investigative Unit ran searches for Gargiulo's directing experience and information on Focus 4 Pictures, but so far our effort has turned up no information.
Additional printed materials, obtained by NewsChannel5 about the movie, stated it was being produced by "Canal 4 Pictures, UK." However, an initial search for information about Canal 4 Pictures has also turned up no information.
Natalie Harris, who was under contract as an "assistant to the director" for the movie, told NewsChannel5 she believes she's owed more than $1,500 for dozens of hours worked. Harris, who is nursing student, said her three-page contract with Gargiulo called for a pay of $15 per hour, for 6 1/2 hours a day.
"I was devastated. I thought this would be an opportunity for me to move to another state and get more experience," said Harris. "I was even considering dropping my nursing career for this."
NewsChannel5 conducted an on-camera interview with director Mark Gargiulo about the sudden loss of funding for his movie. Gargiulo maintained he had a $40 million film agreement with Canal 4 Pictures and promised to supply documentation to NewsChannel5 to prove the deal was legitimate. Gargiulo also agreed to produce a copy of the preliminary script.
Gargiulo apologized to his cast and crew and told NewsChannel5 Canal 4 Pictures pull out of the project because of on going financial problems.
WEB EXTRA: Extended interview with film director Mark Gargiulo.
"Anybody that spent time and effort on this project, I feel heartbroken the way it worked out for them," said Gargiulo. "Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't. It's part of being an adult. Again I apologize, but I'm not apologizing because I've done something wrong here."
Gargiulo had "no comment" when he was asked if he would honor the written contracts he has with cast and crew members. He also told NewsChannel5 he still hopes to make "Retro" in the near future.
Cleveland Film Commission Executive Director Ivan Schwartz told NewsChannel5 he was skeptical about the film when he first heard about the production.
"We were never contacted about the film," said Schwartz. "If a film has a $40M budget we would know about it."
Schwartz said he will now issue a warning memo to all local actors and crew members about what to look for in a legitimate film project.
"We see several films that are attempted here in northeast Ohio every month, that are not completely above board." "Actors and crew members should contact the film commission if they have questions about a local film project."
Meanwhile, some on the film crew have filed a report with the Cleveland Police Department, claiming they were victims of fraud.
"It's not just the money. We were excited about putting Cleveland on the map again," explained Harris.
NewsChannel5 will follow-up on this case. Check for updates on this developing story here
on newsnet5.com and NewsChannel5 at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.