Reflections Of My Life In Film Development by Mitch Santell
There are people in this world who are passionate about getting a true story made. I was one of those people. While the majority of my creative life has been spent in producing music and syndicated talk radio, I did dabble in the 1990’s with launching a film development company.
Throughout my own life, I noticed that God has blessed me with this ability to get to anyone that I want too. As I have stated before in previous blog postings, I am absolutely not a famous person, I have just had the opportunity to work with several dozen big names over the past 40 years. In the grand scheme of things, I thank God every day that I did not have more success in this way because the majority of my contemporaries are either ill, dead or had to take a day job.
Film development in my observations leaves behind many shredded lives because you have people who are competing for their vision of a finished film.
In the mid-1990’s I went after 2 film ideas, this blog posting is about the first one, “Billionaire Boys Club.” The second one, “The Magic Years,” (The True Story of Steve Martin at Disneyland is another story), I’ll save for another entry.
Santell Entertainment Group started out as an idea on a napkin in the mid-1990’s. Joe Hunt first came to my attention during my days in the seminar business at IBI (Income Builders International) through one of the students I was able to get to Joe Hunt’s wife. Oh, Joe was already in jail when this came to my attention.
Joe’s wife was charming and did an excellent job of convincing me that Mr. Hunt would go along with my proposal and we could make something beautiful happen. You also have to remember that The Billionaire Boys Club had already been broadcast as a TV movie with Judd Nelson and it was seeing the TV version that inspired me to go after a big screen version of the story.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and I have learned during my 60+ years on this earth that life imitates art, not the other way around.
For almost six months, I had the opportunity to speak to Joe Hunt at least six times and each conversation was recorded as he was in prison.
This is a message from Joe Hunt who is still attempting to be released from prison.
A Los Angeles County jury convicted Hunt in 1987 of killing Ron Levin, who disappeared in 1984. Prosecutors have said Hunt killed Levin over a false promise to rescue the financially struggling “club,” which purported to invest members’ money in commodities but was mostly a Ponzi scheme that relied on new cash infusions to keep it afloat.
Hunt argues Levin faked his own death to escape a pending fraud case.
Hunt, 59, is hoping to capitalize on Brown’s desire to burnish his gubernatorial legacy during his last two months in office. The termed-out Democrat took office eight years ago vowing to reduce the prison population and reform harsh criminal justice laws, which includes reconsidering some life without parole sentences.
Brown’s office said the governor has given 42 inmates with those sentences a chance at parole during his two terms in office, including 18 this year.
With time running out on Brown’s final term, Hunt and his family have launched a publicity blitz to sway the governor to commute his sentence before he leaves office in early January.
For most of an hour-long telephone interview with The Associated Press, Hunt displayed the same confident, enthusiastic and articulate hustle that he used to convince his wealthy high school buddies to join his “investment club” with their families’ money. Hunt originally named the group after a favourite restaurant — Bombay Bicycle Club — but it became known as the Billionaire Boys Club because of the hedonistic gang’s larger-than-life presence in Los Angeles.
“I see other men similarly situated getting commutations and figured ‘Why not me, too?'” he said.
Brown’s spokesman Evan Westrup declined comment on Hunt’s appeal, saying the governor does not comment on commutation applications.
Read more here: https://bit.ly/2DliWFK
The deal memo I wrote with my attorney was re-written numerous time. Each time Joe Hunt would cross out specific items and re-write the agreement in his own writing.
The bottom line was that I was not able to keep the rights to make The Billionaire’s Boy Club because while Joe Hunt was very charming, the guy absolutely would not give up any kind of creative control of the picture.
It was like I was being punished for living on the outside of prison.
(Trailer from the 1987 TV Movie with Judd Nelson).
In October of 2018, the Los Angeles Times ran an article written by Richard Winton about Joe Hunt’s passion for wanting to get out of prison.
Check it out here: https://lat.ms/2AJ054D
Once a criminal always a criminal. Why? The prison that Joe Hunt sits in has institutionalized him. This is not my best guess, this is the truth.
Here is what Joe had to say recently about what he is doing in prison:
I wish I had more sympathy for Joe Hunt. He cost me time, money and a missed opportunity. All I did was weave and bob as I attempted to put a deal together with a man who is not to be believed. Shame on you Joe.
There is one bizarre postscript to this entire story, and that is Kevin Spacey starred in The Billionaire’s Boys Club released in 2018. Why do I know? I am sitting here in Palm Desert watching the film on the Showcase channel.
Want to hear the ultimate irony? The new version of the film made a total of 126.00 Dollars on opening day.
Here is a clip from Swimming With Sharks which is very close to how Hollywood works.