Dito Montiel is a man of many talents. He’s written everything from books to screenplays, played in a band for many years, and of course, directs films. His newest movie, Empire State, features Dwayne Johnson and Liam Hemsworth, and tells the story of Chris Potamitis, a regular guy from Queens NY who may very well have gotten away with stealing $15 million.
Dito was kind enough to talk with us for a bit, and our conversation revealed a lot about Chris’s real-life counterpart, the ridiculousness of the robbery itself, and how you go about getting the likes of The Rock and Robin Williams in your films.
Check it out below!
So I watched the film of course, Empire State, and possibly the most notable thing about it, at least at face value, is that it’s based on true events. So I was wondering in terms of characters, for example Chris and Eddie, how much were their characters based on the real counterparts? Or were they pretty much built from the ground up to tell the best story possible?
Dito Montiel: I mean the writer is Adam Mazer, and he wrote the script originally, and I said well can I meet this guy? We grew up in the same neighborhood, Astoria Queens, and he’s a little bit older than me but we’re from the same place. So I got to meet him, and when I met him it was kind of hysterical, because he’s pretty funny. At first the script was more about how the character Chris felt guilty and stuff like that. And then when I met Chris and asked “So what was the deal? Were you psyched when you took the money?” and he was like “Yeah! But for the movie, you gotta make me a nice guy.” So I kinda cracked up, and we veered a little bit more to what Chris seemed to really be like, and what he explained his friend Eddie was like, although Eddie has disappeared to Greece so I don’t know what ever became of Eddie. He doesn’t either, he hasn’t heard from Eddie since they got out of prison. So from what I gathered, that’s what the characters actually were like, so that’s always where I have fun.
That’s funny, because actually one of my other questions is about the interview with the real Chris at the end there. He did seem like a nice guy of course years later, where he can smugly say “Oh, the money disappeared.”
Well you know, when talking to him I said “Well you seem like such a good guy!” And he goes, “Nice guys don’t steal 15 million dollars.” So that’s a funny way to put it. But I think he is a nice guy, that just had a strange opportunity, you know?
Yeah, and actually you said how Eddie disappeared to Greece, and I think at the beginning of the movie he’s complaining about the Greeks for about five minutes.
Yeah he is Greek, and you know, that’s kind of like how Chris said he was a big complainer, so I had him complaining about everybody.
So the screenwriter for the film Adam Mazer, he also wrote the movie Breach which I enjoyed quite a bit. I was actually a teengager when that came out. So I guess my question regarding that is, did Adam have this completely ready to go when you found out about it, or did you collaborate on the story once you met up with him?
It’s always a crazy, long, and insane process, you know? I mean it’s like, I think he told me a story about the bomb in Greece, that’s why I brought that up. Because right at the end of Breach there was a bomb, right? But anyways, it’s always a crazy story, like I said. When I got to meet Chris I felt like it was a little more exciting to have the guys be a little bit more like knuckleheads, instead of high-tech you know? I wanted to bring it down to the level of more like, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Everything about Chris when I met him was like, wow you have no business having stolen this money, how on earth did you pull it off? And the more he started explaining it, the more I started thinking it was pretty funny. You know like he would say, “This gate, it would stay open and the camera wasn’t even looking at the door. They didn’t even point it at the door!” And then he would tell me, the guys didn’t mind carrying in all the money at nighttime, because it’s carrying 20 million dollars. And I said to him, are you fucking kidding me? So some of that stuff ended up into the script because, the more he talked– well, it’s not that I care that much about things being absolutely accurate. It’s not like the story of Abraham Lincoln or something, where you have to make sure you don’t turn him into a fucking crook or something. This started to become like, wow, that’s pretty insane! So I think we could have a little more fun going that route. But you know, of course, the story was the story.
And the story’s so wild, you almost need a character as crazy as Eddie to actually want to do it.
Yeah, you know it’s something that he just has all these reasons in his head why it makes sense. Because you know, it is a lot of money and they actually did to some degree get away with it, so it wasn’t as insane I guess. I mean, I wouldn’t have the balls to do it.
It’s interesting, because as far as I understand it’s a direct-to-DVD movie, but there’s a lot of good star-power and acting and whatnot. For a film like this, do these people audition, or do you just basically call the people you want? Or is that a collaboration with the studio?
Well it’s always a little bit of everything, like some of the actors I’m a fan of, so in this case I thought, “Well it’d be really great if say The Rock would do this, it’d make it that much more fun.” And Liam, we had spoken a few times since he liked another movie I made, and I’m a big fan of Michael Angarano’s, you know? So we just started calling people and said “Hey, do you wanna come have a good time?” It was a quick shoot, 22 days, and you get out there and make a quick, fun movie, you know? So people showed up. I mean of course you audition some people, but at this point you pretty much know who The Rock is. I don’t think you have to audition him for anything. And like I said, I was already a fan of Michael Angarano, so there’s no reason for that guy to have to come in. Most of the actors I either know them from somewhere, or I’ve seen them in a movie and said “Wow, they’re really great.”
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