A film flameout is captured in painstaking detail in the documentary ‘Overnight’
It was the deal that launched a thousand feverish nights of keyboard pecking, probably more.
In the spring of 1997, a beer slinger/bouncer named Troy Duffy hit the aspirant-filmmaker lotto when he sold his screenplay The Boondock Saints for $300,000 to Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, who promptly attached Duffy to direct, agreed to let his band do the soundtrack, and, as a goodwill bonus, even offered to buy and throw in co-ownership of the Melrose Avenue bar where Duffy worked. If Schwab’s was the old symbol of Tinseltown discovery, this was a radical new overhaul for the post-Tarantino age of underclass, videostore-fed auteurism.
Codirectors Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith capture the rise, but mostly the fall, of Duffy in their up-close and highly personal documentary, Overnight. Call it Project Redlight – an inverted fairy tale and cautionary portrait of self-deception, whose horrific real-life comedy at times reaches Christopher Guest-like proportions of delusional absurdity.
Smith first caught Duffy performing an acoustic set one night at the now-razed J. Sloan’s. “I looked around the room and noticed that everyone had stopped their conversations,” he recalls. “And then, after the set, he was this center of attention; everyone was surrounding him, and he was being very outspoken, very charismatic, and was making people laugh. I said, ‘I’ve gotta meet this guy.’” Smith approached Duffy as a filmmaker, offered to do a music video with him, and was told to swing by Duffy’s apartment and “bring a six-pack of beer,” a standard entrance fee. Two weeks later, Smith was co-managing the band, partnering at Duffy’s suggestion with Montana, an ex-actor who had background as both a personal trainer and a professional wrestling manager.
In the halcyon days of their early friendship and the deal’s infancy, Duffy – a dynamic, Boston-born, thick-necked blowhard, who communicates in the traditional alpha-male modes of drunken cajolery, passive-aggressive manipulation, and grandiose bombast – was a rallying (if generally soused) ringleader. He even sent an e-mail to Montana’s parents praising their son and detailing the pair’s plans for shaking up the town. Overnight, however, captures the amplification of his bullying and egomania.
Chain-smoking Marlboro Lights in his standard uniform of surly, anti-establishment disaffection (a black T-shirt and overalls), the burly, invective-spewing Duffy rides herd like a Mafioso Don on his wide-eyed, wallflower compatriots – a group of seven (including Montana and Smith) known without irony as The Syndicate – all the while hoarding credit and deflecting all blame and responsibility. “Troy was always shirtless and walking around with his hands in his pants,” recalls Montana. “He had an obsession with pornography. He was so overcompensating. He was a very strange individual.”
After Duffy reacted negatively to sundry early casting suggestions for The Boondock Saints – his deal stipulated a $15 million budget with Weinstein having approval over several of the leads, or $10 million with Duffy getting full casting approval – he agreed to take a meeting with Ewan McGregor. “Troy thought he could go out, meet with Ewan and get drunk, have a Scottish-Irish love affair, as he called it, and sign him lickety-split. That’s what he said,” explains Montana. “So he went to New York, and when he came back, things got very quiet. It turned out that they had a bad meeting, got into an argument over the death penalty, and Ewan wasn’t interested. And at that time, Ewan was really one of Miramax’s rising stars.” Additional dissent within the company – most peg then-president of production Meryl Poster as a fan of neither Duffy’s coarseness nor The Boondock Saints script – made for a slowly developing portrait of buyer’s remorse. “Harvey waited six months to put it into turnaround so it would be considered damaged goods and no one would pick it up, which is exactly what happened,” Montana says. “He slowly kept bankrolling a little bit of pre-production money, and then in November  notified Troy’s agents that they weren’t making the picture.”
Framed within the context of the
Oscar success of The English Patient and
Weinstein’s ongoing Hollywood feting at the time, it’s not hard to view the entire affair as Miramax bleeding Duffy and the project dead before eventually dumping its corpse out of a speeding car. “In the Hollywood food chain, the distributors are at the top … and they can play games like that,” says Montana. “They don’t care how you feel, what you’re going through, whether you have money or you don’t.”
Montana and Smith would come to experience much of the same ugliness of the business, though initially it came in the form of condescension. “The funny thing is that I don’t think the higher-ups – the executives and the producers and the agents – really thought we’d ever end up with anything,” says Smith. “I think they thought we were doing this for Troy – we were a part of his posse, part of the entourage, and were living a pipe dream that … we had a product here. They appeased us, and they let us shoot, [but] they’d roll their eyes when we would walk in the room. It was very humiliating for us.”
The irony, of course, was that, as Duffy’s fortunes spiraled downward, Overnight’s prospects actually seemed rosier. “Some of our closest friends and family asked if we were going to continue shooting, if we [still] had a story. And we knew what we had captured to that point, and we certainly knew what kind of character Troy was,” says Smith. “So [we decided to] follow him going through the hell of getting this film restructured and getting another record deal. That’s part of the story. We embraced the darkness and, toward the end of the film, it sort of being this Greek tragedy.”
The apex of strangeness was reached after a bizarre incident at the Palm Springs Film Festival – the immediate aftermath of which is captured in Overnight – in which a runaway car jumped the curb, barreled toward Duffy and his producer, and then sped away. It was then that Duffy, who Montana says always kept a shotgun and pistol around, took his guns, changed his phone number, moved out of his apartment, and went into semi-seclusion, claiming the Miramax Mafia – a phrase bandied about in publicity circles but meant literally here – was out to get him. Duffy suggested Montana and Smith take the same measures of precaution, even though he blamed their efforts to document the entire Boondock saga for causing his endangerment.
Montana and Smith last had contact with Duffy on June 30, 2000, when, Montana says, Duffy threatened him over the phone and demanded back the release he had signed. The filmmakers refused. “We decided to cut off all communication with Troy, go underground, and edit the film,” says Smith. “We had to lie to people we ran into out on the streets, tell them we shelved the project. Only our closest friends and family knew what we were doing.”
“We weren’t about to go down with the ship and just give up four years of our lives,” adds Montana. And for that, inveterate film-gossip hounds and others warm to a jaw-dropping look at a Hollywood train wreck are thankful.