NEW YORK CITY/LOS ANGELES—Call it "Hollywood magic," but filmmaker Thomas Mignone will be transforming parts of downtown L.A. into a replica of 1970s Times Square if the Indiegogo-funded movie he's planning, whose working title is simply "The Vanessa Del Rio Feature Film Project," can get off the ground—and he has high hopes that it will.
"The Times Square that we want to depict in the film is not to be found in contemporary Times Square, so we are having a pretty wonderful production design team that's going to be recreating that in the downtown part of Los Angeles as a Broadway theater district that is very reminiscent of what existed back in the glory days of Times Square," Mignone told AVN. "We'll be filming a lot in Los Angeles and dressing it as New York, and when you populate those areas and redress the facades of those buildings, it's going to be a lock on; you'll feel like you're literally back there."
Mignone and Del Rio spent a year collaborating on the script, with input from two more well-known adult industry personalities, Bill Margold and Wesley Emerson.
"They're just exceedingly well-known in the industry, and know every nuance of a lot of the interpersonal relationships, both personal and professional," Mignone stated, "and they're both just amazing collective sources of knowledge for—you know, one of the things we really want to make sure of is that there's an authenticity and a real genuine sincerity to the story. We think it's really important to reference people like Vanessa and like Margold and others that lived it, and really delve into what actually happened and how it happened and be accurate in reflecting that."
And if there's one place Vanessa Del Rio is familiar with, it's Times Square, and if there's one industry she knew like the back of her hand, it's the various forms of adult entertainment in the '70s, '80s and beyond.
"My history of 42nd Street and The Deuce goes way back to when my aunt used to work one of the elevators in the Hotel Dixie," Del Rio reminisced, "and going to the movies there as a kid and growing up in New York, and having started the 'figure modeling route,' where you go and you visit these guys, and they're not really looking to do a film; they're just looking to feel you up or something, and so my life took off in the adult entertainment field way back in the '70s, before I even did porn, actual films. So 42nd Street is a big part of my life. And everything that went on there, you know."
And what did go on there?
"I did live appearances once I did become Vanessa Del Rio, at the Melody Burlesque and the Show World Triple Treat Theater, so it was kind of an offshoot from doing films, because then they started hiring us to do performances all over the country, in theaters and what-have-you," she explained. "I didn't do any peep shows per se, but I was part of 42nd Street in other ways. I used to do a bit of streetwalking; that was an adventure! That's what I meant about being part of that underbelly of 42nd Street, Times Square, in that era. I remember pimps wearing purple hats and driving matching Cadillacs with big cow horns in the front. My pimp was a real wuss. I only used him because I needed to get a boyfriend out of jail."
Of course, it's no secret that organized crime was intimately involved in early porn production, if for no other reasons than A) it was then illegal to shoot sexually-explicit movies, and B) because of the underground nature of both the films and their distribution across the country, reputable distributors wouldn't handle them, so it fell to "the mob" and their underground connections to get the films from their places of origin to the theaters where they were to be shown.
"In the days of making the films, I didn't have contact per se with—and let's use the word loosely here—'producers,' those behind-the-scenes people," Del Rio admitted. "I did go out with one, who was from Amsterdam, and that's all in my book. I did have a funny little thing happen to me, though, because when I used to work at Show World, I once slipped and fell, and so I always say I sued the mob, and I did, and I got $7,500, and I still run into the kind of guys that were behind-the-scenes, that still to this day laugh about that story, that I had the balls to do that, you know. But I fell down the stairs; it was a leaky faucet from the water fountain, and I landed on my face in front of a fan, and I twisted my ankle, so I had to do the rest of my show from my seat."
And will she be naming names in the film?
"You know, I've got a big fish pond in my back yard, and I don't want to be sleeping in there, so no," she stated flatly. "I mean, there are some people that were affiliated behind the scenes that are in my book, and how they were affiliated, industry people know, so I don't have any big names to reveal, you know. I don't want to get in trouble!"
The book to which Del Rio refers is titled, simply, Vanessa Del Rio, edited by Dian Hanson, and published in a limited edition of 1,300 copies. In addition to Del Rio's life story, told with plenty of photos from her career, it includes a 140-minute documentary of the star.
The production may use some actual adult actors from that early era, but most, including Del Rio herself, will be portrayed by younger actors, some of whom will play composites of well-known figures from the '70s.
"For instance, Boogie Nights had a Dirk Diggler character who was modeled after certain performers in his day," Mignone explained. "The wrestler character was very much modeled after Rowdy Roddy Piper, but also a composite of several other wrestlers of the time, so the story will feature various players melded into a finite number of actors that are all reflective of what was going on at the time; it's a narrative drama."
"The interesting and I think the real allure of Vanessa's story is that she was not like a lot of the other performers in the sense that though she wasn't victimized, didn't allow herself to be victimized, she took a very proactive, strong stance and strong position of being very confident in who she was as a woman with her sexuality and her sensuality, and from that perspective, the story is told through an early 20s, young, rebellious character named Vanessa, whom we all know to be Vanessa Del Rio, and she is not only the lead female of the film, but the story is told through her eyes in the sense that she is in fact the protagonist of the film. We really don't see a lot of that."
"Vanessa's story focuses very much on the fun and wild energy and the enthusiastic energy of Times Square," he continued, "but sort of percolating under the surface there and behind the scenes, there was the Mean Streets and the Taxi Driver mindset of the organized crime element that was making it all happened, and what they were going through during the time when—Vanessa mentioned the sexual revolution of the '70s suddenly found itself being shut down by a very conservative group of politicians and federal agents that used the very terrifying disease of AIDS to promote their agenda of bringing in to Times Square these big corporations, the Disneys of the world, and preyed on that public fear so they could use these eminent domain laws to force out the mob-controlled businesses and bring in, as a money grab there, their corporate buddies. And that element as a backdrop to Vanessa's story will make for a very interesting dichotomy and conflict."
Speaking of Boogie Nights and Taxi Driver, Mignone noted that he'd given the script to popular character actor Michael Rooker, who currently stars in AMC's The Walking Dead, and Rooker's assessment of the script was simply, "Boogie Nights meets Taxi Driver"—and that's exactly the tone Mignone hopes to achieve.
Of course, whether the film gets made will hinge on the success of the production company's Indiegogo crowd-funding, so if the above description sounds interesting, contributions can be made by clicking here.