Pulp Nonfiction isn't your standard Hollywood fare. Sure, it's loaded with violence and betrayal. And my film project's "love your children" theme might sound studio-friendly. But here we're dealing with two clans that make us yearn for the great examples of familial bliss -- like, say, the Osbournes and the Mansons.
There's Tony Tarantino, who abandoned son Quentin before the boy was born. After Quentin becomes rich and famous, Tony seeks him out, only to be rebuffed by his kid, who remains a stranger. That doesn't stop Tony, though. With dreams of producing a $90 million movie called New Horizons, he tries to use his famous name to make a Hollywood "comeback."
If Tony is the dean of dysfunction, then Big Angie Rubbo is its diva. Her children may try to deny it, but she's the closest thing to Ma Barker in South Florida. The Rubbos remain intensely loyal and close to one another, but that may change a bit if Big Angie and her three sons are convicted of federal charges related to an allegedly Mafia-entangled, $11.7 million telemarketing fraud.
Bring Papa Tarantino and Mama Rubbo together and the screen will sizzle. Not with sex, thankfully, but with something that really brings out their passion: greed.
After the feds raided their boiler rooms in the summer of 2000, the Rubbos ultimately decided to venture into film production. Their previous forays into showbiz had met with only modest success, to say the least. Joe Rubbo, Big Angie's eldest son, had a significant role in the low-budget, 1982 teenage sex flick The Last American Virgin when he was 18 years old. He has been trying to crack into the acting business ever since, managing to land only bit parts. His younger sister, Little Angie, is an aspiring singer who sometimes performs Barbra Streisand numbers on Monday nights at Christopher's nightclub in Fort Lauderdale.
The Rubbos opened Make It Reel Productions in March 2001 and began looking for projects to finance -- and star vehicles for Joe and Little Angie. They took on a couple of small-budget local productions, including a flick called Pimps and Preachers, but never finished them. The big break came in July 2001, when a woman named Annie Gabriel, who was helping Tony Tarantino drum up cash for New Horizons, discovered the Make It Reel Website and contacted the Rubbos.
"She said, 'How'd you like to meet Quentin Tarantino's father?'" Joe Rubbo recalls. "And my eyes lit up."
Soon, Joe and his relatives were talking with the one and only Tony, who sent the Rubbos a packet that included the New Horizons script and a target cast that included names like Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Caan, and Beverly D'Angelo. Joe says Tony promised him a part alongside these stars if he ponied up the dough. "He said I could play the lead villain, and I was real excited," Joe says. "I'd never played a villain before.... I wanted to play alongside Tom Cruise."
In October 2001, Tarantino flew to Fort Lauderdale from Los Angeles to meet the Rubbos, who paid for his trip and put him up in the Boca Raton Marriott. Big Angie says something about the director's father struck her as odd. She recalls that he seemed well-dressed but that his sports jacket somehow harked back to the 1980s (she can't put her finger on exactly why). And the 61-year-old Tarantino's hair was jet black and obviously dyed. But it wasn't his jacket or hair that annoyed her; it was his mouth. He complained that the Rubbos didn't fly him first class.
"He said he had to travel first class," Big Angie recalls. "He said, 'This is not right.' And I said, 'But this is expensive to me. I'm just getting started. We fly coach.' And he insisted that his room needed to be on the water, [that] a man of his caliber had to be treated that way. I even had people driving him around."
But she allowed for some hubris. This was the man, after all, who spawned a great genius. During the next few days, Tony visited the Rubbos' offices and dined with them. Big Angie and Joe both remember Tony's boasts and promises. He dropped names like bread crumbs, claiming that famous people (including country singer and restaurateur Kenny Rogers) were going to give him millions of dollars.
"You figure you're with Tarantino, you're up there with the big boys," Joe Rubbo says ruefully. "He said he was personal friends with Al Pacino and he would be in the movie, no problem. Personal friends with James Caan, no problem. He was the best salesman I ever saw. He said Paul Newman was a friend and would make a cameo in the movie."