Why Can't This Man Write?

Oscar-winner Joe Feury's fury isn't directed at the movie biz. It's aimed at his own brain.




















Feury has produced 11 documentary films
for HBO, 62 biographies for Lifetime
Television and nine feature films. Whether
he'll be able to sell a single screenplay
remains to be seen.

Photograph by Shane McCauley
www.shanemccauley.com

 

Why Can't This Man Write?
Oscar-winner Joe Feury's fury isn't directed at the movie biz. It's aimed at his own brain.

Call it a face-off between Joseph Feury and his laptop.

Seated at a 9-foot-long table in the living room of his apartment on the Upper West Side, 5-foot-10 Feury looks tiny. His Hewlett Packard laptop looks even smaller. Yet it seems to have big powers over him.

For five long seconds before turning it on, Feury stares at the computer as if it were Unicron, the evil Transformer. When at last he begins to type, it goes slowly. One. Letter. At. A. Time.

He swears as he goes, especially when he retypes a three-letter word for the fourth time. He drops the F bomb repeatedly. His index and middle fingers pluck, but his hands can't move as fast as his brain. He often writes the same line six times. He slams his right palm on the mouse and makes another correction.

"Writing," he says, "is rewriting."

Feury is attempting one of the most difficult things known to man: writing-actually selling-a hit screenplay.

Writing isn't what made Feury famous. Nor did it buy him the opulent lifestyle in New York City's swankiest neighborhood.

Feury is a producer, one of HBO's most respected, in fact. In addition to the 11 docs he's made for the channel, he's produced 62 biographies for Lifetime Television and nine feature films.

He oversees entire productions. He's involved from the time of story acquisition till a deal is struck for distribution. He hires directors, costume designers, cinematographers, composers, actors. He acts as a film's business manager while ensuring returns for investors.

Yet Feury is bent on writing. He doesn't need the money. His multi-million dollar art collection would attest to that. He doesn't need the accolades. He's already earned an Oscar, an Emmy and a Peabody. And he certainly doesn't need the criticism, humiliation and rejection all aspiring screenwriters face.

So why put himself on the line now?

Because he has to.

For a dyslexic like him, writing a screenplay would be a very big deal.

Feury's shoulders are hunched. He squints to see the icons on the HP's desktop. His nose is about 2 inches from the keyboard because he has to look directly at the keys below him.

Feury has a hard time seeing letters at certain times of day, so has he moved his files into the living room. The light is better there, and it lasts longer. To his left are two Oscars. One is his. The other belongs to his wife of 40 years, actress and director Lee Grant, who won it for her role in 'shampoo." The statues suggest a standard of excellence that Feury wants to keep achieving.

"Trust me, if Joey wants to write, he'll write," says Albert Vietri, Feury's old friend from Wilmington's Little Italy, where they grew up. "We were poor, tough kids. We never said, "Can you?" We said, "Just do it.""

As usual, Feury is juggling several projects: some fluff stuff like "The History of Blondes in America," a look at peroxide babes such as Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe, and a pilot called "Gay Mate," essentially a gay "Newlywed Game." But there's also the possibility of a sequel to his 1986 Oscar-winning documentary "Down and Out in America" about homelessness in America, and there's a study of disadvantaged children in the works.

His screenplay-in-progress is a comedy called "Fantasy Camp," based on an unpublished manuscript Feury optioned from novelist Tom Parker. Four revisions are piled beside him. "Could be a dozen more," Feury says. Most screenplays run about a minute a page, and an audience's attention wanes after two hours-or 120 pages. Feury started with 230 pages. He has some cutting to do.

When he's done, he'll pitch the script to Ben Stiller. (Feury knows his parents.) "I want to put it right in Ben's hands," Feury says. "If not, it ends up in some $10-an-hour-reader's hands, some kid who gets to determine your fate."

If "Fantasy Camp" is rejected, Feury is out chump change from buying the option. But this isn't about money.

"I'll feel very depressed if it doesn't sell," he says. "But I'll also feel that I at least did something I never thought I could do. Like with anything else, writing is a never-ending learning process. I've never walked through a door and all of a sudden something magical happens. Everything's been hard."

Few understood dyslexia when Feury was a student at St. Thomas Grammar School, except maybe his younger brother, Ralphie Fioretti, also a dyslexic. "All they did was call me stupid," Ralphie says. "They did the same to Joey." The disorder, Feury says, "was always a handicap because of my inability to spell and to use the language."

Like most dyslexics, Feury has a family history of learning issues. He can't spell. He confuses left and right. And he writes letters or numbers backwards. Also like most dyslexics, Feury has other strengths. He's great at math and creative work. He has great physical coordination and empathy for others.

So he doesn't give a well-known part of a certain rodent's anatomy about punctuation or good spelling. Technology, like Spell Check, can fix that. And though he doesn't know the difference between nouns and adverbs, "It doesn't matter. What's really important is what's in my brain."

His mentors have encouraged him. And those mentors happen to be legendary screenwriters Elaine May ("Heaven Can Wait") and Waldo Salt ("Midnight Cowboy").

Add James Breslin, the former Newsday reporter and Pulitzer-prize winning columnist.

"It's quite a thing Joe is doing," Breslin says. "You take a book and read it'major for a dyslexic. Then you transpose it into your own voice for a script. It requires all the effort in the world. And he is very good at it."

Feury hates to fail. But when he flops, he flops big.

In 1996 he set the scene for "Broadway Brawler," the first major feature film to be shot in Wilmington. Grant was to direct. Feury arranged housing for the crew via his old pal, local builder Verino Pettinaro, then cast his friends as gangsters and set up his star, Bruce Willis, at the Hotel du Pont. The News Journal reported the events daily. Feury had already won his Oscar, but "Brawler" was the most rewarding thing he"d done since then.

"Brawler was a dream come true," he says. "I was like the prodigal son coming home."

Then, 20 days into filming, Willis quit, killing the film"and Feury's chance of becoming a hometown hero. Feury and his partnering company, Cinergi, found themselves $14 million in the hole.

Scott Mantz, a producer of NBC's "Access Hollywood," explains. "Brawler was not going well," he says. "The dailies were not looking good to Bruce. It had all the makings of a bomb."

Willis struck a deal with Disney, "Brawler's" distributor, to take the $14 million out of paychecks from his next two films. Whether he ever looked back, no one will say.

Feury, distraught, thanked Wilmington via a letter to the News Journal. He wrote: "The wreckage that was left after two years of our work is so shocking, that as I write to you, the full impact still hasn't hit."

Eleven years later, it still hasn't .

"We never forget the one person we were in love with who dumped us," says Vietri. "For Joey, that film was the same thing. Here's the thing: We all didn't love Joey because he made movies. We were friends long before that. And I don't care what the hell anybody says. Joey was a hometown hero then, and he still is now."

Feury's reputation was made long before "Brawler," and it has maintained its luster ever since.

Under Joseph Feury Productions (later Feury/Grant Productions) Feury oversaw biographies of some of the most influential women in history"Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and others"for Lifetime Television. His feature films have starred icons such as Carol Burnett ('seasons of the Heart') and Jean Stapleton ('A Matter of Sex'). His documentaries are critically acclaimed.

"With docs, you have the opportunity to change people's consciousness and their thinking," Feury says. Since the 1980s, he has tackled issues such as breast cancer ('say It Fight It Cure It'), childcare ('Childcare Crisis in America') and gun control ('The Gun Deadlock'), among others.

Feury was one of the first to focus the lens on America's downtrodden and oppressed. "Unfortunately, until Michael Moore, these films were unknown to 99.9 percent of the country," says WHYY film critic Patrick Stoner.

Yet Feury paved the way for today's big-budget documentaries, Moore's 'sicko,' Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and Spike Lee's exploration of Katrina's horror, "When the Levees Broke."

Feury's films also set precedents. "Women on Trial" chronicled how a bigoted family court judge in Texas granted full custody to fathers who sexually abused their children. The judge successfully sued Feury and HBO for defamation, so the film aired only once. But, Grant says, "That judge lost his next election."

Feury's 2006 doc, "Baghdad ER" won four Emmys. The piece was shot at the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq. The New York Times called it an unusually commendable film, one that "forces the viewer to focus on the clinical facts of physical injury, a consequence of war that lacks the narrative grandeur of death or psychological displacement."

Until "Baghdad ER" aired, the Bush administration kept the war on terror as quiet and sanitized as possible, according to the political publication The Independent. The film "disposed with the illusion of normality as brutally as an improvised explosive device."

So brutally that Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense, and other Pentagon officials boycotted its preview at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., even though the army initially sanctioned it. More than 2,400 American soldiers had already died in Iraq. The film was so intense"and so truthful"that Rumsfeld feared it would kill public support for the war.

The film succeeded anyway. George Stoney, a Goddard professor at New York University, says "Baghdad ER" was painful to watch. "But it excelled in that it made us face the human consequences of war, showing us the carnage as well as the emotional and physical strain of those trying to care for the injured. It celebrated humanity."

At the end of "Baghdad ER," a 21-year-old U.S. Marine dies. Until the broadcast, his mother knew nothing of his final moments.

"I believe she was grateful," says Feury.

Feury settles into a recliner. Sunlight streams through the mammoth windows, bouncing off his head and six diamond, emerald and sapphire earrings (three in each lobe). He can see the stretch of his 3,500 square-foot coop, worth about $4 million. There are at least 100 framed photographs of his five grandchildren, his still-stunning wife and his old pals. He's never left Little Italy behind. He'll return this month for the 50th reunion of his Wilmington High School class.

The scene makes you wonder how "Broadway Brawler" still has so much impact on a man who has spent years examining America's oppressed.

"I guess "Brawler" took on an unhealthy proportion," he says. "I learned to never want anything that much again."

Then he pauses.

"But I"ve seen guys who lost limbs. I talked to a mother who watched her son die. At the end of the day, what counts is that I have had the same loyal friends for 50 years, good health and a family I love."

It is what counts most-and it isn't .

Feury has one more goal to achieve, and it involves a Hewlett Packard laptop.

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February 2016

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Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
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Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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801 Middleford Rd.
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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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More information

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View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
Website »

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Playing folk, Americana and blues, Sand Creek is a central Delaware institution of a band.   Friends of Folk is a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion and preservation...

Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
The Old State House
25 The Green
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 739-9194
Website »

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Art, the fourth element of hip-hop, comes alive for enthusiasts of both art and hip-hop. Let your inner creativity and love for hip-hop hit the canvas. "All I Need" is...

Cost: $40

Where:
Humpty's Dumplings
277 N Keswick Ave
Glenside, PA  19038
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Sponsor: Creative Paint Nites
Telephone: 267-312-8339
Contact Name: Charisse R McGill
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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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Christiana Care at the New Castle Farmers Market Location: New Castle Farmers Market, 110 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, Market Stage Area Time: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Routine screenings for...

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
Website »

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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
Website »

More information

Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

More information

A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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