If you would have strolled into Tony’s Pizza, Pasta & Subs last week, you probably would have backed out calmly. That’s because a UTA filmmaker was shooting an episode of Bail Out. Starring veteran soap hunk Lorenzo Lamas, the internet show is about a former New York Police Department detective, Jimmy O’Neill, who, after finding himself on the outs with the mob, moves to Fort Worth to help his uncle with his failing bail bonds business.
“I love it,” said writer/director Dennis O’Neill. “It reminds me of the Village in New York, because you deal with different people every day. You have all types of people from all walks of life. You deal with people with money, people with no money. You deal with the homeless. You have that diversity of people that are down here, which is great.”
There’s also the New York connection. Both O’Neill, 50, and Tony’s owner, Tony Leland, 58, are from the Big Apple. They only recently discovered they grew up a few blocks apart in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. Small world, indeed. O’Neill, who has more than 100 film and TV credits, including Loving, Serum, and Dragonball Z, liked Leland so much he gave him a part.
“He just had that look,” O’Neill said, “you know, a Hollywood look.”
Leland will play a –– wait for it –– mobster.
“Now that I’ve told you guys all this information, I’m either going to have to kill ya or put ya in a witness protection program,” Leland said while seated King Arthur-style among fellow cast members at a massive round table draped with a red checkered tablecloth.
Mayor Betsy Price also will make a cameo.
Why Fort Worth?
O’Neill moved to the area about 25 years ago and has been here ever since.
Why Fort Worth for Leland?
The pizza man opened this Tony’s a couple of years ago after owning and operating two Tony’s, one in Arlington and one in Pantego, for two decades –– he sold out to a longtime employee before migrating to the Fort. The glut of fast-casual restaurants in Arlington was just too much, in Leland’s opinion. After taking a year off, he fell in love with his current location while driving past it one evening.
O’Neill chanced upon Tony’s only a few weeks ago. He was shooting Bail Out down the street when he had a hankering for a slice of good ol’ fashioned Neapolitan pizza (or three). When faced with the choice between a chain and Tony’s, the answer, for O’Neill, was obvious.
“It tastes like New York pizza,” he said. “I don’t eat meat, so I just order the cheese pizza. [Leland] puts olive oil on it … just the right amount.”
Financing Bail Out has not been easy, O’Neill said. He has taken donations, sold his motorcycle, and mortgaged his home, among other things. He said many of the people who have helped out or acted in the film have volunteered their time for credit.
O’Neil began writing the show in 2006 and started filming in 2009. From a producer’s or director’s standpoint, he said, there’s not much difference between network and web shows, and with the popularity of internet streaming, Bail Out could be in a good position, he said. So far, he has filmed 10 five-minute webisodes (most webisodes are in the 2- to 10-minute range), but the storyline with Lamas will run for 30 minutes. Unless picked up by a network, each webisode could cost between 99 cents and $1.99, O’Neill said.
So how did O’Neill land such a kitschy hot star for his show?
O’Neill said he and Lamas became friends last year while working together on BorderCross, an action film also starring Danny Trejo, a.k.a. Machete.
While O’Neill can’t say how long his partnership with Lamas will last, he said he hopes to bring more jobs for local actors to Fort Worth and grab the attention of local networks. He’d also like to get the attention of actor and UTA album Lou Diamond Phillips, he said.
Another nice thing about Tony’s that won O’Neill over was the restaurant’s pay-it-forward system. Diners can purchase a $3 sticky note good for one slice of pizza and a drink that can be used by the homeless. Leland said he got the idea several months ago from a member of nearby Broadway Baptist Church who had seen a similar system work in an East Coast restaurant.
“Life’s hard enough,” Leland said. “A lot of people gave me a lot of chances in life, and, you know, I’ve been down before. If someone comes in, and they’re hungry, I’ll give them something to eat and something to drink. That way, I can lay my head down on my pillow and sleep good at night.”
Unlike Jimmy O’Neill.