Former Guttenberg Mayor and filmmaker Peter LaVilla is ready for action again with a new screenplay based on his experiences with political corruption in Hudson County.
LaVilla, who served two terms from 1996 to 2000 and ran unsuccessfully for county executive, has filmed numerous independent movies since that time, winning awards for some.
“Hudson County was notorious for corruption.” - Peter Lavilla
Back to his roots
LaVilla said his interest in filmmaking began while working as a journalist. He said he wanted to escape the “bad news” he was mostly tasked with covering.
“An outlet for me was to write some creative stuff like stage plays,” said LaVilla. “We performed a lot in Hoboken.”
LaVilla became interested in writing for both screen and stage in the early 1980s.
“Screen [eventually] took over,” LaVilla admitted, “because it was much more challenging and more diverse than stage.”
Films by Peter LaVilla include “Mr. Las Vegas” and “Oil and Water,” both romantic comedies, “Oak Hill,” which starred academy award-nominated actress Sally Kirkland and won a Grand Goldie Film Award for Best Picture, and “Pott Luck,” a film that featured a performance from The Hudson Reporter’s “Between the Lines” columnist Al Sullivan.
His newest screenplay, “Green Pizza,” is a “light and breezy” work that deals with a large corruption sting conducted by the FBI.
One of the main characters, an FBI informant previously convicted of a Ponzi scheme, poses as a real estate developer and offers bribes to mayors and council candidates at places such as the “Malibu Steakhouse.”
LaVilla denies any connection to one particular event or FBI sting. Instead, he asserts that the story was compiled and based on his experiences through his career as a journalist and politician.
“When I worked as a reporter, the times were rougher in terms of political corruption,” said LaVilla, who joined the now-defunct daily Hudson Dispatch in 1969. “Hudson County was notorious for corruption. Everybody was going to jail – all the mayors, all the councilmen – and it [made for] good writing.”
“As a mayor you’re always careful about who knocks on your door,” said Lavilla, “because there are a lot of people who want to take advantage.”
LaVilla continued, “You have to do your due diligence to make sure it’s on the up and up.”
LaVilla himself pleaded guilty in 2003 to misappropriation of campaign funds. He admitted that he took more than $16,000 in contributions to his campaign funds and used them to trade stocks in a personal brokerage account. However, LaVilla has justified his actions, claiming that he took out advertising in the now-defunct senior citizen newspaper that he owned. When he failed to report those funds as income, the IRS came after him. He said he no longer had the paperwork to prove his innocence, so he pleaded guilty.
According to LaVilla, a large portion of the funding from his movies comes from his day trading.
The screenplay is written from the perspective of two FBI agents who conduct the sting while attempting to juggle the pressures of both work and relationships.
“It was very easy to write about the two FBI agents,” said LaVilla, who explained that as a writer of police news over the years, he often thought about what it would be like to live the life of an officer. “And that’s just an alter ego – maybe that’s who you wanted to be. As a writer, it gives you the opportunity to play with that.”
LaVilla also said the story is based on experience.
“Green Pizza is a compilation of political characters – elected and non-elected – that I can identify with as a result of my work as a journalist, and as an elected official,” he said.
He said he would like to sell his script, rather than make this film himself. He said he is open to giving another interested filmmaker a chance to shine. To speak with Peter about his screenplay, contact him at PLavilla@aol.com.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.