With a name like Mike White one might assume he’s a pretty bland character — one who might blend into the background. But like so many things that seem to be background-able, there’s much more to the story.
Rather than being a simple everyman, White’s a “rehabilitated” gangster who has distinguished himself as a man of honor — a standup guy.
But once he’s released from a lengthy prison sentence, he finds himself a target. Miami’s most notorious criminal organization wants him dead and silenced.
This has been the premise of both “MobKing” — the web series —and the recently wrapped film which is based on it. One of the key reasons the online MobKing project has garnered millions of loyal followers from around the world, has been because of the authenticity that its creator Ciro Dapagio brought to the table.
A fascinating personality in and of itself, the Miami native did his own time in prison as well. A former participant of Florida’s organized crime network, he too served a considerable amount of time in prison for RICO violations. After being released, he pivoted, shaping a film and television career from his life experiences.
As Dapagio explained, “Spending a considerable amount of time in prison can go a very long way in changing your perspective on your life’s course and how you should live your life. There’s nothing cool about a life of crime. I wanted to do something in this life that my kids can be proud of. I want to create a better second half of my life than the first half.”
With that in mind, he joined forces with award-winning director Jorge “Jokes” Yanes who first worked on The MobKing web series and then co-wrote and directed the film. Growing up a first-generation Cuban American in the dirty south of Miami, Yanes was given the moniker “Jokes” from his graffiti artist tag. Eventually, he put down the can and started movie-making. After his breakthrough success as the creative director of “The Roof,” a prime-time Latin Urban music show on Telemundo’s MUN2 where he became the first to program Reggaeton on US television.
In the early 2000s, Yanes made videos for artists such as T-Pain, Plies, Mike Jones, and Slim Thug. He directed one of YouTube’s first viral videos, “GroundHog Day” by Mayday Ft. CeeLo Green. In 2009, Jokes won an Emmy for editing “Gabriel: Amor Immortal,” the first American style-mini series done for Spanish TV. After his success in the music and television scene, Jokes turned to narrative film debuting with the feature “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe” (2013) which premiered at the Miami Film Festival and received worldwide distribution. In 2013, Jokes started working with the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation to create philanthropic films on such subjects as addiction. Since then, he has directed and produced countless works for clients such as HBO, Complex, Universal Music, Atlantic Records, and Rolling Loud.
“MobKing” also stars a mix of established names such as James Russo who was in “Donnie Brasco.” Russo transformed into the role of Dominick “Dom” Sasso, the Capo di Tutti Capi of South Florida’s Sasso crime family — a respected yet ruthless leader, necessary when it comes to protecting his family interests.
Also in the film is the heavily tattooed veteran character actor Robert LaSardo — seen in many series such as “Burn Notice” and in films such as Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule.” And there’s Paul Borghese, a familiar face in mob movies such as Martin Scorcese’s “The Irishman.” Rounding out the cast is noted up-and-comers such as Stelio Savante (“Acre Beyond the Rye”), Antoni Corone (“Into the Night”), Elisabetta Fantone (“Big Eyes”), Bruce Soscia (“Gravesend”) and fresh faces such as Oksana Lada, Artie Pasquale, and Anthony Caliendo.
In order to make his idea a reality, Dapagio joined forces with Krystal Harvey of Tiger Shark, Inc. who serves as a producer and represents Anthony Caliendo of MAINMAN Productions, Inc. as well as Ciro Dapagio Films, LLC. Caliendo is an Executive Producer as well. With Caliendo, he has formed Button Man Films, LLC for future film and TV endeavors.
In order to elaborate on his evolution from ex-con to executive producer and creator, Dapagio spoke about turning his life around after several years in prison for RICO violations as a former member of organized crime in Florida.
Q: What did you learn through the success of the web series MobKing?
CD: What surprised me the most was how well the web series was received by viewers. Their amazing response is what generated millions of views and created such an incredible fanbase for the MobKing brand. We had no expectations so its success is truly remarkable.
Q: What unique challenges did you face in turning the MobKing web series into the feature film — MobKing.
CD: Oddly enough I didn’t see any challenges. In my opinion, the process was remarkably easy. It flowed naturally, from the storytelling to the production of it.
Q: Describe the character Mike White who you play In both the web series and the film.
CD: Mike is a hard-nosed family man. He’s not afraid to push buttons to go after what he wants and needs to do in order to protect his family. He has to dig deep and find the inner power to maneuver through all of the conflicting elements in his life and come out on top.
Q: The authenticity that you bring to these projects has stirred quite a buzz. This is in no small part because you’re transparent about your past as a former participant in Florida organized crime where you spent a serious amount of time in prison for RICO violations.
CD: I’m transparent about it because I feel it’s important for young people to realize that crime is a dead end. There’s no such thing as easy money or a fast buck because its repercussions are 10-fold. You end up broke, locked up and away from your family. And that’s if you even manage to survive the racket in the first place. So, in the film, I get the beats right about organized crime which is hard to do in movies. In my opinion, the reason so many mob movies fail is their lack of authenticity. They all seem to be stuck in the “Soprano-esque” cliché mode of “I’d better get my money.” In “MobKing,” I put a completely different, original spin on a classic mob tale, based on things that I may or may not have seen in my lifetime.