Balls and brawn
Pitch men's self-promotion pays off
BY GEMMA FILES
Spencer Rice, 31, and Kenny Hotz, 30, were just two young writer/directors with a one-line premise and a dream -- until last year's Toronto International Film Festival. That's when they became known as "the pitch guys," a chutzpah-laden pair of shameless self-promoters who seemed to turn up everywhere you looked, regaling stars and fellow industry-types alike with the plot of their prospective movie, while their own small crew filmed a documentary record of the fallout.
A year later, the resulting film -- called Pitch, surprisingly enough -- is hitting the festival, as a Perspective Canada entry. Call it a "reel-life comedy" mixing equal doses of documentary, docudrama and just plain schtick -- a non-fiction first feature that pits two homegrown obsessives against the Hollywood elite.
"At first glance, the whole concept seems pretty 'in'," says Rice. "But even people outside the industry respond to the David-and-Goliath aspects of the story. We were just two dumb icebacks [L.A. slang for transplanted Canadians] taking on the system, too naive to even know what we were doing wrong."
"Which was a lot," Hotz chimes in, with typical cheer.
As more typically reticent Canadians looked on in horror, Rice and Hotz quickly committed a wide range of sins against traditional celebrity untouchability, and were roundly slapped down for their effrontery: Publicly taken to task by Eric Stoltz, dissed to their faces by Roger Ebert, man-handled away from Matt Dillon.
Says Hotz: "I think, up here, people are almost insulted by the whole concept of anything that's in-your-face -- whereas in the U.S., it's expected. So no matter how obnoxious Canadians thought we were being, the hilarious thing about shooting the second part of the movie -- when we went down to L.A., to follow up on our leads -- was how quickly we discovered we were still too polite for the States!"
Growing Festival notoriety aside, however, they did still manage to high-five a copy of the spec script they'd been pitching -- The Dawn, a mob comedy about a godfather who goes in for a simple hernia operation, and comes out as a post-op transsexual -- into the passing hands of cinematic capo di tutti capi Al Pacino.
"Some people still think it was a set-up, some kind of staged event," says Hotz. "But if we had scripted this as happening, no one would ever have believed it. We never heard back, of course, but for the next few days, I was just shitting myself! Al Pacino is maybe flying home in some private jet, with our script, phoning people up and telling them about it."
Adds Rice: "And immediately, my paranoid fantasy is that he's actually phoning them to warn them how bad it is."
Like: I went to the Toronto International Film Festival, and all I got was this lousy script?
Both Hotz and Rice admit that what was perhaps the single lowest point in their campaign, by Festival standards, came when Hotz stood up and pitched Canadian Film Centre founder Norman Jewison -- right in the middle of a press conference. It's stunts like that one that virtually guarantee there will probably always be a critical Canadian contingent who find Hotz and Rice unpalatable, mainly because they're so provably not too proud to beg, plead or pose nude on the front cover of any given Toronto weekly, just for a little assured media attention.
But in and around all the wheeler-dealing, a more human side of Hotz and Rice does occasionally shine through -- particularly during those rare moments in which they turn on each other under stress, with much the same kind of intensity used to power their guerrilla pitch sessions.
"Oh, yeah," says Hotz. "We were bickering like little kids. In one scene, I actually made him cry, I was yelling at him so hard."
Rice: "And then, when the camera stopped rolling, I thought, great -- real drama. The best thing you can hope for."
Hotz: "Just like when your subject dies."
Rice and Hotz go on to explain that not only did the panhandling star of their one and only short (It Don't Cost Nothin' To Say Good Morning) die right after the film was completed, another film was derailed because their prospective profilee died almost immediately after they made the decision to look for funding.
"Everyone we make movies about dies," Hotz marvels.
"Yeah," adds Rice, morosely. "And the really bad news is, we just made a movie about ourselves."
Premonitions of sudden death aside, however, both partners see Pitch's unlikely success as an indication that it may be finally becoming acceptable to remain proudly Canadian, yet concentrate on making films which are big-budget, high-concept, audience-friendly -- and capable of competing for recognition south of the border, as well as on late-night CBC.
"Look," says Hotz, "no offence to anyone, but the only thing CanCon about our stuff is that we're both Canadian. And Pitch is not Paradise Lost or The Thin Blue Line -- it's not about anything significant. It raises no big moral questions."
"Unless you think the morality of trying to sell a movie in Hollywood is kind of questionable to begin with," deadpans Rice.
Hotz nods, declaiming: "This isn't Peter Greenaway. It's comedy!"