Pitch

PitchSynopsis: Pitch documents two childhood friends trying to do everything in their power to sell a comedy script they’ve written together.

Kenny Hotz and Spenny Rice born in Toronto, this dynamic duo began filmmaking almost a dozen years ago. Together they have written five scripts and produced two short films before collaborating on Pitch.

The directors expose their valiant efforts to hawk their first feature screenplay at the 1996 Toronto International Film Festival. This humorous documentary recounts their relentless attacks on celebrities, producers and anyone else who will listen. Unperturbed, the filmmakers take their script to Hollywood. Pitch reveals the anxieties, psychoses and ruthless tactics that lie beneath the surface of show business – providing great entertainment in the process.

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Pitch 7.5

eyelights: the duo’s wit. the Hollywood cameos.
eyesores: the dryness of the delivery.

‘Pitch’ is a documentary film by Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice about the pair’s attempts to sell a script they had written. Called “The Dawn”, their story was about a Mafia Don who accidentally gets a sex change instead of a hernia operation. It is described in the movie as “‘Tootsie’ meets ‘The Godfather'” and “‘Casino’ meets ‘To Wong Foo'”.

It begins with the pair discussing their strategy in their home office and then trying to make contact with various agents and actors. They then go to the 1996 Toronto International Film Festival in the hope of meeting and connecting with industry people who could help them. This inevitably leads them to Tinseltown for a few days.

Shot on 35mm film, the picture feels like a mockumentary in some ways. Right from the start, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were actually trying to sell a script or if, using the pretense of selling a script, they were trying to see how far they could go. I mean, seriously, half of the time they couldn’t even describe their own script. It sounded made up.

Either way, it was an entertaining adventure.

The film begins with a slightly jokey tone. It begins with a late night-style television pitchman segment featuring a sleazy ’70s car salesman type. Pretty funny, and ironic. Then we are introduced to Hotz and Rice, as they discuss their ambition of netting a big star for their picture – someone along the lines of Alec Baldwin or Al Pacino.

Right there and then I became unsure about the veracity of this so-called documentary.

The thing is that Hotz, even though he claimed to be a fan of Pacino, couldn’t spell his name. It made me think that either he was disingenuous and ignorant, or that it was a calculated joke to feed into the viewers’ impression that they were inept at shameless self-promotion. I couldn’t believe a wannabe filmmaker wouldn’t at least know how to spell Pacino.

…or, at least, that they would cut the bit out of the final film so as to not lose face.

From that point on I watched their story unfold with some dubiousness, carefully watching for clues that they were merely setting us up. Their meeting with Roger Ebert added to my impression: he himself cut to the chase and asked them if he was being baited, given that they had shown up with a camera crew. He was great though, genial as per usual.

What’s amazing is that they actually managed to get their script into Al Pacino’s hand, as a mob hounds him outside. We never hear anything more about it, unfortunately. Didn’t they follow up on it, call his agent? Why weren’t we briefed on this? Is it because they’re inept filmmakers, or because it’s in fact a mockumentary and there was nothing to follow up on?

There are also a lot of encounters at the TIFF ’96, including lengthy discussions with producers, a script supervisor (with a few of them claiming to have read the script – which I wouldn’t be surprised doesn’t actually exist). They also encounter Eric Stoltz as he leaves his limo. That was fun because he had already heard about them, so he joked around a bit.

Finally, they go to L.A. They try to pass their script around. As with the first part of the film, where we spent some time with Hotz’s mom (hocking her hummus recipe) and an old man playing guitar on the street (singing the duo’s tale), they also talked with the locals, musicians, homeless, …etc., and did some touristy stuff while they were there.

They did manage to meet with and interview a few Hollywood legends along the way, though:

  • Johnny Grant, who was the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood for close to 30 years, explained to them that they’d need to make sacrifices, be okay with tightening their belts, to struggle, if they wanted to make it.
  • Samuel Z. Arkoff, film producer and vice-president of American International Pictures, was pretty straight with them about their chances of success in an industry such as this one.
  • Arthur Hiller, film director (‘Love Story’, ‘The Lonely Guy‘) expressed his concerns and tells them that they really need an agent. He also inferred, with some amusement, that he was likely not the first person they approached.
  • Neil Simon, legendary playwright and screenwriter (‘The Odd Couple’), applauds their efforts, and tells them that he too had to do it all by himself, writing plays to get started since he knew no one in the business.

Eventually they meet with Robert Finkell, an agent, who gives them advice and talks about getting Al Pacino and his dad Sal (Pacino’s father was never an actor, so either the agent was full of it, or the film is). Finkell advises them to get their scripts back from everyone. The pair express concerns about it, not knowing if it’s the right thing to do, and even express doubts about him.

They sign with him anyway – before getting legal advice. They later discovered that the contract that they signed allowed him to get a cut from not only their script but from the documentary they were currently making. They disagreed, and hoped that they could negotiate with him. They never heard back from him; he refused to take or return their calls.

The film ends abruptly then, and, as the credits scroll, recordings of their calls to Finkell are played overtop. Amusingly, they even got Hotz’ mom to call in at the end. The final part of the film shows the pitchman taking a call from “Martin Scorcese” – at first thinking it’s about the script, but later realizing it’s for an order on some other product he’s hocking.

Whether ‘Pitch’  was an actual documentary or really a mockumentary, it remains that it was entirely engaging from start to finish. And what was fascinating was how some of its interviews support the difficulties discussed in ‘Tales from the Script‘. Fact or fiction, ‘Pitch’ makes it abundantly clear that getting into Hollywood is not an easy game.

‘The Dawn’ never got made.

Nota bene: for those who are interested, Ms. Hotz’s delicious hummus recipe is at the tail end of the credits. Get your note pad ready!

Date of viewing: April 13, 2014

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