Breaking In to the Movies

This sneak preview by a UT film student stole more than the show at Sony Studios

And according to the police report, when Sony started asking its own employees about the thefts in April -- nearly a year after the two filmmakers began their studio invasions -- the story department still had no idea that any scripts had gone missing.

Southan discovered the lax attitude on the Sony lot by accident, on a day when Sony employees had made him feel unhip and unwanted.

The D.A. reduced Rimensnyder's charge to a misdemeanor.
The D.A. reduced Rimensnyder's charge to a misdemeanor.
The film shows Southan had relatively free access to the studio.
The film shows Southan had relatively free access to the studio.

He was in Los Angeles in the spring of 2001 as an intern at Reason magazine, a Libertarian publication. It was another in a series of political internships for Southan. The year before, it had been the National Taxpayers Union. This summer, he schlepped for ABC correspondent John Stossel, a free markets fan.

Southan was particularly drawn to the Reason internship because of where it would take him. Going to L.A. was a pilgrimage for a young man with several student films already to his credit. At UT-Austin, Southan had turned out three documentaries that shared a common theme.

In each of his projects, Southan explains, he's found a likable person or place to profile, but then savaged that subject purely for entertainment value. "I do very mean things with the documentaries, and then you can't show the subjects the film. That's happened with about all of the films I've made," he says.

For example, a professor assigned students to make films about Austin, so Southan took him at his word. But he went to Austin, Arkansas. Although the people in that hamlet were as hospitable as could be, Southan admits that he stretched the truth to make the place seem like a Twin Peaks locale stuck in a time warp. "We definitely made Austin, Arkansas, look worse than it was. I guess it was a pretty weird place to begin with, but we made it weirder.

"I have no problem distorting the truth with a documentary if it makes it more interesting," he says. If that's an unorthodox view for a factual filmmaker to have, Southan explains that he's not really interested in documentaries for their own sake -- he's always seen them merely as a way to get a toehold in the competitive world of making fictional features.

Like untold others, in other words, Southan was looking for his own way to break into the movie biz. He just ended up taking it a little more literally than the rest.

For his next documentary project -- which he hoped would be his last -- Southan was leaning toward something involving sneaking into empty buildings. He stumbled onto the idea when he learned about the steam-tunnel system underneath UT. He started taking friends into the tunnels, and also became interested in climbing roofs on campus.

Then he discovered via the Internet that there was an entire community of people who spelunked in city tunnels or walked across the tops of buildings and called themselves urban explorers.

In case inspiration struck while he was in L.A., he brought along a digital video camera when he arrived for his magazine internship. He met a former Reason intern, Sara Rimensnyder, a UT-Austin grad and alumna of the school's paper, The Daily Texan, where Southan also had worked. Rimensnyder had managed to work her way up to Reason's associate editor position, winning awards along the way.

"She writes well and she writes about interesting stuff," says Reason editor Nick Gillespie. Citing Rimensnyder's criminal case, Gillespie says he doesn't want to comment too much about Sean Connery Golf Project, except to make it clear that his two employees did the film on their own time.

He does admit to liking the documentary. "I just wish if they had rewritten a Sean Connery movie, they had redone Zardoz," Gillespie deadpans.

Southan told Rimensnyder he had a movie camera, and the two brainstormed for documentary ideas while they drove to Paramount Studios one day to attend an advance screening of the movie Orange County.

After discussing his urban exploration ideas, Southan told Rimensnyder that for some reason the thought of clambering over roofs seemed like a good subject for a brief film. Then he mentioned the last time he'd been on a roof, which had been just a few days before.

Southan explained that he'd gone to Sony Studios for an advance showing of Scary Movie II. While he was waiting to go in, he was asked if he wanted to take part in a focus group and be paid $20.

After agreeing, he was taken to a projection room and asked to view three trailers for upcoming features. When those ended, only some of the people in the room were chosen to be part of the focus group. Southan got his $20 but wasn't happy about being left out -- particularly, he says, since it was obvious the employees had picked out folks for their coolness quotient.

Feeling shunned, Southan decided to stay when he was told to leave. No one seemed to notice when he slipped out of the building. He says he decided to walk a bit, then planned to protest his eviction by putting on the skates he was carrying and gliding around until he got thrown out.

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