Breaking In to the Movies

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

The changes took the rest of the summer. "We did think we were making it better, although the changes were pretty outrageous," Southan says. Still, he asserts, they hoped some of the changes might appear in the film.

But for that to happen, they'd have to sneak the script back into the Sony story department.

Southan had used his earlier documentaries to savage his subjects.
John Anderson
Southan had used his earlier documentaries to savage his subjects.
Subtitles were needed to overcome poor sound quality in some sections of the film.
Subtitles were needed to overcome poor sound quality in some sections of the film.

Rimensnyder and Southan had already made their first invasion of Sony as a duo sometime before. They realized that for their documentary to make sense, they would need to film themselves taking the script in the first place. So they staged that part of the short movie with a romp through the Sony offices.

The two stole onto the lot by re-enacting Southan's first trespass, attending a screening of the film Serving Sara, which at that time still bore the more provocative title Servicing Sara.

They went back to the Poitier building to film the part of the documentary that must have disturbed Sony the most. Southan and Rimensnyder film themselves rummaging around, looking through files and pocketing items. This part of Sean Connery Golf Project plays like the kind of video that police sometimes retrieve from delinquents who have memorialized their acts of vandalism.

However, Southan says the two exaggerated their burglarizing for the camera. None of the areas they were in seemed sensitive, he says. And the stuff they took was trivial, of no value, Southan says. Rimensnyder, for example, pilfered a restaurant menu.

They stumbled upon the offices of James L. Brooks, the Simpsons impresario and producer of such films as Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets. (A Brooks employee said the filmmaker had no comment for this article.) In the documentary, Rimensnyder and Southan were clearly thrilled to find the office, and pointed excitedly to the producer's awards on the walls. That's when they discovered that they weren't alone.

Down the hall, a couple of security guards were playing a Simpsons arcade game, and Rimensnyder and Southan realized they could be in big trouble.

They knew there was no plausible story for why a couple of nonemployees were coming out of Brooks's office. For several minutes, the duo hid behind a couch, waiting for the game-playing guards to leave the area.

It turned out to be the closest call for Rimensnyder and Southan, who made five more forays onto the Sony lot. In September 2001, it was time to return the rewritten copy of Sean Connery Golf Project.

This time, they didn't wait for a movie screening. Instead, they boldly drove to the front gate and, without any identification, told the gate guard (truthfully) that they were delivering scripts to the story department.

As in Southan's first adventure, the two hid on the Poitier building roof, filmed themselves watching the sun set, and then descended to the story department after the employees departed.

Their hearts sank when they found copies of Sean Connery Golf Project already there -- with a new cover sheet.

The pranksters' rewrite had taken so long that a new draft had been commissioned by the studio, changing the script substantially. (Connery's hustler, for example, now had a love interest.)

"That's when we realized it wouldn't be so easy to trick Hollywood," Southan says.

Deciding to go through with the swap, they knew they'd at least have to doctor the script to make it look like the latest draft. And that entailed changing it back at home.

So they ended up breaking into the Sony lot twice in a single night.

Getting past the gate guard later that night with the same excuse -- dropping off scripts -- was tougher, Southan says, but it still worked.

By this time, Southan had come up with another goal for the caper: to leave a copy of one of his screenplays behind, disguised as a project already in progress.

While they were dropping off the Connery script, Southan grabbed some stationery with the letterhead of Amy Pascal, Columbia Pictures president, figuring it would be great for making his own screenplay look like an ongoing Columbia property.

He decided to return at a later date to drop off his own work. It would be his final act before returning to school at Austin. Southan scheduled his final break-in for September 11.

For obvious reasons, he put off that plan. When he tried the next day, Sony looked like an armed camp, with beefed-up security in the wake of the attacks.

And yet Southan talked his way onto the lot again. He told guards he didn't have an ID because he was a new Columbia employee who was dropping off scripts.

The screenplay he left there is a parody of the animal rights movement titled Animal Liberation that chronicles the experiences of a young ad exec torn by his loyalties to his trade and to his vegan family.

That sounds nearly as lame as a movie about an aging golf hustler. "I was hoping that I'd cause enough confusion that they'd actually pay me for the script. But they weren't that confused, I guess," he says.

Southan left for Texas immediately after his September 12 sally and heard nothing about his screenplay.

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