How Rhys Southan, Sara Rimensnyder, and their cheeky "golf project" wound up on the wrong side of the law
"It's just after dark when the filmmakers, Sara Rimensnyder and her friend Rhys Southan, slip out of a test screening on the Sony lot and are seen sneaking into the studio's story department. ... Watch closely as they fill their bags up with loot. Fresh, Hollywood screenplays. Screenplays that Sony claims are worth up to a million bucks."
-- from the syndicated tabloid show Celebrity Justice
In July 2001, Rhys Southan and Sara Rimensnyder snuck onto the Sony lot, stole a handful of screenplays, and filmed themselves doing it. Their idea was elegant -- revise the worst script and return it undetected. The result was "The Sean Connery Golf Project," a 17-minute documentary (which screened at last year's SXSW Film Festival), named for the movie they made over: typical Hollywood pablum in which everyone's favorite 007 plays a mobster-golfer (penned by Peter Steinfeld, whose credits include Drowning Mona and Analyze That). As befits something shot during a break-in, the short is a smear of bad lighting and sound, most admirable for its merry pranksterism. It is an inspired goof on Hollywood but also an intentionally satiric depiction of the conflict at the heart of the modern movie lover -- even when they slag the movies, they cast themselves in starring roles.
"We created this good-natured but pointed send-up of the studios -- a roasting," Sara Rimensnyder writes by e-mail from L.A. "We hoped Sony would be willing to laugh with us. Obviously, we were very wrong."
In August 2002, Sony pressed charges, citing a "zero-tolerance policy" toward crime. The police booked Rimensnyder as a felony commercial burglar. They searched her house. They threw her in jail. Southan, who had returned to Austin, was out of jurisdiction.
Next came the reporter for Celebrity Justice, a handsome go-getter named Dan Simon, who turned up on Rimensnyder's doorstep, shoved a microphone in her face, and tracked her, beleaguered and irritated, as she repeated, "No comment. I have no comment." Spots on EXTRA and The Today Show followed, and a segment on the 11 o'clock news calling the pair "Hollywood's next Bonnie and Clyde." It became its own send-up, the tabloid shows treating them like dangerous criminals rather than two cheeky UT grads whose script changes included a finale in which a Tiger Woods impersonator officiates a Vegas wedding. Celebrity Justice even included the piece on a "Celebrity Dramas of the Year" wrap-up on CNN. It ran right before a segment on the death of Dr. Laura's mother.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, Southan laid low. The Culver City police called his parents. Inside Edition called his friends. "Inside Edition actually did a better job of finding me than the police did," he says. What they perhaps were discovering was that the script-stealing had been Southan's doing in the first place, a spontaneous act of rebellion following a test screening on the Sony lot. Rimensnyder, who worked with Southan at a libertarian magazine, chastised him for the petty theft. But then they hit upon the documentary angle. "Sara liked the idea of returning the scripts, not actually taking them," Southan says. And when she got slapped with the crime, he says, "It seemed like she was my karmic whipping girl."
Last month, Rimensnyder pleaded "no contest" to a misdemeanor commercial burglary. That means beach cleanup, community service, $500 for Sony's in-house legal fees, $100 in court fees, and paying for a lawyer she says cost almost as much as her car. She balks at the suggestion that she holds any of this against her partner in crime. "I didn't want either of us to go to jail or be picking up trash on the side of the road, so why on Earth would I want to wish it on Rhys?" She's also learned she prefers a life on the straight side of the law. "Any prank -- no matter how funny or harmless -- entails a certain degree of obnoxiousness, of disrespect, of meddling," she writes, "so I certainly think I had something coming and accept punishment, even if I think things got blown out of proportion."
Southan, on the other hand, may not be done. "If I do go to California to meet my fate," he says, "I'll probably plead not guilty and go to trial. A big sensationalist trial. I guess I just like being onstage."
"The Sean Connery Golf Project" will screen, along with media clips of the aftermath, at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado) this Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7pm. Admission is $7/general, $5/students (proceeds will go toward recouping Sara Rimensnyder's legal costs). Filmmaker Rhys Southan will be in attendance.