Paul Giamatti Finally Unveils Sundance '08 Dark Comedy 'Pretty Bird'

Paul Giamatti Finally Unveils Sundance08 Dark Comedypretty Bird

A couple of years ago, I saw a film at Sundance that I really enjoyed: 'Pretty Bird.' The movie stars Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup and David Hornsby as a trio of mismatched business partners who set out together to build and market a rocket belt. Hornsby is the group's moneyman, a successful mattress store owner who uses his earning to invest in the project. Crudup is the one with the ideas; or, more specifically, the guy with the stolen set of incomplete plans. And Giamatti, he's the brains, an engineer rocket scientist with a nasty temperament and a not-unwarranted distrust when it comes to dealing with business-folk.

Together, the three men slowly come to realize their dream of creating this rocket belt... only to have everything fall apart when lies and mistrust paved the way for a much darker turn to occur. It's all actually based on a true story, one which skews close to the reality laid out in Paul Brown's book, 'The Rocketbelt Caper.' Giamatti was immediately taken by the story when it first came his way, as he told MTV in a recent interview.

'I have a production company called Touchy Feely Films that I started with a friend of mine. He was producing another movie that ['Pretty Bird' director] Paul Schneider was acting in, and he got talking to Schneider about this story, the actual story,' Giamatti explained. 'Schneider was writing a script based on these... guys' lives and this whole event that happened with this belt that they made. So we got together with Schneider and scraped together a little bit of money and made it in about three weeks.'

It's a very entertaining film, thanks largely to the performances of the three lead actors. Unfortunately, 2008 was a rough year for Sundance -- for the world, really -- with the financial crisis looming. And so, 'Pretty Bird' never saw the wide release that it really deserved.

'It was a year at Sundance where nobody bought any movies, where all of those distribution companies folded and everything suddenly started falling apart in the independent film world,' Giamatti explained. 'One of the reasons people wouldn't buy it is the movie was deemed too dark. So it was cut in an attempt to sell it to a distributor who was interested in it.'

The movie was indeed cut, and I would caution anyone who wants to remain spoiler-free to stop reading here. 'There was a big dramatic change, which was taking the guy's death out,' he said, referring to Hornsby's character. In the original version, Hornsby plays a homosexual man who, frustrated by the way things have gone, picks up another man and brings him home. The death happens off-screen, but there's a suggestion that the apparent gay-bashing/burglary-related murder was contracted by Giamatti's Rick Honeycutt, who by this point in the story has become unhinged.

'[That was] always the most controversial point in making the movie at all, was that one of those guys did die under mysterious circumstances,' he continued. 'That's why the disclaimer had to be in there [at the beginning of the movie], because nobody had ever determined what happened to that guy. There was suspicion that the guy I played had something to do with it. They never nailed him for that; they nailed him for kidnapping and for other things, but they could never pin the guy's death on him. So in the original movie it was made very ambiguous.'

It's an odd sort of based-on-truth story too, because all three of the main players are unreachable in varying ways. One of them is dead, of course. Crudup's character, Curtis Prentiss in the movie, is nowhere to be found. 'Nobody knows where he is I don't think,' Giamatti said. 'I think he sort of disappeared.'

Then there's Rick Honeycutt, Giamatti's engineer. The actual man is in jail now, on charges of kidnapping among other things. That part of 'Pretty Bird' remains accurate: the angry engineer did end up kidnapping the trio's idea man and leaving him in a box for eight days. Rather than meet with him, Giamatti instead played the part to fit the tone of the film.

'I saw pictures of him, but for the most part I kind of went with my own idea of what this guy should be like,' he explained. 'I wanted to stay kind of Texas, vaguely former military guy who was a weird rocket nerd but [also] a weird s--tkicker Texas guy.'

Ultimately, the actor is just glad that people outside of Park City, UT will finally get to see the film. 'I really liked this movie and I was disappointed that nothing happened with it. It is kind of odd to suddenly go back and be talking about this movie I hadn't really thought about in a long time,' Giamatti said. 'I really liked playing that part, I had a great time playing that part. It's one of my favorite parts I've played.'