By Joel Silverstein
For 10 years, Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland have partnered to create docu-comedy shorts about revenge between sexes. In 2004, they co-wrote and directed "Mail Order Wife," an arthouse comedy, and studios took notice.
Strike Entertainment approached the team and encouraged them to "genre-ize" their style. That's when Botko and Gurland, also the co-writers of the Eli Roth produced "The Last Exorcism," realized they were too old to be the subjects of these immature, semi-misogynistic tales of young men scorned (their short "Julie" features Gurland urinating in the shampoo bottle of a woman who'd humiliated his buddy).
"Being a pervert is just a difference of a few years," Botko said, in a conference call with YBNY and Gurland last week. In their 30s now, it seemed difficult to avoid looking creepy.
"What if we replaced ourselves with teenagers?" Gurland remembers thinking. Thus, "The Virginity Hit," their new feature with Columbia/Sony Pictures, was born. Botko was on hand last week at an advance screening of the film at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre in New York.
The genre they chose to reinvent in their off-kilter and highly improvisational second feature, was, of course, a "losing-their-virginity" comedy. With the help of their two star producers - Funny or Die chiefs Will Ferrell and Adam McKay - assuaging the fears of studio execs, they were able to maintain their quick-witted, fast-moving creative style. And "Virginity Hit" may just hasten along Hollywood's surrender to DIY-style film, too.
"Virginity Hit" features Matt (Matt Bennett), a four-eyed but endearing and musically inclined teen who is the last of his friends to lose his V-card, and to take his "virginity hit," from a bong used only to commemorate each member of the group's virginity-lost. The film is shot from the vantage point of Matt's adoptive brother Zack (Zack Pearlman) - easily one of the funniest on and off-camera talents of the YouTube generation.
To attract improv and web-video savvy teen actors, Botko and Gurland held an open call on Funny or Die for submissions of embarrassing stories told on video.
Zack had never auditioned for a film prior to his submission, Gurland said. His video - a retelling of the time his sister caught him masturbating, which he told in front of his unsuspecting sister - was the work of "an idiot genius," Gurland said.
Botko and Gurland also credit UCB alum and casting director Jody Collins for assembling the Net-Generation cast. Along with an eye for talent, Collins is an incredible reader, who has the ability to make actors funnier and get the best audition out of them, Botko said.
When they found Matt, he was a 16-year-old kid from Long Island who was genuinely nervous about sex. Even after the three of years of development it took to get "Virginity Hit" made, Matt was able to channel his younger-self, meticulously planning his big night with his girlfriend Nicole (Nicole Weaver), whom he finds has been hiding a certain drunken indiscretion. Like many of their shorts, revenge seeps into Botko and Gurland's feature, as Zack helps orchestrate Matt's payback.
"'Last Exorcism' is the first thing we've done that doesn't have any element of revenge," Gurland said.
The cast is rounded out by Zack's sexually advanced older sister, Krysta (Krysta Rodriguez). Rodriguez can currently be seen as Wednesday Adams in "The Addams Family" on Broadway.
To prepare for the very real depiction of a group of friends living just outside a town notorious for its alcohol consumption, New Orleans, a group of male cast members lived together in a house for three weeks prior to the start of production. Camera's were rolling during that period. Footage that wasn't used can be viewed on the film's YouTube page, superzack1000.
Though Botko and Gurland are now living on opposite coasts - Gurland left New York for Los Angeles last month - their roots are firmly tied to the New York film community, both having attended NYU and later crossing paths at the New York Underground Film Festival. Botko submitted work to the festival, which Gurland co-founded with "The Hangover" director Todd Phillips.
"We're trying a long-distance relationship," Gurland said. "Huck likes to fancy himself a little bit classier." The dynamic was clear. Gurland is the Zack in this relationship between co-writers, co-directors, friends. Botko, the Matt.
And as teenagers, their dynamic plays.