A limousine rolls up to the corner of Avenue B and Seventh Street, and in it sit two honey-blond, fresh-faced, suede-booted young men who look exactly the same. In fact, when they emerge, Josh and Jonas Pate – whose limo trip from their shared studio apartment was all of three blocks – seem as though they’re ready to shoot a Doublemint ad. “Yo, wassup!” Josh calls as he slams the door. They’re here for their first photo shoot.
Magazine-feature protocol says this is where we say something like “The Pate twins are more accustomed to being behind the camera,” but in fact they’re only slightly more accustomed. Without film school, PA work, or any other form of industry dues-paying, Josh and Jonas Pate have, at 28, become Hollywood’s latest nominees for Hot Young Auteur(s). Their new film, Deceiver (to be released by MGM at the end of the month), stars Tim Roth, Chris Penn, and Renee Zellweger, Josh’s current girlfriend.
But judging from the Pates’ ease at the photo shoot, the limelight seems to suit them fine. “Do you guys like Supergrass?” their publicist asks brightly, poised at an East Village bar jukebox. “Put on the third song,” Josh calls out, setting down his Anchor Steam. He turns to his twin. “People say really cool bands always put the best song third.” Jonas nods thoughtfully.
The brothers pose, trade anecdotes, clown around obligingly, and keep up a steady round of the name game with the photo staff – “Hey, man, do you know Becca? She’s from Trenton, too.” Two hours later, they’ve traded phone numbers with the stylist, the photographer, and even the profusely tattooed bartender, with whom they plan to go surfing sometime soon.
It’s hard not to see the artists at work here. While it was ostensibly their writing that landed the Pates director chairs, writing isn’t everything these days. With cover-boy looks, gregarious personalities, and supreme packageability – identical Coen brothers! White Hughes twins! – the Pates are ready-made for this particular moment in Hollywood star-making.
Their first couple of years after college were spent bouncing between typical artsy postgraduate gigs. After finishing Princeton in 1993, Jonas moved into a one-bedroom over Lucky Strike with Josh and two roommates. He spent three months working for Miramax – “I was Harvey’s postproduction whipping boy,” he half boasts – while Josh did stints as a Café Tabac barback, an entertainment lawyer’s boy Friday, and an assistant at Sterling Lord. During those lean times, Josh wrote a novel, which his brother describes as “this East Village existential tortured-soul thing.”
Interning at the Angelika during the Independent Feature Project, Josh met Peter Glatzer, then a 28-year-old fund-raiser for the IFP. “Josh was smart, nice, cool, personable, good-looking,” says Glatzer. “He’d never written anything for film, but I took a look at his short stories and they were pretty good. I said, ‘Hey, you should write screenplays.’ And I introduced him to the masters – Eisenstein, Kubrick, Scorsese.” Glatzer chuckles at the memory of the serendipity. “And me, I’d always wanted to produce.”
Inspired by their new mentor, Josh and Jonas spent a year writing a dark comedy about rascally ex-con graverobbers. While Glatzer talked to his contacts, the twins revealed a less conventional fund-raising style. They hung a huge spray-painted banner on a building owned by Dennis Hopper in their home state of North Carolina: DENNIS! WE’RE 24. WE HAVE A KILLER SCRIPT. WE’RE BROKE. HELP US!
For reasons unknown, this pitch failed. Other potential investors were reluctant to fund a pair of first-time directors. The Pates replied with a gambit used by every currently celebrated young director from Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) to James Mangold (Copland) to M. Night Shyamalan (Wide Awake): They refused to turn over the script without a guaranteed directing credit. Even Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, little known at the time their script for Good Will Hunting was sold, were able to extract starring roles from Miramax. “Prior experience is not a huge concern for us,” says Miramax VP Meryl Poster. “The boys walking into my office every day are very invigorating, very charming, very seductive. I often get seduced.”
Even in this field, Team Pate were prodigies. “We had nothing, no reel, just the script,” says Glatzer. “But we created a buzz. People heard it was a short shoot with a hot script, original and unique, and we pushed and spun and manipulated. Put the twins in a room with someone, and they close the deal. Period.”
Before long, the brothers found themselves on their very first movie set. “The day we got there, we were like, ‘What are all these trucks doing here?’” says Jonas. Today they call The Grave, which went straight to video, “rentable,” but it proved enough of a calling card at Sundance that they got five offers to finance their next script, Liar (later switched to Deceiver post-Jim Carrey), which Jonas dashed off before the festival. “Always got to have one in the chamber,” he says.
Tim Roth came onboard after reading the script and being charmed by its authors. Despite speaking a stoner patois, the Pates were well-read enough to woo Roth with their enthusiasm for Cormac McCarthy – “totally gnarly, the greatest living writer,” says Jonas – after whom Roth had named his son. His commitment to the film – in a showy role as a millionaire epileptic murder suspect – started a domino effect. The cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws, Deliverance) soon signed on, as did Ellen Burstyn, Rosanna Arquette, Chris Penn, and Zellweger.
Drawing heavily on the sultry moodiness of Charleston, South Carolina, Deceiver works a very trendy version of nineties neo-noir, with sex, truth, and gore front and center – and a healthy dose of undergrad existentialism. The movie also offers two different endings. “We wanted an intentionally ambiguous ending, for half the audience to be sad, the other half happy,” chirps Jonas. Vertiginous pans, Ferris-wheel swishes, and 45-degree camera angles (“We were totally into Batman as kids”) reveal an imagination unfettered by a comprehensive cinematic vocabulary.
Not that it matters much for the Pates’ career if Deceiver succeeds in the theaters. Three months ago, Interscope made a deal for their next project, a sci-fi thriller with a budget of $50 million. And a couple of weeks ago, Jonas had a dream in which he saved the world. “So I called Josh, and he’s like, ‘Man, that’s totally a TV show.’” A few days later, Disney bought the dream.