By Andrew McGinn
February 11, 2010
SPRINGFIELD In the spring of 2007, when first-time movie producer
Phil Pitzer rolled back into his hometown to shoot scenes for a
prequel to "Easy Rider," it seemed as unlikely as, well:
• Anyone digging every lick of Ten Years After's "blues jam" at
Woodstock without being seriously stoned, drunk, possessed or all
three at once.
• Someone weaseling past the Hell's Angels at Altamont to snatch
several strands of Bill Wyman's hair ... for means of a future cloning project.
• The cannibalization of Yoko Ono by George Martin in order for The
Beatles to continue their work in peace.
• An American victory in Indochina.
The idea that this guy from Springfield was coming back to
Springfield to make a prequel to the great counterculture film of the
'60s in Springfield seemed doomed.
A bad idea.
Like trying to create Jurassic Park for real, only populating it with
dead rock stars using whatever DNA could be extracted from the
fossilized leftovers of Jimi Hendrix's last hurl.
And on top of that, it wasn't even going to be a legitimate prequel.
Without the rights to the "Easy Rider" name or any "Easy Rider"
imagery this thing was destined to end up on DVD in some little
shop in Chinatown alongside knock-off handbags and weird bootleg
posters of Mickey Mouse with Bugs Bunny's tail.
So two questions remain.
Where is this thing?
And when can we see it?
"I'm a perfectionist," Pitzer confessed recently. "Until it was
totally right, I wasn't going to release it.
"Now it's dead-on."
What a difference three years and three lawsuits can make.
A 60-something boomer who made what appears to be the GDP of a small
nation while working as a trial lawyer in Cincinnati translation:
dude is loaded Pitzer was hellbent on becoming the curator of his
generation's defining celluloid statement.
"You know how long it took 'em to do 'Avatar'? Fifteen years," Pitzer
explained. "James Cameron started penciling out 'Avatar' 15 years
ago, and he didn't have lawsuits."
By the time it finally gets released this spring for sure, Pitzer
assures his "Easy Rider" prequel originally known as "Scarlet
Cross" will have been seven years in the making come March.
In that time, the 1962 North High alum used his legal expertise like
a hillbilly's shotgun in the original "Easy Rider" to blow a
Hollywood insider right off his high horse.
Learning that the remake/sequel rights to "Easy Rider" were up for
grabs, he sued producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider the guys
who financed the original 1969 movie using a windfall from their
earlier creation, "The Monkees" to stop them from claiming they
still owned the rights.
"It's incredible to believe that one of the top 100 American films of
all time, that those sequel rights were obtainable," he said.
Testifying under oath, Pitzer said, Schneider explained that he'd
already sold the sequel rights to "Easy Rider" five different times.
"I don't know if he was protecting the art," Pitzer said, "or if he
just wanted to keep generating income."
Either way, Pitzer won his legal challenge in 2007, meaning he was
clear to make an honest-to-God "Easy Rider" flick.
As a result, the name of his movie changed to "Easy Rider: Scarlet
Cross" to, finally, "Easy Rider: The Ride Back."
"We've gotten to tweak. We've gotten to rework. Now it's going to pay
off," Pitzer said.
The legal victory also meant he was free to pump up "Easy Rider: The
Ride Back" with all that iconic "Easy Rider" imagery.
A spot-on replica of Peter Fonda's legendary Captain America chopper,
complete with ape-hanger handlebars and star-spangled gas tank, was
built from a 1949 Harley panhead. (Pitzer showed it off, in addition
to a replica of Dennis Hopper's bike, at Mid-Ohio Harley's annual
downtown cruise-in last summer.)
It's now featured extensively in Pitzer's movie, with Pitzer himself riding it.
The movie, a sort of prequel/sequel rolled into one, tells the story
of how Fonda's character came to be, with an upbringing in
Springfield (no kidding).
Pitzer jumped into the cast as Captain America's big brother, the
original hippie-outlaw, who rides back to heal some decades-old
He also wrote the treatment, cast the players, scouted the locations,
designed a lot of the wardrobes and even helped with hair and makeup.
"I had a total vision of what I wanted in this movie," he said. "If
it works, good for me. If it doesn't, it's my fault."
If it's a vanity project, so be it but the scenes of him and Jeff
Fahey ("Lost") riding through the Southwest on their choppers are
"The last thing the Hollywood establishment wants is for someone like
me to do well in their backyard," Pitzer said.
Watching safely from a distance in Enon, the whole thing has been
"quite the trip" for Pitzer's younger brother, Dick Pitzer.
"Looking back, if anything, he's been an attorney for 30 or more
years," Dick Pitzer said. "He just wanted to go down another road for a while."
And there's no denying his brother's level of commitment.
"He's sure put his heart, soul and finances into it," Dick Pitzer said.
The movie also stars a few other recognizable faces Sheree J.
Wilson (of "Dallas" and "Walker, Texas Ranger" fame), character actor
Rance Howard (Ron Howard's dad) and Lauralee Bell (formerly of "The
Young and the Restless").
"How far this will spread, I don't know," Phil Pitzer said. "I don't
have a studio behind me. I don't have a million dollars to throw at
But above all, his movie is starting to sound like an "Easy Rider" movie.
"We don't have big names or a big director," he said, "but with big
music, we can get where we need to be."
The big coup? Stephen Stills recorded a new version of "Find the Cost
of Freedom" specifically for use in the film.
Originally, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song had been slated
to be used in the fiery finale of the original "Easy Rider," but
didn't make the final cut.
Thanks to a mutual acquaintance, Stills showed up one day to a
Cincinnati studio while on tour, acoustic guitar in hand.
"This is just the coolest," Pitzer recalled.
Two takes and he was done.
"He stood up and said, 'Well, that's as good as that's going to get,'
" Pitzer said. "To have that in our film is pretty amazing."
Sitting in his Springfield condo recently, Pitzer confessed that his
film might initially flop.
"This movie," he said, "may not be appreciated immediately."
But, calling it "the greatest learning experience of my life," he has
no regrets about living and breathing "Easy Rider" for the better
part of a decade.
"It's my opus," he said. "That's the way I was when I had my law
practice. When I had a case, I was obsessed.
"I don't think great results come from anything less than from obsession."
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.