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Competitive Eating Gets Its Own Sports Movie: 'The Eater' (VIDEO)

First Posted: 07/03/11 11:08 AM ET Updated: 11/15/11 06:20 AM ET

The Fighter, The Wrestler and so many other sports films have captured the thrill of victory, but until now, none has chronicled the agony of indigestion.

You'd think that film studios would be chomping at the bit to cinematically depict the Herculean act of shoving as much food down one's gullet in the fastest time possible, but, so far, that hasn't been the case.

Other than a memorable "King Of The Hill" episode, most films about the sport have been documentaries, such as "Crazy Legs Conti and the Art of Competitive Eating," a which follows the life of competitive eater Crazy Legs Conti, who until this year, had managed the amazing feat of appearing at Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest the sport's equivalent to the Super Bowl nine times in a row.

The lack of a competitive eating movie is not for Hollywood's lack of trying, says Conti, an aspiring screenwriter himself.

"New Line Cinema was so happy with how the documentary about me turned out that it helped sell them on a competitive eating drama," he told AOL Weird News. "However, I don't know what happened to it. There was also a Hungarian film, 'Taxidermia,' that is very good.

"However, the only major Hollywood film that features competitive eating is the Adam Sandler comedy, 'Funny People,'
which features a movie within a movie with Sandler as a guy who has to win a competitive eating contest in order to win back his girl.

"I think Judd Apatow did that simply so he could get people to stop pitching him competitive eating movies."

But if Apatow doesn't want to make a full-length movie, independent filmmaker Niko Hronopoulos is more than happy to step up to the (dinner) plate,

Hronopoulos has cooked up "The Eater," a film short playing at various film festivals that, taking inspiration from another great sports movie, "The Color Of Money," depicts a former competitive eating champion who left the sport after being disgraced and is now is trying to find redemption by training a young protege.

"The Eater" is 12 minutes long, which, Competitive Eating fans will point out is only two minutes longer than the Nathan's contest. But, like many projects, it was a long labor of love, both of film and competitive eating.

"I am a casual fan," Hronopoulos said. "I know the big names like Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi, and I am aware of their techniques. The idea of doing the movie came about because of a conversation with my screenwriter, Jeremy Engel, who I've know for 30 years. He usually shoots down my ideas, but he liked this one."

Hronopoulos feels that competitive is a natural for film and is surprised there haven't been more films made using it as a backdrop.

"It's incredibly cinematic," he enthused. "I tried my best to convey that in the climactic calamari-eating contest. We had budgetary constraints though, so I had to go the 'Jaws' route and not show the actual eating until the end."

Obviously, the massive eating was in the scripts, but some happy accidents came about because of casting. Since no professional competitive eaters appear in the movie, the climactic chowhound showdown required the lead actor, Pete Carboni, to go to places he didn't really want to go.

"Believe it or not, Pete was not a fan of eating and he didn't like hot dogs," Hronopoulos said. "We shot around this, but, funnily enough, you can see his eyes get red from the eating he did -- it was almost an allergic reaction -- and it looked like he had eaten a huge amount of food, even though he hadn't.

Although "The Eater" is meant to be a comedy, Hronopoulos said he tried to steer away from out-and-out gag territory.

"It was really important to me that the film take the eaters seriously," he said. "We dialed back on out-and-out gags, such as one about using steroids in a competition."

Hronopoulos has been showing the film at various festivals and, so far, it's been well-received. However, the reviews that really matters to him are from the pro eaters themselves.

"I hope that they will give us a pass regarding the competition and the physicality of it," Hronopoulos said. "We didn't have a huge budget for food and we had to keep redressing it for retakes. I hope they think we get the emotional truth.
I did get a nice letter from a two-time champ from the 1980s who liked the film. That felt good."

In addition, top-ranked competitive eater Joey Chestnut described the film as "awesome," but didn't elaborate (presumedly because he was busy chowing down in anticipation of defending his crown at the Nathan's contest).

Patrick Bertoletti, who currently holds more eating world records than anyone, also found the movie to his taste.

"I enjoyed the movie, partially because I'm so deep into the sport of prize eating and because every eater has a back story of their eating history, such as why or where their eating career came from," Bertoletti said. "There are CPAs, civil engineers, window washers, pizza makers, adult actors, etc. We come from every walk of life with the shared enjoyment/ obsession with food and flavor."

"The Eater" also gets a positive review from Richard Shea, co-president of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, the sport's sanctioning body.

"The guy playing the former eater [James Hurd] is really good, and it's beautifully shot," Shea said. "It really captured the eating scene of the last century. It is sort of like how 'The Departed' depicted the Whitey Bulger escape in a modern setting."

But there are some parts to the film that didn't quite ring true to him.

"The lead competitive eater in this film doesn't like a certain food and has overcome it by using mind over matter," Shea said. "That was interesting dramatically, but, in real life, the eaters love the food.

"I liked the idea that a former champ would live through a younger champ as well."

Shea really appreciated the part in the movie where the former champ recruits the new guy.

"Other than the fact that it takes place near a dumpster, that has happened in real life," Shea laughed.

But while Shea likes that the film doesn't make fun of professional eaters, Conti finds the film's serio-comic tone hard to swallow.

"The effort is appreciated, but I don't know if you can strip away the preposterous of competitive eating to show the emotional truth," Conti said. "After one of these events, there aren't a lot of leftovers or leftover emotions."

Hronopoulos is still chewing over the possibilities of expanding the film to feature-length, but has bigger fish to fry.

"I really think this could be an ongoing series on, say, Spike TV, or even the Food Network," he said, hopefully. "I'd like to see if some of the professionals can act."

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