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Pizza, pals and Preminger

Helmer 'Order' meets in secret to discuss film

The first rule of Pizza Club is: You do not talk about Pizza Club.

David Fincher doesn’t return phone calls about it. Ben Stiller says it’s a private matter. Dustin Hoffman referred questions to his agency, which referred them to his publicist, who said he wouldn’t talk about it.

Nonetheless, once a month, many of Hollywood’s maverick directors assemble in secret. Together, they eat pizza and screen a rare film — emphasis on 35mm film, video is verboten — that almost always isn’t available on DVD anyway.

While none will speak for the record, one member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed a few details, and explained its rationale: “I think particularly in film schools and campuses, the idea of film societies has been lost to the VCR and the DVD. There’s been a loss of community, definitely, and when there’s a loss of community, ideas aren’t exchanged and ultimately, the work suffers.”

There are at least 30 members in the exclusive society, dubbed “The Order of the Pizza.”

Started and led by three writer-directors — Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”), Roger Avary (“The Rules of Attraction”) and James Gray (“The Yards”) this past spring, “The Order of the Pizza” counts plenty of iconoclasts in its ranks — especially in a town where even eating carbohydrates makes you a rogue.

John Singleton was recently spied waiting for the pizza to arrive at a showing of Richard Fleischer’s 1968 split-screen thriller, “The Boston Strangler.”

Directors Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne and Monte Hellman (who directed “Two-Lane Blacktop”) are members. Helmers Kimberly Peirce, George Hickenlooper, Catherine Hardwicke, Steve Norrington, Roman Coppola and Paul Mazursky are said to be attendees. Suggestions for films are submitted through Avary’s password-protected Web site.

The movies screened are on occasion accompanied by their stars, but their Q&As are hardly the stuff of press junkets: Discussions tend to be wrenching and intimate rather than pre-fabricated by publicists.

Hoffman recently appeared to discuss his perf in a screening of Ulu Grosbard’s “Straight Time.” In it, Hoffman plays a burglar who, after a run-in with his overzealous parole officer, decides crime is the better occupation.

“He described a scene where he takes his parole officer, pushes him out of a car on a freeway and handcuffs him to a fence. And then, rips his pants off,” recalls one director present that night.

“Apparently, the pants thing happened to Hoffman as a kid, so in a way, he said he felt like he was getting his revenge by doing it in the movie as an actor. It was very difficult for him to recount. He actually broke down in tears.”

Such raw recollections are at cross-purposes with Corporate Hollywood, which has already knocked at the directors’ door seeking to ingratiate itself with the Order and, of course, to brand it.

“Some big shoe company, Nike or somebody, wanted to give us jackets that said ‘The Order of Pizza Night.’ And we wrestled over that, debated over that, because we wanted to keep it private,” says one member helmer.

In case you are eager to duplicate their experience at home, the group favors delivery from Academy Award nominated thesp Cathy Moriarty and her Mulberry Street pizzeria in BevHills.

Order a large spinach pie, dim the lights, and unspool Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka,” or Mervyn LeRoy’s “I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (both recent “Order” selections.)

But, please, now that you know who they are, let them be. They’re trying to recreate a sense of community here — and, as it happens, it’s a gated one.

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