If you’ve seen the commercials or trailer for The Weinstein Company comedy Our Idiot Brother out on August 26, you may not know the origins of the movie or realize that it was actually done independently, because it looks just as mainstream as some of the studio comedies we’ve gotten this summer.
In fact, it’s the fourth movie from Jesse Peretz, a musician and award-winning music video director in the ’90s–remember that Foo Fighters video making fun of Mentos commercials?–who would sporadically direct a feature film like The Chateau in 2001 and The Ex five years later. Our Idiot Brother follows Peretz’s long gap between the movies, but it’s also one of the few family comedies that is in fact a family project, as the script was written by Peretz’s sister Evgenia along with her husband, David Schisgall, both writing their first produced screenplay.
The movie stars Paul Rudd–reuniting with Peretz after starring in The Chateau–as Ned, a constantly-stoned organic farmer who gets himself arrested for selling drugs to a police officer; needless to say, Ned is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. (Just say “no” to drugs, kids!) After three months, Ned’s released from prison, but with his living situation being changed, he’s forced to call upon his three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer, to live with them, and Ned’s laid back attitude starts to disrupt their already complicated lives.
Back in January, ComingSoon.net sat down with Jesse and his sister/screenwriter Evgenia at the Sundance Film Festival, mere hours after it had been picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Company. At the time, the movie was still titled “My Idiot Brother” which lent itself well to our opening question…
ComingSoon.net: Jesse, when your sister brought you the idea for a script called “My Idiot Brother”, what was your first reaction?
Jesse Peretz: I wish that I could answer that question honestly, but it wasn’t like she brought me the idea. If you want the true sorta genesis of it, we started by writing this other script called “What’s This Sh*t Called Love?”, which was a more of a kinda autobiographical script, and it was the first thing we’d ever done together. As you may or may not know, Evgenia’s been a writer for “Vanity Fair” for 14, 15 years. I can’t even remember what it was that made us start working together, but we had such a good time working on that script, which unfortunately created little obstacles to getting it set up and financed, one of many of the obstacles being that the protagonists were 18 years old. So we started this project by thinking about the actors that we would like to work with, and then kind of trying to figure out what kind of story we wanted to tell.
CS: Your brother has obviously been making movies for a while now. Had you been jealous of him doing this and were interested in getting involved in filmmaking yourself or did you always have an inkling to do so?
Evgenia Peretz: Well, actually, I went to NYU grad school for dramatic writing when I was 23, so briefly I wanted to be a screenwriter, and then I really just didn’t give it my all and became a journalist instead, but I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I was like, “I want to do another kind of writing in addition.” I didn’t have it in me to write a nonfiction book, at the moment, so it just sort of seemed natural, I guess. We had time at that moment to start working together.
CS: Was it always going to be Paul playing the main role and he was who you thought of?
Jesse: Absolutely. Once we sorta were like, “Oh man, why did we write this script that we can’t get set up?” But honestly, even when we were working on that one, our first stories had Paul, then in terms of our first thing, we just latched onto this other idea that was sorta personal that we jumped into, but when we came into this second project we were like, “Come on, okay, now let’s develop something for Paul.” Once we got just a little bit into that, we also were starting to think of Zooey and Emily and we have their voices.
CS: I love the fact that you have all these former co-stars of Paul coming back in different ways, which was pretty cool. You knew Zooey already and had worked with her before.
Jesse: Yeah, Zooey and I have been friends for nine or ten years, and Emily and I have been friends for a long time, and we always talked about wanting to do a movie together some day. So, we were really working towards that.
CS: Paul’s very collaborative. I interviewed Jim Brooks and he was saying how collaborative Paul was, so how much did you want to flesh out the character before Paul got on board, and was Paul kind of involved in that?
Evgenia: Well, I think we wanted it in as good of shape as it could be in before we showed it to him. When we had a draft, he came in at the end and sort of weighed in on how he would want to shape that character a little bit. We were just completely psyched to have his input, and he had really smart things to say about that character.
Jesse: There were notes that he gave us that really allowed him to ground the character in something that he could play dramatically. We knew that he would play the comedy of it, but he needed a couple of things to make it emotionally feel like there was a through line that he was really clear about. The little notes that he gave us, I think are some of the really great, crucial additions to the script.
CS: What about Paul’s long hair and beard? Did he actually grow all that?
Jesse: That was pretty much all real.
CS: Even though this is about Ned, it’s a real ensemble and everyone gets their own moments. Is it possible to have too many funny people in a movie that it just gets out of control, or is it just a luxury to be able to have people who can throw out ideas?
Jesse: I mean, that obviously was a concern, like are we trying to spread ourselves too wide with all these movie stars, with a lotta people who are funny or whatever? My feeling is that we really structured the story so that, I think at least, that it was gonna work dramatically, but always with a concept that we thought that there was a way that the attention to detail with the cast in the right way, that hopefully there would be moments that would play comedically at the same time.
CS: In so many comedies, whenever drama is brought in, it throws off the balance of humor and it’s really hard to do that, and in this, even though there’s dramatic stuff, it’s still a funny enough character that it stays interesting. Did you have a lot of stuff to work with when you were editing it together? Was it a lot harder to figure out how to do that?
Jesse: Oh yeah, thanks. Definitely there was a lot of shuffling around the order of scenes to hit the right balance. I mean, we’re juggling a lot of storylines and a lot of characters, so there was definitely a fair amount of work in the editing room to try to hit a good balance where you didn’t lose any character or storyline too long, or you didn’t stay with one storyline for too long. Obviously, Paul plays the kind of throughline, vortex character of everything, so one of the things that we also really were conscious of was making sure that everything was constantly coming back to Ned.
CS: How involved were you when your brother started shooting? Did you kind of have the script and you left it?
Evgenia: Me and my husband (David), I would say one of us was there pretty much every day, and watching really carefully. I would have an idea and whisper it to Jesse and a couple of those made it into the script. It was great to see it being performed and you could really see that a line such as whatever could work really well at that moment.
CS: Did you have any kind of rehearsals with anyone? I know with so many different actors it would be hard to put anything together.
Jesse: No, there was no rehearsal whatsoever.
CS: The fact most of them knew each other, you probably didn’t need much.
Jesse: Yeah, I mean, it was a little bit scary, but like you said, most people had relationships one way or the other with someone else there, so that helped us get up and running, but I think there was something about the momentum of this project that I think ultimately may have freaked us out when we were in it that there was no time to sit and analyze things or whatever, but my feeling is that it played to the strength of the movie that there wasn’t time to labor anything too much. We had a very short shooting schedule. We finished the final draft of the script in April. Paul read it in either the last few days of April or the first few days of May. We started shooting it eight weeks later with and he gave us our notes in those eight weeks, and Evgenia and David were working on the script a whole bunch while we were prepping the movie. Then we shot the movie in six weeks, and that’s a fast schedule for so many people, so people were just coming in and out. I think there was something about that pace that actually sort of played to the strength of the movie. There was a good sort of momentum and people weren’t getting too heavily over-analyzed and sh*t.
CS: I live in New York and I remember seeing the signs when you were closing off streets.
Jesse: Did we f*ck up access to your apartment?
CS: No, I don’t think you were in my neighborhood, but I remember seeing the signs, and I was like, “‘My Idiot Brother,’ what’s that?” It wasn’t at a studio so I hadn’t heard about it and really had no idea what the movie was. Why did you do it independently? Was that just something you decided from the very beginning?
Jesse: We didn’t really strategize about how we were gonna finance. I mean, honestly, we gave it to Anthony Bregman, who I’d worked with before, a producer that I love, and they really clicked with the script right from the beginning. I mean, to be perfectly honest, they brought it to all the studios and everyone passed on it, so we ended up doing it independently.
CS: Really? I’m very surprised by that because I think it works well as a mainstream movie.
Jesse: Yeah, but you know what? I think on paper it looked like it could go either way. In the end, I’m not so sure that the movie would’ve been better off if it were produced even on a minor studio, if it had been a (Fox Searchlight) or whatever. We ended up being financed by Big Beach, and they were so great and collaborative to work with. None of these actors made any money. Everyone was doing it just because they were psyched to be part of doing it. Look, hindsight is 20/20, but here we are at Sundance, and we sold the movie, and the actors aren’t embarrassed that they were in it, so I feel like whatever happened really happened for the best. (Laughs)
CS: It’s kind of interesting that you ended up back at the Weinstein Company even after making the movie on your own.
Jesse: Yeah, that was not the best experience, that last movie, but that’s part of the reason why probably I wasn’t really chasing to try to do it the studio way either is just because after that experience, I really wanted to do something where I was totally in control and no one was gonna try to negotiate with us what the real vision of the movie was. But here we are back with the Weinstein Company. I feel like they really like the movie, they really get what’s unique about the movie. They seem really prepared to put the weight of their company and their bank account behind getting it out there. Whatever people can say about Harvey Weinstein, when he’s on his game, he definitely knows how to… I have to say he’s got two movies out there right now that they’re doing a tremendous job with (even though) they’re not obvious homeruns on a commercial level.
ICS: Wait was “The Ex” at the Weinstein company or was that still at Miramax?
Jesse: It was at the Weinstein Company.
CS: Okay, but it was in their very early days if I remember right.
Jesse: Yeah, it was actually developed at Miramax, financed by this independent company 2929, but with an agreement all along that the Weinstein Company was gonna release it.
CS: Do you think the Weinsteins will let you leave Steve Coogan’s full frontal nudity in there? Is that part of the deal?
Jesse: I assume as much. Harvey said directly to me, he’s like, “I don’t want to touch a frame of this movie and I just want to release it.” So I assume there’s definitely about 350 frames of Steve Coogan’s penis, so hopefully that’ll stay in. (Note: Sorry, Jesse, but it didn’t.)
CS: How has Sundance changed since you’ve last been here? Or is it hard to tell because it’s a much bigger movie?
Jesse: In 1998, you didn’t come to Sundance and walk home with a PlayStation 3 and furry hats. I don’t remember 13 years ago when you were involved with a movie like every place you stopped in to do something with people handing me some $300 thing.
CS: “Gifting” didn’t exist in the ’90s.
Jesse: I don’t think it did. Look, we were absolutely the smallest, most under the radar movie in 1998 when we were here, so there may have been gifts being given away to other people that we didn’t know about. (Laughs) All that said, look, this festival is still such a great place to bring movies. You look on the calendar and almost everything is sold out. The audiences sit in those theaters and they want to enjoy the movie.
CS: I haven’t seen any walkouts in almost any movie either. It’s really amazing. I’ve been to the Eccles five or six times and I’ve yet to see one person out of 1,200 walk out of a movie.
Jesse So you have these hypey things, and you have the whole chasing the gifts part of it or whatever, but at the same time for me, some of the best parts of it as a filmmaker was that there was a filmmaker brunch over at the Sundance Resort hosted by Robert Redford. All it is is directors there. There’s no agents, no producers, no distributors there, and no press. Really, you feel what is really at the root of what made Robert Redford and those people create Sundance in the first place, which is a place for a sort of camaraderie of filmmakers in the always difficult task the incredible long journey of figuring out how to get your idea to something that you can project on a screen. The amount of sustained help that Sundance has done to give voice to filmmakers and actors is still unchallenged. If anything, I feel guilty coming here with so many movie stars in my movie. I feel a little guilty stealing some oxygen from real hardcore independent movies that people really need the help of the film festival to get their movies out there.
CS: Are you guys thinking of using the buzz of this movie to try to go back to this other thing you started earlier?
Jesse: I would be so overjoyed.
Evgenia: We’re really passionate about this other project, which is just a little more personal to us.
Jesse: It’s not like it’s a plotless art movie either, it’s just that the fact that we couldn’t get this movie with this cast financed at a studio really brought it home hardcore for us on how difficult the environment is out there to get money and make movies. Certainly, our other script, it has a lot more obstacles to it even though we really believe that there’s a totally relatable great movie in there, so that would be the cherry on top of the cake for this awesome experience we had this week if it helps that movie find some money and make it happen.
The Peretz’s Our Idiot Brother is released on Friday, August 26.