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In a lot of ways, for a lot of reasons, the feature debuts of writer-directors John Hamburg and Jesse Peretz couldn't be more different. Hamburg's Safe Men is an offbeat comedy about two lovable losers who, through a case of mistaken identity, become involved with the Jewish mafia. Peretz's First Love, Last Rites, in contrast, is an intimate portrait of two adolescents struggling through their first sexual relationship. Since completing their movies, both filmmakers have begun work on new projects, with the 28-year-old Hamburg doing production rewrites on a $75 million Disney comedy, while the 30-year-old Peretz, an established music-video and commercial director, is looking for money to make his second feature. What links the two is that they both financed their films outside of a studio - that and a release date: Both Safe Men and First Love opened in Los Angeles on August 7. The week before, Hamburg and Peretz sat down with the Weekly at the Chateau Marmont to talk about their experiences as first-time directors.
L.A. Weekly: As independents, do you feel a natural sense of camaraderie?
Jesse Peretz: In certain ways. Anytime an independent film is successful, it's good for everybody else in independent film.
John Hamburg: When I started my film last June, it was just after Fargo won the Oscar, and it was almost easier to set up because indies were so chic at that point. And all these studios . . .
Peretz: . . . their heads turned around.
Weekly: Did either of you agonize about what your first feature was going to be about?
Hamburg: I agonized. I just wanted to make a really funny comedy, I had always done comedy writing. But definitely, I wasted time thinking, Do I want to be like the Coen Brothers or like Woody Allen? Finally, I just shoved all that stuff aside. See, I don't know where I fit into the independent world. Whenever they're asked about influences, people are always like, Godard and Renoir. I'm like Carl Reiner and Andy Bergman. The Jerk, that was the greatest film in the world.
Peretz: That's cool.
Weekly: But eventually, John, you were able to find your own voice and draw on your personal experiences?
Hamburg: Honestly, Sam Rockwell's character in the movie wears a padded ass and Jewish guys have the smallest butts in the world so in that way there was a strong sense of identification.
Peretz: Why weren't we given asses?
Hamburg: I don't know.
Weekly: So you wear a padded ass?
Hamburg: I didn't go quite that far.
Peretz: Does Sam Rockwell not have an ass?
Hamburg: He's pretty small back there. But you have to put that in context because as we've seen from Box of Moonlight and Lawn Dogs he's very well-endowed.
Peretz: [Chuckling.] How long is Sam Rockwell's cock?
Hamburg: It's about 48 inches. It's very impressive. Anyway, yeah, I identify with these guys who are fairly insecure who are trying to gain acceptance.
Weekly: Who are your influences, Jesse?
Peretz: I fit more into the cliche - I was a teenage film obsessive. The earliest films that I was really into were The American Friend and Jules and Jim.
Hamburg: Jules and Jim, that's the cliche.
Peretz: There aren't a lot of American directors that I identify with in a deep way, the exception being Todd Haynes, who is a total fucking genius. I worship Todd Haynes. But when I did my own movie, I had no idea where my influences came in. When I read this short story by the English writer Ian McEwan, and I just loved it, I was sure that this story was the perfect thing for me to turn into a film, and I put all my efforts into that. But it was really hard to get made.
Weekly: How so?
Peretz: One thing I need to say is there's a bit of idealization around this term "independent." There's a lot of films that fall within that definition that still adhere to a lot of the storytelling rules of mainstream filmmaking. The film I made was really hard to finance, because I don't think we followed any of those rules.
Weekly: What was your experience raising money for Safe Men, John?
Hamburg: To be honest, it wasn't that difficult. Our script went around to all the studios, smaller companies like Propaganda Films, then I decided I wanted to do it independently. I was lucky it came together quickly. I think the thing that made it different from a lot of independents was that it's a pure comedy.
Weekly: Did either of you get hands-on with the business side, with raising the money?
Peretz: I don't understand how the money was raised. My producers raised the money.
Hamburg: I don't really understand a lot of that stuff either - you need a really good producer.
Weekly: How was your festival experience?
Hamburg: I was at Sundance two years ago with a short film I had made, and I had an amazing time, because there was no pressure to sell it. It was like, "Oh, I liked your movie." That's it. This year I can't say it was enjoyable, because we were trying to sell this movie. [Safe Men is being released by October Films.] It's great to go to Sundance, but it's just so much about the business that . . .
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