Author: Abbie Vacant
"I watched many important films in Dana Auditorium. This is not one of them," said Robert Perez, a Hollywood screenwriter, who visited Middlebury College on Sunday, March 18, to show his first feature film, "40 Days and 40 Nights." After changing his major from philosophy to film/video, Perez graduated from the College in 1995.
He spent his "year abroad" at New York University and the University of Southern California film schools, which helped Perez write more full-length screenplays than any other student at the College.
Like many young people trying to get into Hollywood, Perez started at the bottom getting coffee as a production assistant. He worked these jobs for several months, all the while writing screenplays.
His humor proved useful in getting him his first offer to write television shows. Perez, however, was not interested in television. "I don't watch TV. I don't like TV," he said. So Perez wrote his first feature, "40 Days and 40 Nights."
"40 Days and 40 Nights" is the story of a guy who decides to go without sex or any sexual interactions for the 40 days of Lent in response to his increasing sexual appetite after his terrible break-up with a serious girlfriend.
Unfortunately, he meets the girl of his dreams and his vow strains their developing relationship. It is a story about sex, relationships and self-control based on Perez's journals.
The art-film technique combined with crude penis humor made an interesting juxtaposition. The lines were funny and the plot was entertaining, making the film enjoyable to watch. The weakness in the film lies in the acting of the lead character. Josh Harnett's good looks did not make up for the lack of energy in his performance. Despite Perez's adulation for the star, this film showed how Hartnett was not yet fully in tune with comedy. The lines and the situations were funny. Hartnett, on the other hand, was not.
Nevertheless, Perez, who was there for the entire shoot, enjoyed how Hartnett "carried the movie."
All through the development, casting and even shooting of the film Perez was writing and rewriting. "I was on the set the whole time," Perez remarked. There was much collaboration between him and the director.
Perez's involvement with the film throughout shooting was a rare occurrence. Normally the writer writes the screenplay and leaves the rest to the director.
Despite his absence during the rest of the filmmaking process, "The writer is where it all starts," Perez declared. In recognizing his importance, however, he did not deny the reality of the screenwriter's role in Hollywood. "[The writer] is the most important person in the process, but he is low on the totem poll," Perez commented.
"If you want more creative control, you direct," Perez said. And that is his goal. Perez said he wants to get more experience first, but that he plans on directing some day. He just completed a screenplay for Ridley Scott, "All About Bob," which is an adaptation of the German film "Alles Bob," and is in the process of writing another full-length feature comedy with Michael Lehmann, the director of "40 Days and 40 Nights."
Perez admitted that he experienced typical Hollywoodpressures, but he maintained, "I write for me." He remarked that film was a collaborative medium and there was no avoiding the fact that people were going to have to interpret the words, either the director or the actor.
In stating that, he did not believe that independent cinema had that much more freedom. "If you want a pure voice you should write novels," Perez observed.
Perez said he wants to keep writing comedy. He commented that he enjoys making people laugh and smile and that he believes he does this best. "The problem with great comedians is that they think what they do doesn't matter. It does," Perez stated.
There is a certain worth in comedy films. Regardless of the writer's impact on his viewers or the demands from the studio, according to Perez, "At the end of the day I think you are responsible to yourself."
Screenwriter Robert Perez Counts Down '40 Days'
Author: Abbie Vacant