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AFI Dallas 2009 – Peter and Vandy Director on the Relationship Hazards of PB&J

Peter and Vandy Director on the Relationship Hazards of PB&J” width=”560″/>

In his directorial debut, Peter and Vandy, Jay DiPietro offers an intimate look at the deterioration of a young couple’s relationship. AMCtv.com caught him on the festival circuit to discuss how peanut butter and jelly can be hazardous to your love life and why the term “dramedy” is such a downer.

Q: Peter and Vandy was originally a play that you wrote and starred in. How did it go from a small stage to the big screen?

A: For a tiny production, it got noticed — it got nominated for a Drama Desk Award. These guys, who had just won at Sundance, optioned it. They were trying to do the film with bigger people, a bigger budget. But chasing after the money and the stars at the same time became like the Bermuda Triangle. The stars were like, “Do you have all the money?” Then, going after the money, it was like, “Well, who do you have in it?” After two years, we found another producer and raised enough money to shoot it on a smaller budget. Then people just kind of jumped on board. They took it in much differently once they knew this thing was happening, with or without them.

Q: Is there any benefit to not having big-name actors?

A: There’s something about the story — about that time in your life in your late-20s/almost 30 — when it’s like, “I need to get to this place in my life that’s important.” Having actors you don’t know super-well helps in thinking this person needs to get somewhere. Whereas, if it’s somebody really famous, you kind of know… they’re already there.

Q: What was it like directing someone in a role that you originated onstage?

A: Peter has to be somebody you root for. But he has to be an a–hole. He has to be funny. Jason [Ritter] had all that. Plus — I didn’t realize — his cadence is similar to mine. The way I write is very much the way people talk. It’s almost code, with ellipses and dashes. I thought I was going to have to explain that to him. But he just really nailed it! Even when we would do three takes of a scene, he’d give different performances, just like what I had done on different nights [on stage].

Q: You say that Peter “has to be an a–hole.” Does that mean he’s the less sympathetic of the two?

A: They’re both — to me — equals in everything that’s going on with them. Some people will come up to me and say, “Oh, god, [Vandy] was so manipulative in the way she would do all that stuff to him.” Then, some people will be like, “Oh, he was just so mean.”

Q: Are those comments generally along same-sex lines: Women siding with Vandy; men siding with Peter?

A: There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I think people see what they need to see in it. Women have said things like “I just fell back in love with my husband watching that.”

Q: This movie has been labeled everything from a —

A: I know! They’re awful! The absolute worse is a “relationship drama” — and I don’t want to hear “dramedy.” Sounds like some liquid you’re supposed to drink to get rid of an ailment. From the very beginning, I made sure everyone on set knew this is referred to as a “love story.” This is our take on a love story. Of course… it’s not riding off into the sunset.

Q: Why have the story jump around in time?

A: The idea is you get to know them — going back and forth in their relationship so much. By the end — when you see them on their first date — the whole relationship is right there. They come together for the exact reasons that bring the conflict. It’s like if you could get a transcript of your first date, you’d be like, “Holy sh-t! I asked for it. It’s all there.” But if you go back to specific points; if you could see each moment…it’s in the making. You think everything is just before and after, but it’s actually cause and effect.

Q: So were some of those moments autobiographical?

A: I’ve probably gone through something similar. The peanut butter and jelly scene came from something that happened years ago. At the time, I just let the whole thing go. But in the back of my head I was like, under the wrong circumstances, I could see this becoming a big argument.

Q: Guess that means with PB&J, you’re a single-knifer?

A: Yep. I’m a single-knifer. At Sundance, “One knife or two?” became the question everyone was asking. Weird aside: Jason was in Europe… and found this peanut butter and jelly spreader with two sides. So bizarre that someone would even make that! That’s like being a mechanic that has this one tool that only works on this one car.

Peter and Vandy screens this weekend at AFI Dallas. Click here for the schedule.

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