Evgenia Peretz’s Family Business



If you grew up with siblings, you’ll find something that speaks to you in Our Idiot Brother, a film about family made by a family (with the help of a lot of friends). Co-written by Evgenia Peretz with her husband, filmmaker David Schisgall, and directed by her brother, Jesse Peretz, the New York-based comedy deftly twists tense familial relations with a lightness rare in funny movies today.

Paul Rudd stars as Ned, the titular idiot brother, who, with an overabundance of good faith and a relaxed demeanor, derails the lives of his cynical trio of sisters: the modern mom Liz (Emily Mortimer); the hardheaded journalist Miranda (Elizabeth Banks); and the confused bohemian Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). The film is rounded out with a phenomenal supporting cast, including Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones, and Adam Scott. We spoke to Evgenia, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, about collaborating with family and using her workplace in the film. 

CRAIG HUBERT: How did the project originate?

EVGENIA PERETZ: My brother and I, we sort of came up with it together. I think he had in mind trying to write something for Paul Rudd. They had had a lot of false starts on various projects and he worked with him on his previous movie, The Chateau. It’s hard to say how it originated. We wanted to do something about grown siblings; we wanted to do something that takes place in New York. We sort of put those elements together with Paul Rudd, and the story kind of developed from there. We brought my husband in, David Schisgall, who’s a documentary filmmaker, and he did the script with us.

HUBERT: Obviously it was a collaborative process. How did the three of you work together?

PERETZ: Basically, David, Jesse, and I would sit around banging out ideas for the outline of what should happen. And then David and I wrote out the scenes and would sort of trade them back and forth, writing on each other’s scenes — in the end, it’s a mish-mash of what I’d written and what David had written.

HUBERT: Since you’re all family members, was there ever any discussion while working, like, “is this is getting too autobiographical?”

PERETZ: No, not really. I mean, I wish I could say that it was more autobiographical. It’s really not. There are certain elements of characters based on people we know, but in terms of being about us, I would say in general I’m a pretty high-strung, neurotic person, like all the sisters. There’s a little bit of me in each of them.

HUBERT: I’m not going to ask the question, but I assume making a movie called Our Idiot Brother, and working with your brother, you expected people to ask about Jesse being your idiot brother.

PERETZ: He certainly has his idiotic moments, for sure.

HUBERT: Even if it was based on your brother, it’s a nice portrait. Ned is a very sweet character. He’s not really an idiot.

PERETZ: Yeah, of course. We definitely meant that title to be ironic. It’s really the sisters who are far more idiotic than he is.

HUBERT: The film was popular at Sundance, but there were some changes made between that version and the version hitting theaters. What were the changes, or why were changes made?

PERETZ: Which version did you see?

HUBERT: I didn’t see the Sundance version.

PERETZ: We changed the ending, we’re much happier with the ending. Actually, we kind of ran out of money. It was a very small budget. I don’t think we were ever thrilled with the original ending—it was fine, but it didn’t quite have that feeling of satisfaction and the feeling of being psyched for Ned. It was just a little more nebulous. I think we gave him an upbeat ending.

HUBERT: I wasn’t sure if it was changes you wanted to make, or imposed on you from above.

PERETZ: The Weinstein Company, I think they suggested it, but we were all completely on board. It was such a positive, positive thing for everyone to make that change. Because they bought, we had the resources to do some reshoots and really kind of clean it up a little bit.

HUBERT: The character that seems closest to you on the surface is the one played by Elizabeth Banks, who works at Vanity Fair.

PERETZ: I should say that when we originally wrote the script, she was supposed to be a writer at a fashion magazine. We had it at W Magazine. We asked W Magazine, and they said no. And then we asked Graydon Carter if we could use Vanity Fair just for the offices, because we wanted a really authentic-looking magazine office. He was super-supportive and he said yes—I mean, he wanted to read the script first, and he really liked the script. I think it was his suggestion, maybe with some changes: why not make her a Vanity Fair reporter? I will say that there is quite an artistic leap taken in terms of how things would actually work at Vanity Fair.

HUBERT: I wanted to ask how close the process is to your experience.

PERETZ: If I were writing a story like that, you would sit down—I mean, it’s virtually inconceivable that a fact-checker would be like, as long as your brother says so, it’s fine. But the actual scene would be far too detailed and boring for any movie.

HUBERT: Do you see any connection between your work in journalism and screenwriting?

PERETZ: I’ve done a number of profiles, and I like to think my writing is kind of socially observant and character-driven, if you can say that about journalism. I try to have my writing be scenic, if you know what I mean. Other than that, it’s such a different beast writing a screenplay, having an infinite number of options.

HUBERT: Even though you’ve said the character is not autobiographical, and the process at Vanity Fair is not exactly as it’s portrayed in the movie, was there ever a fear that you now have to go back into those offices and people may read too much into a connection?

PERETZ: I haven’t thought about that, but I really hope there isn’t. I’ve been there long enough and I have a good enough track record that people know I would never put a story together in that way. [laughs] I would be mortified if I was as sloppy as journalist as she is in the movie.

HUBERT: You’re working on another film with your brother, this time set in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

PERETZ: We have another script that we wrote, actually before this one, that we are trying to get financed. It takes place in the 1980s. It’s kind of about the punk scene and set in the academic world in Cambridge.

HUBERT: Will this one be more autobiographical?

PERETZ: Yeah, it’s not literally about our family, but it certainly has more autobiographical elements. It’s about a kid who’s in a punk band, and Jesse was in The Lemonheads. I don’t know if that’s before your time.