there are movies you immediately take to. and there are movies that resonate long after you’ve seen them. Peter Besson has the unique ability to make films that do both. but what I like most about Peter is that if you met him in a bar, like I did, you’d have no idea he made films. gone is the ego and self-entitlement that seems synonymous with those that find themselves successful in ‘the biz’. he’s simply a nice guy who is very good at what he does.
if it sounds like I’m kissing his ass, then maybe I am – as when you see someone headed straight-up, you tend to hang on for as long as you can.
and that’s just Peter – never mind the near 50 awards his latest short ‘True Beauty This Night’ has raked in.
before we talk about ‘True Beauty This Night’, let’s talk about an earlier film of yours – ‘Accident’. I mean, if you compare the two… in fact, let’s compare the two. I remember you getting some flack over the first one about it being too dark or something?
Iâ€™ve got plenty of flack over â€˜Accidentâ€™.Â I remember standing on stage at the San Antonio Film Festival, just happy to be there and answer any question when I got barked at by an audience member, asking why the hell I made that short.Â I tried to explain to the man that the film actually carries a message and shouldnâ€™t be read on the surface level but more as a metaphor, but angry man wouldnâ€™t hear of it.Â He persisted in confusing the message with the messenger and if he could have, heâ€™d have stormed the stage and punched me.Â â€˜Accidentâ€™ deals with the death of a child, always a topic causing great emotions, but in a way that could be misread as to the intention of the what and how.Â Some peopleâ€™s shutters just go down when this topic is broached and theyâ€™re unwilling to go beyond the surface meaning.Â Understandable, but also a copout andÂ a bit lazy.Â The clues to the filmâ€™s meaning are there if oneâ€™s only willing to get past the gut reaction.Â And I meant this to be a gut reaction for a reason.Â â€˜Accidentâ€™ is a very polarizing film.Â People love it or hate it.Â And I mean hate it.Â Thereâ€™s no in-between.
you made ‘Accident’ before you had a child of your own. do you think it would have come out differently had you been a father then?
I donâ€™t Â think Iâ€™d have made â€˜Accidentâ€™ any different as a father.Â I still stand one hundred percent behind the message of the short (maybe even more so now; if thatâ€™s possible â€“ donâ€™t think thereâ€™s more than a hundred percentâ€¦), and the film is simply a vehicle to deliver that. I think you have to look past your own limited preferences or tastes if you want to get to something deeper.Â Â I do not nor did I ever condone the actions of the characters in the short, but that doesnâ€™t mean you canâ€™t make a film like that.Â If Iâ€™d make a film about people I agree with, it would be a rather boring affair of them sitting around, talking sweetly and hugging occasionally.Â Not exactly great dramaâ€¦
last time I saw you for the private screening of ‘True Beauty This Night’ [does saying things like that make it sound very L.A.?], you mentioned another thing you did differently with this latest one is hire a DP – anything else that stands out strongly in the evolution from making ‘Accident’ to now TBTN?
When I made â€˜Accidentâ€™ I was still under the film school spell and the notion of the â€˜auteurâ€™.Â Â I just knew that I could shoot this better than anybody.Â I mean I have a minor in photography, right?Â And the stuff my student colleagues shot looked like crap (no offense â€“ well, â€˜looking like crapâ€™ is an offense, so never mind).Â And I wanted this to be a visual showcase of my skill.Â Â I didnâ€™t think I was naÃ¯ve, but in hindsight, I was. Camera and Directing are two complete different skill sets, and I found myself scanning the viewfinder, seeing if the composition looks good, while watching the actors perform, and ended up doing neither particularly well.Â Both suffered, and I realized that I had to find somebody who had a great visual sensibility, somebody who I could trust to put the camera in the right place and do what he does best: make a beautiful image.Â So I could concentrate on the performances of the actors.Â I believe, or I hope, the results speak for themselves.Â â€˜Accidentâ€™ also suffered from the â€˜I have to make a statementâ€™ syndrome.Â I think I grew up since then (my wife disagrees), and thereâ€™s less need to shock, or hit people over the head. Â And with this maturity (my wifeâ€™s sniggering in the background) comes the realization that it takes more courage to be honest and sensitive than it does to hit people in the face.Â I think â€˜True Beautyâ€™ has a tenderness and a willingness to be vulnerable, and that is much more nerve-racking to do then some cool, clever hip short that puts some distance between audience and film, but leaves the filmmaker safe:Â You can always claim youâ€™re being ironic, or you didnâ€™t mean it.Â But with heartfelt emotions, itâ€™s exactly what it is.Â Canâ€™t hide from that.
you also mentioned something about having a rough time shooting in some place. security? am I remembering this right?
Donâ€™t shoot downtown LA at night when you only have one security guard.Â Thatâ€™s the lesson I learned on TBTN.Â We thought we did everything right, had the security guy watch our base camp, and we set out to get some night exteriors around the corner.Â We lit up the world and started shooting Rhett walking down the street, chipper, whistling.Â That went well for about half an hour, until it got really dark and the crazies started coming out.Â It got rougher and rougher, with actual threats shouted at us (â€˜You should all be shot!â€™), so our intrepid producers decided to hire an impromptu security guy: a big, no-nonsense mountain of a man.Â He was watching a liquor store on the corner, and for a fee, he watched our backs while we shot.Â Things quieted down immediately.Â Big guy didnâ€™t take shit from nobody, and made that clear to anybody who cared to listen.Â Little side note: after we spent all this time lighting the set, and shooting take after take, the DP and I were still not too happy with the result.Â Until he turned to his left, saw an alley that was just perfect, sent the actor walking and shot it.Â Perfect shot, beautiful to look at, and not planned one bit.
how in the world does a director go about hiring a police car?
I got lucky with my producers on the police car.Â For a paid job, they work occasionally on transportation on big studio films, and they pulled a lot of strings to get everything we needed.Â I mean a lot of strings.Â So much so that we were accused by the guy who owns the theater we shot at of lowballing him on the fee.Â He saw all the equipment these guys were able to pull together and he thought we stiffed him.Â It didnâ€™t look it, but it really was a low-budget affair.Â I mean low-budget LA style, which still costs an assloadâ€¦
okay, now – every time I check in with you, or re-watch the film, it seems to have gotten another award. how many do you have now and which ones really stand out to you?
The film has been doing fantastic on the festival circuit. So far it garnered 48 awards, give or take one, and played in about 180 festivals.Â (best way to keep track of it is [here] â€“ I try to keep that updated).Â Iâ€™m thrilled about any award I get.Â It really doesnâ€™t get old, nor should it.Â Thereâ€™s a wonderful thrill in getting the message that the short won this or that.Â Itâ€™s a great pat on the back for everybody who worked on it.Â So many shorts are made and just disappear down a black hole, and the cast and crew wonder why the hell they worked so hard on that thing.Â But the awards Iâ€™ll remember the most are: my first.Â Who doesnâ€™t remember their first?Â It was the incongruously named Stinkwater Short Film Festival in Sydney, Australia.Â I won first place, and was told so by Barry Watterson in a thick Australian accent: â€˜You won, mateâ€™.Â That was great news, even more so because it came with prize money (I had no idea), and the film showed in front of an audience of over 800, including the Cultural Minister and former lead singer of â€˜Midnight Oilâ€™ Peter Garrett.Â And that opened the gates for the film.Â Other notable awards wereâ€¦ the Jury prize at Stony Brook Film Festival.Â They flew me out to the festival, gave me the award and a bag full with stuff: an iPod, a DVD player, a GPS and other thingamadooders.Â Looked like I robbed a Best Buy when I got homeâ€¦Â The Jury Prize in San Diego, because it was a big festival, and the only awards show I could have gone to and didnâ€™t because I couldnâ€™t fathom Iâ€™d win anythingâ€¦ the Audience Award at Filmstock 11 in England, because they made their own trophy; it was sort of a picture book thing, held together by a large screw, and you could flip through and see what audience members had to say about your film; really fucking coolâ€¦ Best Short in Omaha because they sent an insane amount of film-related software with it I could actually useâ€¦Â Best of Fest in Derby City because it was the first (and only so far) best-of-the-whole-damn-thing award and the Kinokneipen Prize in Regensburg, Germany, because itâ€™s the only one that refers to a pub in name (Kneipe- pub).Â But like I said, Iâ€™m thrilled if the film wins anything.
aside from the numerous awards, what’s the best compliment you’ve received for TBTN?
One of the best compliments (aside from awards) I get for TBTN is when people walk up to me and tell me theyâ€™re sad it ended. Â They wanted to see more, they would have followed the characters for a lot longer; thatâ€™s something I didnâ€™t expect.Â Another thing is when people take the time to write either a review or just write me directly.Â Itâ€™s awesome to get â€˜fanmailâ€™.Â Not that I get that much, but every once in a while an email flutters into my inbox and itâ€™s from somebody who saw the film somewhere and just had to tell me personally how much they liked it.Â I mean it takes time to sit down and write, but it also takes a lot for somebody to feel compelled to make contact.Â Itâ€™s not just a â€˜oh, that was coolâ€™ and they move on.Â They have to communicate how much they liked the film.Â And thatâ€™s awesome.Â And this doesnâ€™t hurt.
so, knowing now that this is a stellar film, by numerous critics marks, do you still find yourself sitting in the back nervously?
Watching your own film on screen is nerve-racking.Â Doesnâ€™t matter how many times Iâ€™ve seen it screened in front of an audience, I still have to go out and down two beers and a chaser before a screening to calm my ass down.Â I donâ€™t know what it is, but you sit there, nervously, listening for the slightest noise from the audience (are they shifting in their seats? Bored?), scanning their upturned faces for any sort of reaction, hoping they laugh at the right moments.Â Itâ€™s pretty incredible, you can feel the mood in the room; itâ€™s palpable.Â And only bearable with a low level of alcohol in the bloodstream.
how can people watch it?
Right now, the filmâ€™s only playing in festivals.Â One of these days, when the runâ€™s over, Iâ€™ll put it up on the website, but the best way to see where itâ€™s going to playÂ is [here].
any advice for up-and-comers?
Advice for up-and-comers?Â Go make a film.Â Best way to learn anything.Â And donâ€™t take yourself so fucking serious.Â I know we all do, especially straight out of film school: every film is so important, deals with such heavy issues, thereâ€™s always a gun, or a gangster, or at the very least a death.Â Somebody always dies.Â And then the actors cry.Â And itâ€™s all so heavy and dreary and way too long.Â Thatâ€™s the other thing: if youâ€™re making a short, make sure itâ€™s short.Â Sounds simple, but the hardest thing for any filmmaker is to cut his own stuff.Â Directors fall in love with their own footage, they know how hard it was to get this one shot, and theyâ€™ll try to cram it in there, even if it doesnâ€™t fit. Â Donâ€™t do it.Â Get a good editor who doesnâ€™t care about any of the stuff that happens during production but who finds something new in the footage presented to him.Â A good editor might surprise you and give you a better film than you dreamed of.Â But for Godâ€™s sake edit!Â Nobody wants to see long takes of nothing, one after another, for thirty minutes, then somebody dies and the actor cries.Â Nobody wants to see indulgent crap.
I remember before JW, our mutual friend, introduced us, he called you ‘one of the most genuine guys in L.A.’, how, after getting such a great response from TBTN, do you not find yourself up your own ass? does it have to do with, like you said, ‘not taking oneself so seriously?’
Was JW sober when he said that?Â Really?Â Well, now my headâ€™s up my ass.Â And itâ€™s staying there.Â But seriously, itâ€™s exactly that: not taking everything so serious.Â Itâ€™s hard, we all get wrapped up in the drama of our lives and think itâ€™s the most important thing.Â But itâ€™s not.Â Go ahead and have a kid.Â And then your peddly little shit doesnâ€™t mean anything. Â Itâ€™s a real quick reality check.Â The only thing that matters is that kid smiling at you in the morning.Â And man, thatâ€™s something.Â No pretense, no bullshit, just a smile because the kid knows: itâ€™s great just to be hereâ€¦
and what’s next?
Iâ€™m endlessly re-writing a screenplay that just ended up on the top ten list for â€˜Writers on the Stormâ€™, a screenwriting contest by Coverage Inc., Theyâ€™re going to show the thing around town in the next few weeks – pretty excited about that. Â My manager (yup, got one after the first screening of TBTN) asked me to write a feature treatment for â€˜True Beautyâ€™ which I did, and which sheâ€™s handing out to a select few people right now.Â I never intended for TBTN to be anything more than just a short, but so many people have told me they could have followed the characters for a lot longer, and theyâ€™d love to see what happens next, so I figured why not?Â And eventually, Iâ€™m going to write a novel.Â Yes, like everybody else.Â But Iâ€™m really going to do itâ€¦