Swingin' at the Vineyard with Pete Farrelly

Of all the directors I've ever talked to, no two have ever taken the same approach to watching movies at home - which isn't too surprising, since each has had an extremely idiosyncratic approach to making movies.

Pete, with his son Bob exiting on a tire
swing, frame right. (Photo: Nora Gaughn)

For instance, Get Shorty and Men in Black helmer Barry Sonnenfeld (who does a bang-up job in the September issue of Sound & Vision writing about his experiences upgrading the system in his Telluride home) likes to research every piece of gear that goes into his setup and wants to know all the details about why his system works the way it does. Meanwhile, Pete Farrelly - who, along with brother Bobby, has made a string of hit comedies that includes Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary - admits to being a technophobe, and just wants to know where the On button is.

That doesn't mean Pete would settle for a lesser quality system than Barry's - the screening room in his Santa Barbara home, for instance, features Meridian digital speakers and a Faroudja projector. It just means he relies more on his installer to be able to interpret his tastes and then recommend the right gear to satisfy them.

I went to Pete's summer home in Martha's Vineyard this past weekend to talk to him about how he likes to watch movies, and to see how things were going with his new film, The Heartbreak Kid - a remake of the 1973 Charles Grodin/Cybill Shepherd laugher starring Ben Stiller this time around, and going in directions original writer Neil Simon never dreamt of.

When I arrived on the island, Pete's wife Melinda - one of the most decent and charming people on the planet - told me that Pete had been up until 2 in the morning the night before editing Kid. And when I walked into the second-floor workroom of his barn, he was huddling with a team of editors, trying to get a friend's feature into shape. That's not how most of us would want to spend a damn near perfect midsummer weekend, but there was a payoff: Larry David was picking him up the next morning in his private jet for a week of golf in Scotland.

For a lot of people, this will seem like a stretch, but I think it's fundamentally sound: Pete creates movies the same way Chaplin and Keaton did, preferring to make the magic happen within the scene instead of relying on cutting, camera moves, or special effects. And, when I ask him about the new screening room he's putting in as he moves his family from their Santa Barbara behemoth ("It takes me a half hour to go from the bedroom to the kitchen if I want to make a sandwich in the middle of the night") to a much more manageable home, he keeps hitting the theme of simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. "I hate cellphones - I won't use one. And when I turn on the lights, I want to use a switch. You know - turn them on and off. I don't want to stand there for 10 seconds, holding down some dimmer."

His experiences with the Santa Barbara installation were far from smooth - partly because there were far too many cooks in the A/V kitchen, and partly because of a prolonged, and wildly expensive, entanglement with a mismatched installer-but he's hoping that that seemingly endless nightmare taught him some valuable lessons. He's also developed a good rapport with his new installer - Barry Cayton of New York-, Boca Raton-, and L.A.-based Audio Command - which is often the most critical ingredient in getting an installation done right. "Barry's a working-class guy who married a really wealthy woman and doesn't have to work another day in his life. But he loves what he does, so he keeps doing it, and I have a lot of respect for that."

Pete's life on the Vineyard is pretty much electronics-free. Aside from a 42-inch plasma, serviced by a workman-like RCA receiver and a pair of Boston Acoustics speakers, there's not much in the way of home entertainment in his summer home. But, if you've got a professional editing suite in your barn that keeps you chained to the movie industry even when you're on vacation, you're not going to want to spend a lot of your down time watching other people's films.

By the way, if you haven't seen the trailer yet for Heartbreak Kid, check it out here. Trailers rarely do a good job of capturing the movie they're promoting. Worse, comedy trailers are rarely funny. (Rolling his eyes, Pete asks me, "Did you ever see the trailer for Something About Mary? No relation to the movie - none at all. We're lucky anybody went to see it.") But this one gets both things spectacularly right. Given that, and that this will be Ben Stiller's first movie since A Night at the Museum, it looks like Pete might have another hit on his hands. -Michael Gaughn