Like Loque, Peretz knows funny. At 31, this Cambridge, Mass.-born lensman has made a name for himself creating memorable comedic TV spots for such companies as MTV, Ikea, Nike, and Barq's Root Beer.
His most recent proof of commercial hilarity is a series of five spots for Holiday Inn, via Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. In the first, "Meet Mark," a 37-year-old flannel-bathrobe-clad freeloader, still living with the folks, defends his rent-free status at La Parental Palace, citing that neither grandma nor Larry pay rent. Mom points out that Grandma's 93 and Larry's a dog, but Mark isn't deterred: "Well I'm a kid and kids should stay for free, and eat for free," setting up Dad's punch: "What do you think this is, a Holiday Inn?" Mom, Dad and Grandma burst out in hateful laughter.
The part about the family laughing at him "wasn't originally in the script," says Peter McHugh, Fallon's creative director, who credits Peretz's instinct and spontaneity with the project's success. "Jess was very fluid. He wasn't constipated about what we thought would work versus what we ended up with."
Peretz demands the same go-with-the-flow attitude from those he works with, weeding out anal clients from the get-go. "I try to figure out if I hear in [the client's or agency's] voice that they're going to be uptight about pushing the product super hard," he says. "They need to embrace the concept that if you make a memorable and original commercial, you'll have something that people are psyched to look at a second and third time." The key of a great spot, Peretz thinks, "is showing people's real behavior back to them. Even if it's just a 30-second commercial, people connect with it because they see themselves or people they know in it."
Enter Jimmy McBride, the fat, greasy-haired, MTV-obsessed Boston cabby everyone hates to love. The character, created by Peretz and two college buds, actor Donal Loque and screenwriter Clay Tarver, was the first feather in the up-and-coming director's cap. MTV, in the end, asked Peretz to direct no fewer than 80-plus spots with Jimmy (played by Loque). His second breakthrough came when the Foo Fighters asked him to direct what became their '96 cult-classic video, "Big Me," a great parody of the Euro-cheesy Mentos spots.
"In a weird way, since it parodied a commercial, it helped people in the ad world to put this and the cab driver thing together," says Peretz, a Harvard film-and-photography grad and a former bassplayer for alternative Boston-based rockband The Lemonheads. "Suddenly it seemed to add up to enough for people to start hiring me for O.K. jobs."
He thrives on the social aspects of the work. "So much of directing is a social task, where you are trying to unify a huge bunch of people behind one idea," says Peretz, who looks to his mom, Anne Peretz, a social worker and painter, for inspiration. "She's one of those people who can make conversation with anybody," he says. "She made me realize how much farther you can get and how much richer your life is if you make the effort to connect with people."
Ultimately, though, it isn't through ads that Peretz hopes to connect with his audience, but through -- who'd've guessed? -- feature films. His first, First Love, Last Rights Rites, debuted in 1997.
"Features mean something," says Peretz. "Ultimately, commercials are kind of a meaningless medium ... I don't get emotional satisfaction by convincing people to stay at a Holiday Inn or buy Nike shoes," he ventures. "My goal is to make features that make people think and feel in a more complex way."
A few years ago, he was struck badly by a car. The accident changed his outlook on life. "People will say things to me like 'well why don't you just do commercials for five years and make millions of dollars and then do whatever you want for the rest of your life,'" he says. "[But] having that brush with death made me remember that you can't ever think about life that way. I think it's a mistake for people to be planning too much for the future. I'm not saying 'live for now,' like get fucked up and party all the time. I try to do that too, but