HEAVY PETTING was begun in 1982 when Obie Benz and Pierce
Rafferty joined forces to develop a film about sex and
dating. Benz had been nominated for an Academy Award for
directing AMERICAS IN TRANSITION, a documentary on U.S.
policy in Latin America. Rafferty had co-directed ATOMIC
CAFE, a black humor classic which used archival footage of
America's propaganda campaign for the atom bomb.
Benz and Rafferty wanted to explore techniques for
instructing kids about sex and social conduct using
educational films, newsreels, TV, and features. Working with
a team of fifteen film researchers throughout the country,
they researchers came up with educational titles like AS BOYS
GROW, DISCIPLINE DURING ADOLESCENCE, HOW TO SAY NO, PHYSICAL
ASPECTS OF PUBERTY, and SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY. They also
scoured the National Archives (army VD films), the Kinsey
Institute for Sex Research, the Kansas State Board of Health,
private collections, attics, and a corrupt school official
instructed to trash a decades old film collection.
Some films were in the public domain. Much was forgotten
footage, "ephemeral" films, created to sell or teach, long
ago outdated. Though many warnings seemed clumsy and
simplistic, the sincerity of delivery was striking when
compared to the polished messages of today's professional
When the project was initially taken to Norman Lear, then
head of Embassy Pictures, he immediately agreed to finance
it. After screening thousands of hours of footage, the
filmmakers workprinted 65 hours and began editing. When a
through-line proved difficult to find, Embassy executives
bailed out, and the filmmakers went on to other projects.
But Benz continued to explore ways to finish the film. In
1985, he resumed production as both producer and director.
He needed a strong device that would draw people from the
archival footage to their own experience. He decided against
comic narration or re-enactments in favor of REDS style
"witnesses" who would act as a counterpoint to the archival
Out of a list of 100 people from an array of backgrounds,
Benz interviewed 40 about their sex and dating experiences.
All witnesses agreed to talk without preconditions. From 30
hours of new footage, the filmmakers ultimately chose 25
minutes from 23 witnesses.
To process a 35mm release print, original material had to be
secured for over 100 sources. Prints came from every
conceivable format: from scratched, last-remaining release
prints to original A + B rolls saved from a closing film lab
to cinemascope for REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.