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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 Much was forgotten footage, "ephemeral" films, created to sell or teach, long ago outdated.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 media.

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 material.

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.