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Movie-Making Farrellys Invade Frat Row

By Mark Rozeman Posted: 03/04/2010
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It’s Friday night on Eagle Row and Owen Wilson (“Marley and Me”) and Amanda Bynes (“Sydney White”) sit parked outside the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity house. Once Bynes hits her cue, co-director Peter Farrelly yells “cut.” Crew members rush to inspect cameras and lights, halted conversations begin again and extras shield themselves from the cold.

Attractive film stars? Check. Star-struck audience? Check. It’s official — as of 6 p.m. Feb. 26, Emory has become a Hollywood film set.

The film in question is “Hall Pass,” a new comedy from directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the men behind “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.” The film stars Wilson and Jason Sudeikis (“Saturday Night Live”) as two married men who find themselves noticing other women. To alleviate the situation, their wives grant them a weeklong “hall pass” to pursue whatever extramarital activities they want.

For the Farrellys, the film marks a return to their old style of comedy after 2007’s critically lambasted “The Heartbreak Kid.”

“I am very proud of this movie on a lot of levels,” Peter says in an interview with the Wheel. “It’s right up our alley [and] ... it has a story and purpose that I think will play in almost every culture.”

Thanks to Georgia’s recently-instituted tax incentive for filming, which Farrelly calls “one of the best in the country,” the guys chose to film “Hall Pass” in Atlanta. The suggestion to shoot the film’s sorority scene at Emory came from alum J.B. Rogers (’86C), the film’s first assistant director. For his part, Farrelly says he and the crew have greatly enjoyed their brief time both at Emory and in Atlanta.

“We’ve had zero problems,” he says. “[The people have] been great. I always knew [Atlanta] was a great place.”

Aside from being a long-time collaborator with the Farrellys, Rogers has directed several notable productions, including “American Pie 2.” According to Farrelly, his work ethic and creative thinking has led the brothers to view him as “almost a third director.”

In addition to Rogers, the “Hall Pass” set featured both current and past Emory students. Nell Hodgson School of Nursing juniors Lindsay Kronberg and Eva Hoffrichter served as prominent extras in the scene’s establishing shot and alum Ben White (’08C) served as production designer.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” Hoffrichter says. “I never knew what exactly went into making a movie and how many people it takes.”

While talking with Peter inside the KA house, I discovered firsthand what makes him such a great comedic director: his natural story-telling skills. After a hilarious anecdote about the time he totaled his sister’s boyfriend’s “shag wagon” on a road trip to Atlanta, Peter discussed both the institution of marriage and the hormonal urges of the male sex.

“I believe in marriage whole-heartedly,” he says. “But even if God came to you and says you have the perfect woman on Earth, you’d still want to screw the second best.”

One of Peter’s most captivating qualities is his energy level. Despite more than 15 years in the business and about 10 feature films under his belt, he discusses “Hall Pass” with the zeal of a young director putting together his first film. His enthusiasm shines through, particularly when we talk about the film’s cast, which also includes Jenna Fischer (“The Office”), Christina Applegate (“Samantha Who?”) and Oscar-nominated actor Richard Jenkins (“Dear John”).

“It’s been a ball,” Peter says. “We’ve had some amazing casts over the years. But this tandem of Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis — it’s as funny as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels [in “Dumb and Dumber”]. They play off each other so well. And this is a different Owen Wilson. It’s a middle-aged Owen Wilson.”

Indeed, if not for his signature crooked nose, Wilson would be nearly unrecognizable. On set, he is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and slacks that don’t seem to fit with his laid-back persona. Likewise, his recognizable blond mane has been wilted down to a more formal close-crop. He looks older and — dare I say it — mature.

According to Peter, Wilson’s new look is but one of the unique highlights of the film.
“It doesn’t want to be like any particular movie we’ve made — it’s its own thing,” he says. “It’s a real R-rated comedy, but its got two characters you love and a racy theme that we’re walking a fine line on. Three-quarters of people are going to love it, and a quarter is going to be totally offended.”

In the vein of “offending people,” Peter also discussed his distaste for the brothers’ reputation as gross-out auteurs of comedy.

“It’s insulting,” he says. “We never sit and think, ‘What gross things can we come up with today to make people laugh?’ ... First and foremost, we are guys who create characters you like, and if we didn’t, then you wouldn’t know our names.”

Peter then stresses the importance of creating relatable and interesting characters when putting together a successful comedy.

“Our movies are about an hour and 50 [minutes long] while other comedies are an hour-30,” he says. “The reason is because we take 20 minutes to set up heart. We believe you must enjoy our characters to love our comedy.”

After our interview, Farrelly leaves the house and throws himself back into his work. But despite the professional atmosphere, it’s tough to ignore the college setting. At one point, a group of students stand in front of the adjacent Alpha Tau Omega house with a banner that reads, “Amanda and Owen C—m Party with Us.”

“Ah, to be in college again,” one crew member says, attempting to take a picture of the sign before security shoos them away.

Before leaving the set, I take one last glance behind me. The crew is once again swept up in a massive storm of movement. Crew members move this way and that. Massive light fixtures are taken down and reinstated in a matter of seconds. Bobby talks with a cameraman while Peter instructs Wilson about how to milk a line for ultimate comedic value.

At 10:20 p.m., the night is still young for these guys — and all for a little scene that will probably last only a few seconds on the big screen. If comedy is a rough business, then the Farrellys are the Warren Buffets of it.

— Contact Mark Rozeman.

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