Brotherly Love: The Farrellys on Filmmaking and Teamwork

by Simon de Carvalho '14

How did brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, natives of Rhode Island, make it as directors in Hollywood? According to the pair, who visited Harvard Monday, Nov. 22 as part of the Conversation with Kirkland series in collaboration with the Office for the Arts Learning from Performers Program, they were simply the only brother-brother duo from Rhode Island trying to make it in Hollywood. Well, except for the Barbarian Brothers (as the Farrellys joked).

The directing pair, famous for cult classics Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary among other films, discussed their upcoming 2011 film Hall Pass, speculations of a Three Stooges film (a fish on the line that has yet to be reeled in, said Peter) and the story of their careers and working as brothers.

The night started with the two briefly discussing how they got into the business: After some years of pursuing what to them seemed like boring and unfulfilling careers, Bobby, a geology major, and Peter, an accounting major, decided that, as Peter explained, "We liked movies; we thought that would be fun to do. It’s not like anything else was working anyway."

So, they read how to write a screenplay from a book and spent years in Hollywood selling screenplays, with little success. "Pretty much anything we wrote was for Bill Murray, and then we didn’t get Bill Murray—well, we didn’t get anybody in those years," Peter said. Finally someone suggested that they try directing themselves, even though, by their own admission, they didn’t really know what a director does.

Clearly, they figured it out.

Dumb & Dumber, the duo's directorial debut,was never taken seriously ("It’s kind of dumb," Peter said someone told them), but it became the duo’s breakout hit, and it propelled the Brothers Farrelly to success.

A big part of that success is the dynamic they have as brothers, and their discussion of this dynamic was one of the most interesting parts of the evening. Ninety percent of the time they agree about what to do in a film, they said, but it is "in that 10 percent that we end up coming up with some of our most inspired stuff," said Bobby.

At the end of a night of hilarity that involved Bobby telling of his love for the word "titillation" ("Helps define itself!") and the revelation that the brothers do way better at junior colleges (They killed at Roger Williams University, they said), the pair showed an eight-minute clip from their upcoming film Movie 43.

The film, which comprises 16-18 short films connected by an underlying plot, stars (deep breath!) Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Richard Gere, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Terrence Howard, and is due out sometime next year. The clip was bizarre and hilarious, and featured Hugh Jackman with a pretty ridiculous appendage on the underside of his neck (that I won't describe to you for more than one reason). Suffice it to say the audience did not stop laughing for the entirety of the eight-minute running time.

So how did this duo go from Rhode Island obscurity to directing movies with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood? Their unwillingness to give up, and the belief that, no matter what, they were right and detractors were wrong.

"You hold each other up," Bobby said, and, hilarity aside, that’s a message to remember.

[Caption: The Brothers Farrelly: Peter and Bobby at Kirkland House. PHOTO: Simon de Carvalho]