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There's Something About Mary

Here are some highlights from the American Movie Channel's Backstory program on the 1998 comedy There's Something About Mary.

Director Bobby Farrelly: "It's a stalking movie. It's about stalking. And we've stalked."

Director Peter Farrelly: "Every guy's stalked."

Narrator: "In 1988, struggling writers Ed Decter and John J. Strauss came up with the idea of Mary for their first script."

Ed: "We heard a story about someone who hired a private detective to find their highschool girlfriend who they had lost touch with. And we said, what if this private detective was like us, a little bit sick, and was watching this girl and fell in love with her from afar, then reported back that he didn't find her or was undesirable."

Narrator: "The screenplay was quickly optioned but for a decade did nothing but collect dust. Enter Frank Beddor, a former actor and friend of the writers who was eager to become a film producer."

Frank: "I said, 'Do you have a script that I can revive or producer?' They said that Something About Mary was on a shelf at Interscope, and if you finagle it out of development, you can do with it what you like."

Narrator: "Beddor rescued the script out of turnaround and began looking for the perfect director."

Frank: "We decided to talk to the Farrelly brothers. [Ed and John] introduced me to them six years before and we used to drink beer and play pool together."

Narrator: "In three short years, Bobby and Peter Farrelly had gone from total unknowns to major Hollywood players. Their film Dumb and Dumber became the surprise smash of 1994. When Frank Beddor pitched the duo his project, the Farrellys signed on and gleefully punched up the script with their trademark shock humor."

Frank: "I pitched the executive at Fox on a chairlift at Sundance. I gave him the one-liner and I said the Farrelly brothers were interested."

Tom Rothman, Fox Film Group President Tom Rothman: "It was so far out there. When this movie was done, there had not been a real strong R-rated sex comedy since Animal House or Caddyshack.

"I read that script and my wife looked at me as if I were crazy. I was laughing and tears were coming out of my eyes."

Narrator: "Rothman quickly said yes to a script that the Farrellys had packed with both gross out humor and some personal experience."

Peter: "The scene where the guy gets tangled up in his zipper - that happened at our house to a friend of ours. Our sister had a party when she was 12 years old and the cool kid went to the bathroom and didn't come out for an hour. And our parents had to go in there and untangle him for quite a while."

Tom Rothman: "The matter of confounding, embarrassing or extravagant situation that the characters find themselves in, the characters are approached with love, sweetness and kindness."

Narrator: "To play the title role, the Farrellys needed an actress that was not only beautiful but possessed something extra that would make every characer crazy about Mary. They had one woman in mind - the beautiful and vivacious Cameron Diaz."

Frank: "There was no discussion. It was Cameron Diaz is Mary."

Peter: "She's the perfect woman. She hangs out with the guys. She likes to throw back a couple of beers. She likes sports. Yet you'd love to sleep with her. She's the perfect Mary."

Narrator: "But getting Cameron Diaz to agree with the Farrellys was another different matter."

Frank: "She said she didn't want to do it. Then her manager, Rick Yorn, said, 'You've got to read the script'."

Cameron: "I'd never read anything quite like it. It made me laugh."

Frank: "After she read the script, she said, 'Whoever has the balls to write this movie, I'd like to work with.'"

Narrator: "But Diaz was about to get a shocking peak at what working with the brothers Farrelly would be like. During their first meeting, Peter decided to show something very private."

Frank: "He has this ploy to show his own private parts."

Mark Iwin, cinematographer: "It's not exactly an ice-breaker but it's a way of indoctrinating people into his circle of friends."

John J. Strauss: "Anyone else, arrested, in jail. The Farrellys make it a treasured moment in your life that somehow they've dropped trou."

Frank: "Usually he has to have a straight person with him. And the straight guy will say, 'How's that melanoma?' Invariably, the third person with him will say, 'What is it?' Peter will say, 'No, it's nothing.' Then I will say, 'No, it's a big bump. Show her.' So the person leans in."

Mark: "Meanwhile, Peter has arranged his private parts so that the tip of his private parts is showing above the waistband."

Frank: "People would put their head in to see it and he'd [open up his shorts]. It didn't matter, male or female. He just did it to get a reaction."

Actress Lin Shaye: "If he wasn't a director, and if he wasn't such a nice guy, he probably would've been arrested by now."

Tom: "I have seen it. I did not wish to see it. And I will be seeking redress in the courts."

Narrator: "When Farrelly flashed his leading lady, Diaz roared with laughter, proving to the Farrellys that they had found their Mary.

"For the part of lovestruck loser Ted Stroehman, the Farellys had another inspiration - comedian Ben Stiller. But 20th Century Fox wasn't convinced."

Frank: "He didn't have a big profile in middle America so they got nervous. They wanted us to do a search and go out and discover the new Ted. We did this three-week search and found Owen Wilson. Then the studio panicked and said, 'Who's Owen Wilson?' Ultimately, Fox agreed to take a chance on Stiller. But another casting struggle emerged - over the part of sleazy private eye Pat Healy. Bill Murray, Vince Vaughn and Cuba Gooding Jr were considered but finally the part went to Cameron Diaz's real life boyfriend Matt Dillon."

Frank: "We fought for Matt. I thought we all had that instinct that he could do comedy. He just hadn't done that recently."

Narrator: "On December 2, 1997, cameras rolled on There's Something About Mary. Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly planned a ten-week shoot in Florida and their native Rhode Island. A shoot that often seemed more like a nonstop party than serious filmmaking."

Lin Shaye: "The Farrellys like to surround themselves with family. Their mom and dad come. Their friends from gradeschool come."

Actor Chris Elliott: "There's no seriousness going on on the set and very unprofessional. They're more concerned about making it funny."

Chris Elliott helped devise his character's repulsive Hives makeup. And Ben Stiller threw himself into his onscreen battle with canine costar Puffy.

Lin: "He completely choreographed that whole scene. The way he fought with the dog and his reactions, that was all Ben."

Narrator: "But it was Farrelly brothers favorite Lin Shaye who topped everyone with an impromptu dog smooching session."

Lin: "We're shooting the scene and I pick him up and put him in the air and all of a sudden I can feel every muscle in the dog's body lunge towards me and lick and lick."

Frank: "She just went crazy and would not stop."

Lin: "I could hear the crew busting a gut and they were trying not to make any sounds so they didn't ruin the tape. Cameron was laughing so hard that she was crying. She had tears running down her face."

Narrator: "But not every bit of comedy was quite so voluntary as some stars raised objections to the Farrelly's requests. Ben Stiller was forced to handle one of the most awkward actions - a bathroom scene he almost refused to do."

Mark Irwin: "Ben was reluctant to do the scene that produced the hair gel."

Ben: "That's probably the most embarrassing thing in my real life because I am going to have to live with that for the rest of my life."

Narrator: "But the biggest onscreen indignity befell Cameron Diaz. Her scene involving hair gel that would become Mary's most infamous moment."

Frank: "There was a lot of conversation about that. It seemed like it would be in such bad taste."

Mark: "I think everyone thought the hair gel scene was one step too far."

Narrator: "At first Diaz flatly refused to do the scene, thinking it might damage her promising career."

Cameron: "The thing that you learn very quickly with Peter and Bobby is that you can never go too far."

Tom Rothman: "We thought it was all too much. I'd come back from dailies every day saying, 'He can't do that. No way. We're drawing a line. Absolutely not.'"

I met Producer Frank Beddor (There's Something About Mary, 1998) at his office in the 5000 block of Wilshire Blvd on June 6, 2002.

Beddor grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended Catholic school for 12 years. "I lived an hour away in a small town but it had a wonderful theater called the Old Log Theater. And the town next to ours had three dinner theaters. My father was an entrepreneur and showman in his own right. He started his own traveling waterski show called "Ski Antics." He hired the girls from the Ice Follies and some ex football players from the University of Minnesota and taught everybody how to ski. They had pyramids, fire jumps, even my old man's dog Rowdy was in the show. As a promotional stunt for Paul Bunyan Land in northern Minnesota, he dressed himself up as Paul Bunyan. The boat was Babe the Ox and he waterskied down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to New Orleans."

Luke: "Any resemblance between you and the Ted Stroehman character in Something About Mary in highschool?"

Frank: "When I was a Freshman, I met the prettiest girl in the school. And we went out for three weeks until she dumped me. I had no ability to talk to her. I remember being on the bleachers of the basketball court when she blew me off. I wasn't cool enough. I had a hard time in highschool after that with the girls because I'd had the most beautiful girl in the school as a Freshman.

"I think every guy has had a piece of scrotum caught in a zipper (or at least a near miss). It is horrifying. It's a funny thing to watch an audience during that [penis stuck in a zipper] scene, particularly the men's faces. When they showed the cum (hair gel) on the ear, the audience rocked back and forth in unison, like a wave. Three feet back and forth. I think that should've been in the trailer. Instead of having testimonials, show the audience doing the whiplash."

Luke: "How did other countries react to the film?"

Frank: "Great. It made more money internationally than domestically because it had many site gags and broad comedy. A number of scenes had their own beginning, middle and end, it worked universally. You don't need to understand the dialogue to get the masturbation scene. It succeeded in places that would not normally embrace American comedies. However, it did not do as well as we expected in Japan.

"There was dialogue humor (some of Matt Dillon's dialogue about working with retards) that didn't play as well overseas while here it would get huge laughs."

One internet poster to did not appreciate the humor. Kelly Himes wrote on bit.listserv.down-syn newsgroup: "Outraged isn't even descriptive enough to tell you how mad I am. Dave and I just went to the movies. Our nine year anniversary on Monday. We decided to see a comedy so we choose to see "Something about Mary." Well, needless to say, this was not a movie that I sat quietly through. Not even 20 minutes into the movie, Mary ask this guy was he does for a living. This is what he said: "I work with a bunch of retards. Those Mongos are the best. They started being better once we were able to put them in their cages and then when we go out I get to use my leash." I was so startled and outraged that I yelled I can't believe that they would say something like that. I can't believe that they would make my son into less of a human being by saying these things. I wanted to puke. I have never been so appalled in my whole life. Not ever. God! I will be screaming about the this forever. I suppose that I will be more constructive with my anger once I am done being mad. If that ever happens."

After graduating high school in 1977, Beddor went to the University of Utah and joined the U.S. Ski Team, where he was a member for five years. Free Style Skiing was not an Olympic event until after he retired in 1983. However, he was Free Style Skiing World Champion in 1981 and 1982.

"I did endorsements for Northwest Airlines, Audi, Fila, as wells as commercials for Juicy Fruit and Nikon, among others. However, I started my entertainment career doing stunts in HOT DOG: THE MOVIE, followed by doubling John Cusack in BETTER OFF DEAD, which brought me to Los Angeles to start what became a brief acting career."

Luke: "You worked in that classic teen sex comedy Hot Dog [1984]."

Frank: "Shannon Tweed's tits, skiing and some raunchy B-movie dialogue sold that movie. Kids still talk about it. It's a cult fave. I was on the set the whole shoot and it was quite hedonistic. It was quite an introduction to "moviemaking" -- girls, drugs, gambling, skiing. Not a bad way to spend six weeks and make a few bucks. The film only cost $1.8 million and I believe it did around $20-25 million at the box office."

Luke: "What similar qualities does it take to be a champion skier and movie producer?"

Frank: "They both require a great deal of self-motivation. You have to wake up, kick yourself in the ass to generate a great deal of energy for your passion. It takes an equal amount of focus, ambition and setting your aspirations at a high level for success and quality. It's true for skiing or film.

"The reason that I stopped acting was that I couldn't wake up in the morning and go act. You had to wait for somebody to tell you it was ok. With writing and producing, at least you can wake up and generate material, which you can do without anybody knowing who you are. Of course if you're not known you have to figure out a strategy to circulate your material. Since I never worked as someone's assistant I didn't know anybody. I reasoned that everyone needed good material. If I had something someone else thought was viable, then I would coattail my way into the business, which is exactly what happened.

"I was reading scripts and doing freelance coverage while I polished my first treatment, which I sold in 1993 - the story of the 10th Mountain Division, the first skiing and climbing troops that trained and fought during WWII. It was before that wave of movies about WWII. I partnered up with Kennedy/Marshal [Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshal, widely regarded as the best producing duo]. That gave me credibility because I was in business with Kennedy/Marshall and we had a deal at Paramount.

"I usually generate my own material versus getting scripts from agencies. On occasion I will find something I like but generally it's difficult because the bigger producers (the Scott Rudins and Brian Grazers of the world) get the first crack at the best material handled by the agencies.

"I met the writers (Ed Decter and John J. Strauss) of There's Something About Mary during an extensions Shakespeare class at UCLA in 1989. The teacher was quite boring and we'd commiserate over a beer after class. They told me they were working on their first script for Disney. They gave me a number of drafts to read. It was in development hell for quite some time after that. Meanwhile we became good friends, and that's how I knew about the script THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.

"In 1996, after I'd completely given up acting and taken up producing full time, I asked Ed and John if they had any forgotten scripts in the trunk of their car that I could produce. They said "We've sold everything, but do you remember There's Something About Mary? It's sitting on a shelf at Interscope. And if you can get it in turnaround [studio is willing to sell the script it has developed], you can produce it."

Luke: "How close is the original script to the finished movie?"

Frank: "The original narrative, the hook, the romantic comedy and the sweetness are all Ed and John's invention. Peter and Bobby created the set pieces, the broad comedy and hilarious new dialogue, but most importantly they changed the lead character from a hard-charging type to a lovable loser. When Ed and I went to the Farrelly brothers about directing, they were working on a project called THE LOSER, which is where Ben Stiller's character came from. They wanted to take that character and combine it with the pre-existing script.

"I think Disney and Interscope thought the original script was too soft, but bringing together the Farrelly brothers with a script that had a great hook and a solid structure was a perfect combination.

"We tested the movie in April of 1998 and it tested off the charts. The marketing people started sweating because they knew the movie worked and would be better suited to a summer release as opposed to the Christmas release that it was on the books for. The studio decided it was a summer movie and pushed up the schedule five months, which meant we only had May and June to create a buzz. We missed all the magazine sneak preview issues. Nobody really knew about the film until it opened on July 13. The opening weekend we did $13-15 million, second or third place. For eight weeks we had virtually no drop off, then we accomplished something that never happens during the summer - the eighth week we reached number one.

"On opening night, I took the writers in a limo to the premiere in Westwood. We drank champagne in the back. As soon as Ben Stiller gets his dick stuck in his zipper, I saw this guy halfway down the aisle. He falls out of seat and he's slapping the floor. And I turn to Ed and say, 'This is going to be huge. It could make $200 million.' And he replies, 'That's impossible. People will think you're crazy if you say that.'

"Fox's marketing strategy was to start with the teens and young adults and broaden out but it worked out a little differently. We started out with a broad demographic but weeks later after seeing the Lethal Weapon sequel the teens caught up with us."

Luke: "Did people start returning your phone calls after Mary?"

Frank: "Not only that, but people I hadn't heard from in years, some of whom I'm not even sure I knew. High school friends, skiing friends, business associates I had met along the way. They were all calling to congratulate me but really they had a movie idea or script to pitch. It certainly pointed out the reach a successful film can have.

"I went to London and introduced myself to the entertainment crowd by inviting them to the U.K. premiere. It was a sly way to get a little attention and set up some future business.

"But separate from that, the regular movie going audience had such a visceral laugh with the film that upon meeting them they seem to connect with you through the humor and pleasure the movie provided, which is a very satisfying byproduct of making a comedy."

Luke: "Is there a type of movie you want to make?"

Luke: "Is there a type of movie you want to make?"

Frank: "I'm eclectic. I love a variety of genres, but I primarily sold comedies after Mary. A number of romantic comedies, a satirical comedy and a couple of broad comedies. But it's really tough to make comedy work on the level of Mary. I'm currently prepping a movie about the creators and creation of Napster [Internet file sharing service], an original premiere for Starz-Encore. We've interviewed most of the principals behind Napster and we're doing a satirical look behind-the-scenes of the making of Napster. (assume you asked a question about the toughest and best aspects of the business)."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about the biz?"

Frank: "The toughest part of the industry is the uncertainty. The risk/reward is also the juice. Dealmaking, protecting one's position, intellectual property, becomes intense. The best part of the industry is coming up with an idea that you know is going to work and having your own secret that will soon be shared."

Luke: "Have you ever worked on a movie that's changed you?"

Frank: "I may be working on one right now. What I do know is that I've been able to immerse myself into this story without obsessing over any expectation of the outcome. It's more a labor of love, and we'll see if my instincts prove to be right. Being a Type A personality in an industry filled with them, it's been my attempt to be Zen-out on this one and be content creating the story, characters and universe and pray they carry the day.

"The property I'm creating is based on works in the public domain, which I've reimagined for a contemporary audience. It's something I have total creative control over. I've enjoyed assembling a great team to express my vision, which is creatively very satisfying. I've hired conceptual artists, interactive game designers, I'm co-writing the script, created a musical and even a roller coaster. I've partnered with a toy company and done a couple of prototypes. All in house, and all with a very specific vision. This experience has changed my creative outlook."

Luke: "What do you do when all your projects are set aside and you just are?"

Frank: "Instead of doing flips on skis when I was a kid, now I play golf, something safe. I love to travel up the coast and hang out in a Bed & Breakfast. Take a book, play some golf, create a little space away from the office.

"My 1998 movie Wicked, people either loved it or hated it. It was excruciating to be at a screening where people didn't get the black comedy we were going for. But at the same time Wicked was my greatest learning experience. Doing an independent film, the difficulties and challenges of a low budget film, the countless rejections from distribution companies, juxtaposed with invitations to Sundance and other prestigious film festivals, culminating with the success of choosing an unknown actress and launching Julia Stiles' career. I knew she was going to be a movie star. I told her she'd be a movie star. And to back it up, I put only her image on the poster and her name above the title. I might not have paid her movie star fees but I'm happy to say that she's well beyond the $18,000 I paid her now, getting $4 million per picture."

Luke: "What ended your relationship with Director Michael Steinberg?"

Frank: "The difficulty in securing a distribution deal for WICKED was at the heart of our falling out. Tom Skouras claimed he was starting a new distribution company that was going to release five movies per year - WICKED was supposed to be the first one. I signed a deal memo that he would release the movie through Paramount. Months later, he changed contract terms, which forced me to back out of the deal, which I thought would ultimately be a bad business decision. Tom had a lot of skeletons in the closet and I found his re-negotiating tactics to be quite suspect. Michael wanted me to make a deal regardless of any of the disputed terms or financial ramifications. It was at this point that our interests diverged and the relationship spiraled down from there. But at the end of the day I am extremely thankful I did not make a deal with Tom Skouras, which surely would have been a financial disaster. Subsequently, he never closed his alleged deal with Paramount Pictures, never released a movie (let alone five movies per year), abandoned his distribution company Rivoli Pictures altogether, and as far as I know, has never been able to release any film since my decision not to sell him WICKED. Happily Columbia-TriStar bought the film, it has performed way above expectations on VHS and DVD and soon I will have recouped the entire budget."