For more than a decade, one comedy franchise has celebrated the humor in the foibles and fractures we share with friends and family. Racking up a combined worldwide box office of more than $800 million, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers introduced us to some of modern comedy's most beloved characters. Now, the third installment of the enormously popular series turns an eye toward another of life's milestones and its humorous impact on marriage and family: raising kids.
Welcome back to the comedic pleasure of watching Jack Byrnes (Academy Award winner ROBERT DE NIRO) and Greg Focker (BEN STILLER) go head-to-head in Little Fockers.
Joining De Niro and Stiller in the comedy is the returning all-star cast of OWEN WILSON, TERI POLO, BLYTHE DANNER and Academy Award winners DUSTIN HOFFMAN and BARBRA STREISAND. For the latest chapter of the worldwide hit franchise, they are joined by JESSICA ALBA, LAURA DERN and HARVEY KEITEL.
It all began in 2000 with the comic frustrations of male nurse Greg Focker as he tried to impress his girlfriend's parents but ended up at odds with the formidable family patriarch, Jack Byrnes. Audiences across the globe responded to the pointed comedy and touching moments that reflected everyday challenges with family.
Lightning struck again when, in 2004, Greg introduced his unconventional parents to his WASP-y future in-laws and tried to manage a combustible situation without being removed from Jack's circle of trust. The franchise exploded as moviegoers couldn't get enough of Jack, Greg and both of their nutty clans. In fact, Meet the Fockers became the highest-grossing comedy in Universal Pictures' history and ranks second only to Home Alone as the most successful live-action comedy ever at the domestic box office.
Now it's time to meet the little Fockers--Samantha (DAISY TAHAN of television's Nurse Jackie) and Henry (COLIN BAIOCCHI of Couples Retreat)--as the film delves into the trials and tribulations of the growing family, a natural progression for the series built on the time-honored rituals of dating, marriage and children.
It has taken 10 years, two little Fockers with wife Pam (Polo) and countless hurdles for Greg to finally get "in" with his tightly wound father-in-law, Jack. However, after the cash-strapped dad takes a job moonlighting for a drug company with a sexy co-worker, Jack's suspicions come roaring back.
It couldn't be a worse time for Greg, who is simultaneously juggling the demands of impressing the headmistress (Dern) of a prestigious private school for the twins and finessing his shady general contractor (Keitel)--whose repeated renovation delays on their dream home threaten to derail the kids' birthday party--all while fending off the advances of the drop-dead gorgeous pharmaceutical rep (Alba) with whom Greg works.
As the Focker-Byrnes clan--Greg's parents, Bernie (Hoffman) and Roz (Streisand), Jack and Dina (Danner)--and Pam's lovelorn ex, Kevin (Wilson), descend for the birthday bash, Greg must prove to the skeptical Jack that he's fully capable as the man of the house and designated Godfocker of the clan. But with all the misunderstandings, spying and covert missions, will Greg pass Jack's final test and become the family's next patriarch…or will the circle of trust be broken for good?
Directed by PAUL WEITZ (American Pie, In Good Company), Little Fockers is produced by JANE ROSENTHAL (Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers), Robert De Niro, JAY ROACH (Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers) and JOHN HAMBURG (I Love You, Man, Meet the Fockers), who shares screenwriting duties with LARRY STUCKEY (Elling).
First Comes Love: Little Fockers Is Born
As Meet the Fockers closed with a radiantly pregnant Pam marrying Greg in front of their loved ones, the next chapter in the blockbuster series was nimbly established. If raising children was to be the crux of a new Parents sequel, this chapter would need to bring us back to focus on the relationships of the Byrnes and the Fockers--both romantic and familial.
For series producer Jane Rosenthal, the film title may have fallen into place with ease, but fleshing out an original story that would excite audiences would prove to be a bigger challenge for her team. "Little Fockers and Meet the Fockers are not traditional sequels," cites the veteran filmmaker and partner with Robert De Niro at Tribeca Productions. "Each film ends up chronicling the growth of these characters--whether it's Pam and Greg's tentative steps as a committed couple, meeting her parents or the introduction of both sets of future in-laws. The one thing about this franchise that makes the comedy work so well is the dynamic between the characters. With each film, the audience is more vested in these relationships. The audience has grown with the franchise, so we always aim to be at the top of our game."
The key to any successful chapter is a lively, entertaining take on characters the audience has come to love. With back-to-back blockbusters behind them, the filmmakers once again turned to the screenwriter who most intimately knows the Focker-Byrnes history. John Hamburg, who previously co-wrote the screenplays for both Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers and also serves as a producer on Little Fockers, returns with his combination of original story lines and broad comedic sensibility that solidify the circle of trust.
For Hamburg, the beauty of the previous films lay in the simplicity of the premise: boy meets girl, boy meets girl's parents, boy's parents meet girl's parents. But he would find his biggest challenge was trying to sustain the relatability that propelled the first two comedies. As much as Hamburg looked forward to revisiting the characters he'd helped to create 10 years earlier, it turned out that the working title the team had embraced would present a whole new set of challenges.
Aiding Hamburg in navigating the new trials and tribulations of the Fockers and the Byrnes was Larry Stuckey. An associate producer on Meet the Fockers, Stuckey's writing partnership with franchise director/producer Jay Roach, coupled with his own experiences as an anxious new father and husband, helped inspire this chapter for the two screenwriters.
Roach, who previously directed and produced both Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, admits that the process of finding another chapter was a lengthy one. "It took a few years to come up with a story that we thought earned its way back in," the producer notes. "We wanted to make sure that our audience would buy into the set of conditions that would pit Greg Focker against Jack Byrnes again. I'm happy that we keep getting invited back."
When it comes to developing material, Hamburg, who in addition to the Parents series has collaborated with Ben Stiller on Zoolander and Along Came Polly (which Hamburg wrote and directed), has cultivated a shorthand with the multitalented actor.
"When you're making the third film in a series, the constant question is 'How do you keep it fresh and retain what people liked about the first two movies?'" he asks. "Ben is a perfectionist and one of the smartest people I've ever encountered. He wants to keep working at the material from a character standpoint. So you challenge yourself to make it better, make it real and more original. The voice I have as a writer and the voice that Ben has as an actor just go together well. It's a very fluid process."
Stiller knew he was only interested in revisiting his role as Greg Focker if the material lent itself to another entertaining story that moved the characters' lives forward. "We worked on the script to get it to a place that was organic and felt like it made sense for the movie to be happening at this point," he notes. "It's dealing with issues that are relevant for each of the characters at various stages in life."
The concept was reduced to the universal challenges that any couple deals with as they expand upon their family. Wanting the best for your children, keeping your head above water financially, facing your mortality and maintaining a marriage--whether five or 35 years along--are all relatable to the audiences who have embraced the series. More of life's ups and downs, coupled with meddling in-laws, turned out to be a welcome foundation for the next chapter.
Taking the helm of the third film is director Paul Weitz, whose knack for injecting heart into comedy, whether broad or subtle, has proven to win over audiences in such films as American Pie and About a Boy (which he directed with his brother, Chris), and In Good Company. Says Rosenthal of Weitz joining the fold: "Paul brings a terrific sensibility to Little Fockers. One of the things we were looking for was to take these real situations and push the comedy within the situations. Paul possesses that ability in spades. He's terrific with actors, and especially with the kids."
For Weitz, who has shown a predilection for comedy with a strong emotional connection, the Meet the Parents franchise was a good fit--one to which he could bring his own stamp. It also reunited him with two of his producers from About a Boy, Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro. Little Fockers gave the director a chance to flex his comedic muscle again and shepherd the Fockers and the Byrnes as Jack passes on the mantle of leadership to Greg.
The director has an interesting take on what brought him to this installment, in which the entire cast agreed to reprise their roles: "I'm drawn to independent film, but I'm also drawn to classic filmmaking of the studio era, and it's almost impossible to replicate that situation where you have huge stars committed to a project. It's almost like the studio is saying, 'We have Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, and we're going to put them in the movie.' This felt similar to that. It's such an incredibly unusual situation to have a cast of this caliber in place."
Weitz particularly appreciated what the script had to say about our decisions to grow up. He offers: "Ben's character seems like one of those archetypical characters that everybody is able to project their neuroses onto. For Greg, they are feelings of insignificance. The primary thing that made this click was the idea that Greg was at a particular point in his life where you have kids who are old enough that you no longer feel like you're in some weird dream that you're going to wake up from. You actually feel like, 'Wow, I really do have kids.' You're next in line and taking responsibility for both the generation before you and the one after."
With Weitz now a part of the filmmaking team, the fine-tuning of the material continued. A key element to developing the storyline was to maintain the familial relationships while jumpstarting the story. The screenwriters accomplished this by introducing us to the characters at a new juncture in their lives. Namely, Jack and Greg's contentious relationship, which has propelled the series, would again be a primary focus.
Being unable to choose your family and the baggage that comes along with them is a universal theme. In the two men's shared history, Greg has set Jack's backyard ablaze and been administered a lie detector test by Jack. Now, they have finally settled into a semblance of harmony and genuine affection. But as the in-laws navigate life's latest hurdles, their innate flaws resurface; Jack's trust issues and Greg's need to please are back and more comically painful than ever.
Stiller catches us up on where the characters are with one another: "Life events have conspired to send Jack and Greg back to where they started. But, ultimately, they are finally able to put the cards on the table as these subtle tensions come to a head. It all starts to bubble up to the surface."
The performer's ability to make Greg Focker relevant after a decade continued to impress the filmmakers. Notes Weitz: "The key thing for any really terrific comedic performance is that the character doesn't know he or she is in a comedy. Ben is very keen to not play anything for laughs. I don't think he ever thinks, 'I'm going to do something funny now.' I think he thinks, 'My character is in this situation, and this is what he'd be saying.' Playing comedy is similar to drama. You must be completely invested in the moment."
I'm Still Watching You: Reuniting the Favorites
Six years later, we find Greg the chief nurse at his hospital and Pam a stay-at-home mom. Together, they are facing some of life's biggest challenges as they raise their young children. They are finally beginning to settle into the daily routines with their kids and navigating the purchase of their first home…while still dealing with both sets of well-meaning, drive-you-crazy grandparents. Read more
Drug Reps and Early Humans: Meet the New Cast
With a strong script in hand, the filmmakers were able to convince key actors to return to the roles they originated while simultaneously injecting the cast with a welcome batch of new talent. This included the additions of Jessica Alba, Laura Dern and Harvey Keitel to the core cast. Read more
Home, Sweet Home: Designing and Shooting the Comedy
While Little Fockers is set in Greg and Pam's home base of Chicago, locations across Southern California once again provided the majority of the comedy's locations…just as they did with the previous film. Meet the Parents was lensed in Long Island, and Meet the Fockers, although set in Miami, was filmed entirely in Los Angeles. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
PAUL WEITZ (Directed by) wrote, directed and produced the films Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, American Dreamz and In Good Company. With his brother, Chris Weitz, he directed American Pie and About a Boy. Their adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel was nominated for an Academy Award. Their company, Depth of Field, produced Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and A Single Man.
As a playwright, the off-Broadway Second Stage Theatre has produced Weitz's work. In the summer of 2010, his play Trust, starring Zach Braff and Sutton Foster, was produced there. His published plays include Roulette, Privilege and Show People. He also acted in the film Chuck & Buck.
JOHN HAMBURG (Written by/Produced by) most recently co-wrote, produced and directed the comedy I Love You, Man, starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel for DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures. Hamburg co-wrote the screenplays for Universal Pictures' blockbuster franchise Meet the Parents, starring frequent collaborator Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner and Owen Wilson, and the successful sequel Meet the Fockers, starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.
Hamburg was born and raised in New York City, and began making short films while still in high school. He continued creating films while attending Brown University, where he also studied playwriting and, later, at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. While at Tisch, he wrote and directed the short film Tick, which debuted at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. In 1998, he returned to Sundance with his feature-length debut Safe Men, a comedy he wrote and directed. Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, Mark Ruffalo and Harvey Fierstein, Hamburg's film about safecrackers and songwriters in Providence, Rhode Island, has garnered a strong cult following in the years since its Sundance premiere.
He next co-wrote the screenplay for the popular comedy Zoolander, starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Hamburg also wrote and directed the hit comedy Along Came Polly, starring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Alec Baldwin and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and directed several episodes of Judd Apatow's critically acclaimed television series Undeclared.
LARRY STUCKEY (Written by) previously worked as a development executive for director Jay Roach, which led to a writing partnership with Roach on multiple feature film projects. After serving as an associate producer on Meet the Fockers, Stuckey was brought on to write the third installment, Little Fockers. Much of that story was inspired by the very marriage and fatherhood anxieties he was facing at the time.
Stuckey is once again tapping his latest family inspiration for an adventure movie he is writing for Universal. His other upcoming projects include Curious George, for producer Chris Meledandri, and a remake of the Oscar-nominated Norwegian film Elling, with Jay Roach attached to direct.
THE ART OF SEQUELS
© 2010 Universal Studios and DW Studios LLC. www.littlefockers.net