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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Tommy Boy – The 25th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it”. A 25th anniversary celebration of “Tommy Boy”. When Chris Farley and David Spade were shooting “Tommy Boy”, their first lead roles they were both alums of “Saturday Night Live” trying to make it on the big screen. Having constant script issues, having to come up with jokes and scenes on the spot, some even inspired by real life and an infamous altercation between the two stars on set. “Tommy Boy” overcame harsh reviews to become one of the most endearing and beloved comedies of all time. The history of “Tommy Boy” is an interesting one as you’ll discover. Also find out who owns a copy of the actual 35mm film print of the film, that not even anyone on the crew themselves own. You’ll never guess….

Chris Farley was the larger than life energetic and wild cast member on “Saturday Night Live”. While he was known for his large size and even bigger heart, Farley could do it all and anything. Best known for his skits on “SNL”, such as “down by the river” and the infamous “Chippendales” with Patrick Swayze or his skit as “The Lunch lady”. 

While he started in bit parts in movies, like: “Coneheads”, “Billy Madison”, “Airheads” and “Wayne’s World”. Like most of the “SNL” cast members, it was only a short matter of time that Farley would break out from late night tv comedy to be the next comedic leading man on the big screen. His first leading role as Tommy Callahan, would be his most treasured film. 

“Tommy Boy” directed by comedy director Peter Seagal (who directed “50 First Dates”, “The Longest Yard”, “My Fellow Americans” and “Get Smart”) is a small but treasured comedy classic. It’s easy to watch; having just the right amount of belly laughs and quotable moments, with just enough heart that it’ll grow on you just a bit more each time. While the film did well commercially, it received mixed reviews from critics. However, since its release, “Tommy Boy” has become a cult classic thanks to being very successful on home video. 

“Tommy Boy” started off as a concept about two brothers that creator and producer of “SNL” Lorne Michaels had. Michaels pitched the idea to former CEO of Paramount Pictures Sherry Lansing. The original idea was of two brothers, that would have been about Chris Farley and Rob Lowe. When director Pete Seagal came on as director, he felt it should instead be about these two guys, David Spade and Chris Farley, and their friendship.

While shooting “Tommy Boy” was under the alias “Rocky Road”, but the original intended title was actually much worse. “Billy the Third: A Midwestern”, is what it originally was. “Tommy Boy” was in pre-production at the same time that Adam Sandler’s first lead role in “Billy Madison” was in pre-production. They didn’t want two SNL related films with two SNL stars with the same title. The producers went into a tailspin, spending months coming up with, what eventually became the title.

The script for “Tommy Boy” was the final film penned by married screenwriting team Terry and Bonnie Turner, who had previously collaborated on “Wayne’s World” and its sequel, “Coneheads” and “The Brady Bunch Movie”. After ”Tommy Boy”, the Turners set their sights on the small screen, going on to create “3rd Rock from the Sun” and “That ’70s Show”.

Even with the Turners script in hand, director Peter Segal had reached out to “SNL” writer Fred Wolf, to help touch-up and rewrite the script to re-focus the story around David Spade and Chris Farley’s characters. But the writing process went long, and “Tommy Boy” found itself in a time crunch as it was about to enter production with only two-thirds of a finished script.

Normally if a “SNL” cast member was off filming a movie, you would shoot during their hiatus, which was in the summer. Segal and his team had used their entire summer hiatus to figure out what the movie was going to be, and by the time they got it figured out, they were already in the SNL season. At one point, Seagal even thought it got so out of control in the fact that Fred had to go back to “SNL”, while the script wasn’t finished yet, making Seagal thinking the movie wouldn’t be possible. Seagal had tried to leave and quit the movie, but was threatened with a lawsuit, forcing him to stay.

Both Spade and Farley had a crazy schedule, while shooting “Tommy Boy”. They would fly from Toronto back to New York and work a couple of days at “SNL” for rehearsal, then fly back and work a couple days on the movie, then fly back to work a couple more days on “SNL”. After doing the show Saturday, they would then fly back to the movie on Sunday night.

Knowing their script was still unfinished, Peter Seagal and writer Fred Wolf came up with the idea to come up with things that happened to them in their lives. The two came up with a bunch of index cards, threw them on the carpet and strung a story together. One of the real incidents used in the movie, happened to director Peter Seagal. He recalled the incident in a past interview and how he explained it to writer Fred Wolf at the time. 

Seagal told Wolf: “Well the other day I was trying to get gas at my local gas station and I parked a little too far away from the pump so I backed my car up and I hyperextended my door”. Wolf replied, “Ok that’s one little piece, let’s write that down”. That had became one of the films big gags, when Farley backed up Spade’s car into a pole at a gas station. 

Wolf threw in his own incident like Seagal and told him: “Well one time I put some oil in the car and I forgot to take the can out and the hood flew up in my face on the freeway”. They both agreed with a “Ooh, that’s a good one let’s put that down”. And the rest of the writing went from there.

Even as the shoot had progressed, the casting process wasn’t anywhere near finished. Farley and Spade were onboard, as were Bo Derek, Brian Dennehy and Dan Aykroyd (filmed all his scenes in just two days). However, the one actor seemingly confirmed from the start was 80’s heartthrob Rob Lowe, although he had yet to be officially cast. At the time there was a scheduling conflict and they weren’t certain if Rob Lowe would be available, so they had to go through a whole casting process.

They had already started filming the movie and there they were still auditioning on who was going to play Paul, Tommy’s step-brother. One actor in particular flew in from Texas trying for the part. That actor was Matthew McConaughey who had just come off “Dazed and Confused”. Seagal recalls the audition and said: “He auditioned in this little shack by the side of the lake that we were shooting at and it was just covered in mice turds on the floor and it was just a really bizarre moment”. 

When Lowe was finally cast, he ended up having an uncredited role. To this day, Segal is still unsure about just why that was. Although Seagal says he thinks he knows why? “I think it’s the same reason why I grew a beard, that we all thought the movie was gonna tank. We thought this movie was barely gonna get there, because literally we had no script and we were making it up as we go. And I think because Rob Lowe didn’t know what the movie was when he signed on. We started shooting with 66 pages and I think he probably felt like he was just going to do this as a favor, for Lorne Michaels. And because he had come off “Wayne’s World” for Lorne, which was very successful”. Peter Seagal said about the situation. 

The rumor for Rob Lowe being uncredited was because Rob was contractually obligated to the tv mini-series of Stephen King’s “The Stand” at the time, so he took the part in “Tommy Boy” simply as a favor for friend Chris Farley. When “Saturday Night Live” writer Fred Wolf was brought in for touch-ups on the script. Like Rob Lowe, Wolf was never credited for his work on the movie. However one year later, Wolf wrote the screenplay for Farley and Spade’s second starring vehicle, the political comedy “Black Sheep”. Lowe now jokes that it took about 15 years for the public to notice this oddity.

While Farley was always attached to be the star of “Tommy Boy”. For the role of Richard, Christian Slater was originally wanted for the part. Although Farley wanted one of his two “Saturday Night Live” co-stars, David Spade or Adam Sandler for the role. Sandler was already shooting “Billy Madison” around that time and Spade had won the role. Spade wanted to maintain a naturally unkemeept hairdo during filming in keeping with the nature of his character, the perpetually flustered Richard Hayden.

The crew recalls that the magic between Farley and Spade to be incredible and the two would ad lib, where they would just be talking in conversation and they’d say something so funny, that Seagal and his writers would say: “Wait what did they say? Quick, write it down!” and they would put it in the movie. That is how one of the films best lines came to be as it was in an actual conversation between the two. The scene was when Farley asks: “Does this make me look fat?”. Where Spade replies “No, your face does”.

Another sequence used in the film, the “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” was a bit that Farley had done around the offices at “SNL”, and originally in the scene he just spoke the words: “Fat guy in a little coat, fat guy in a little coat”. While the scene had to be reshot for technical reasons, editor Bill Kerr called director Peter Seagal over and said, “Look at this take right here!”. The camera was focused on Spade, while Chris was doing lines over and over and he was getting a little bored so he started improvising, and was seen off camera singing the line as a lyric. He sort of made up a song for “Fat guy in a little coat,” and editor Kerr said “When you go back to reshoot this, get him on camera singing it this time, because it’s way funnier when he sings it rather than just when he says it”. 

While Farley and Spade has become the best of friends over the years, there was an incident between the two that happened on the set. According to David Spade, he and Chris Farley got into a physical altercation. Spade had gone out for a drink with Rob Lowe the night before and Farley had become very jealous that he wasn’t invited and angrily repeated “How’s Rob Lowe?”. 

Spade got so fed up with Chris hounding him on the subject that he threw his Diet Coke on him, to which Chris responded by throwing David into a wall and down the stairs. After the fight, Spade walked off the set and refused to continue filming. The pair would sometimes go for hours without talking to each other or talk to each other through the films director. 

Also according to David Spade, both he and Chris Farley ended up dating Lorri Bagley, who played the naked woman at the pool. According to Spade, this caused some tension between them during the filming of “Black Sheep”. 

The scene of Rob Lowe hosing the mud off of Farley after the cow tipping scene, at the gas station. Seagal called screenwriter Fred Wolf and said “Fred, this scene is a little dead, it needs a funny beat”. And Wolf replies “Well describe the shot for me” and Seagal says “Well, you know Rob’s hosing him off, there’s a lot of backlit water just splashing off of him”. And Wolf says, “Huh. Flashdance”. There was the scene. This would happen often and editor, Bill Kerr would just say “Where the f*** did that come from? That wasn’t in the script!”. Where Seagal would reply “What script? What are you talking about?“.

One scene that was in the script, that many thought was improvised but was actually all written was the scene known as “New guy’s in the corner, puking his guts out”. It was the scene where Farley uses the toy cars as a visual to sell his brake pads and sets them on fire on an executives desk. That scene has always played great. At several points in the movie, Farley’s phrase of “Holy schnikes!”, was thought up by Farley who created this saying during his childhood in light of his parents’ strict rule against using obscenities.

The first review that they had seen was in the LA Times. Describing the duo to Abbot and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. That was their dream review and was the best one. Seagal says the rest of them were not so good and were hammered by critics. “Saturday Night Live” at the time was going through a very tough spot and the ratings weren’t great, while the show was getting dumped on by critics, where anything related to “Saturday Night Live” was also getting dumped on.

Despite terrible mixed reviews, the film had a lasting affect on audiences, with the help of the home video release. Seagal said that Paramount Pictures who released the film, informed him that “Tommy Boy” was one of the top ten videos from Paramount. Seagal asked them “Oh really? You mean when it was first released on VHS? What do you mean?” And they said “No, one of the top ten, period. Of sales”. It was in the top ten for Paramount releases as it was ranked right next to “The Godfather” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. DVD, VHS and eventually Blu Ray is where it kind of lived.

While it wasn’t loved by critics, “Tommy Boy” does have fans in high places. Such as writer and director Quentin Tarantino. When a special screening of “Tommy Boy” was shown for a special event held by Tarantino at the New Beverly Cinema theater. Tarantino had used his copy of “Tommy Boy” for the screening. The producers remembered how the print was in pristine condition. 

Peter Segal said “I didn’t know that he was as much a fan of Tommy Boy, and so it was a real honor that when he screened his favorite films of the 90s at his New Beverly theater, that Tommy Boy was included. And the cool thing for me was, I thought they were just going to project a Blu-ray, digitally, but apparently Quentin had a personal copy of Tommy Boy as a 35mm film print, which I don’t even have. I had found this out just as I was going up to introduce the film in front of the audience. It was a real treat for me to see a 35mm print projected in such great shape, 20 years after the the last time I saw a print, which was literally at the premiere”. 

When they celebrated the tenth anniversary of “Tommy Boy”, they had synced it to when they got Chris his star on the Walk of Fame. Which the chamber of commerce didn’t want to do, because they said he had died of a drug overdose and that’s not the kind of example they wanted to give to young people. Seagal replies “Oh my God, for God’s sake you’d have to rip up the entire street! If that stuff bothers you… My god. It’s a little late for Hollywood to be worried about that”. Farley ended up getting his star. 

“Tommy Boy” was Chris Farley’s first starring lead role. He died on December 18, 1997, just two years after the premiere at the age of 33. He was found dead in his Chicago apartment after an extreme binge of substance use and party-hopping. It was later declared that he died of an overdose of cocaine and morphine exacerbated by advanced heart disease. His premature death prevented him from becoming the major movie star that he had been destined for.

What has struck people more than the comedy or the duo of Farley and Spade was the heart that the film had. People knew Farley and Spade would be funny, but they didn’t expect it to have the soft spine that it did and have a story that made you care about the characters and that’s what made it so enduring to peoples hearts. Here we are twenty five years later and it’s still a comedy classic. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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