Rick Friedberg [Interview]

As a kid growing up in the 90’s, the parody film genre was one that reigned supreme. It was a time and place where the action and/or spy movie was reigning supreme at the box office. They were films that we knew weren’t particularly “good”, but we always went. And with some sort of natural gravitational pull, the parody film was born. And nobody reigned more supreme in this category than legendary comedic actor Leslie Neilson. The Naked Gun series will hands down be one of the greatest spoof series the world will ever know. There is little debate on this subject, but I welcome all of it!

But there is a stand alone Neilson project that has always held a special place in my heart, possibly just doe to timing and memories. It was called Spy Hard. It was something a bit different from Naked Gun series, but comparable on all the right notes. It remains at the top of my list when it comes to spoof films, right up there with the very first Scary Movie film, which ironically has some relatable figures involved. And today’s interviewee is one of the people who is directly responsible for the legitimacy of the amazing parody genre. Rick Friedberg spent a lot of time working with Leslie Neilson, and is the man who brought Spy Hard to the screen, based around a script written by a young Jason Friedberg. No, the common namesake is not a coincidence, Jason is Rick’s son! And together, and with some other amazing folks, they created one of the funniest films the sub-genre has ever known. The brilliant Spy Hard!

But, Rick’s career is not entirely defined by his work with the great Leslie Neilson, even though I have probably mentioned his name more times already that I have Rick’s. Which is just bad writing, and I apologize! Honestly though, Mr. Friedberg is a brilliant writer and director who has put out and been involved with so many brilliant projects during his tenure, not to mention produced the young Jason Friedberg, who would be one of the original creators of the Scary Movie franchise (see how it all came back around there?).

So let me stop the rambling and just dig into these brilliant words from the great Rick Friedberg, who we are honored to have featured on our digital pages today. So ladies and gentlemen, ENJOY!

When did you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker? What were some of your earliest inspirations in the world of film and comedy?

Although not a film student (I majored in Psychology at USC,) I was fortunate to attend a class in cinema appreciation, led by former film critic Arthur Knight,  wherein we’d see a noteworthy  film and have a Q&A with the director and/or writer.  The two I still revere most were Jules and Jim and, one of my all time favorites, Dr. Strangelove.  I had been an amateur writer, an avid reader from the age of six and I most loved satire (John Barth, J.P Donleavy, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, etc).  This movie (until the Coen Bros became my fav’s) was dead solid in my wheelhouse and I secretly had the dream to write, and possibly, make movies, especially satires.  Later, the Ealing comedies, A Fish Called Wanda and the Monty Python masterpieces were all embedded in my brain pan.

When was the first time you can remember seeing your name appear on some sort of screen in credit form? Do you remember what you were doing when you first saw it?

I made a sketch comedy movie about Televangelists almost no one saw, called KGOD aka PRAY TV which was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had, especially working with co-writer, Dick Chudnow (co-originator of the Kentucky Fried Theatre with Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Bros.)

 More than anything, I laughed again and again at the performances of the terrific cast that added so much to the already hilarious dialogue.

It was at the USA film festival in Dallas (a critic’s choice only festival – Pray TV chosen by L.A. Times film critic Charles Champlin,) that I first really registered my name on screen (though I’d seen it before) sitting with a packed audience that laughed throughout.

Your 1983 film Off The Wall was a VHS staple during my childhood, and it happens to be one of your first large projects and an 80’s comedy classic in the vein of Bachelor Party and Porky’s. After all of these years, what are your thoughts on this cult classic comedy? What do you believe has given this film so much staying power in the world of comedy?

It was a rushed endeavor to beat the Writer’s and Director’s strikes and not nearly ready to shoot.  The cast (except for Paul Sorvino) was not of the improvisational comedic talent I was used to and, again, the casting process was rushed.  I’m proud of a few scenes but it was not my best work by a long shot.  Nevertheless, my co-writer, Dick Chudnow and I tried our best to make it up as we went along.

Your 1996 film Spy Hard, an amazing Leslie Neilson vehicle and continuation of your work with the legendary actor, is still to this day a go to film when I am in need of a solid laugh. So thanks for that! After a couple of decades, what are your thoughts on the final product that is Spy Hard? What do you believe warrants the film legendary status in the world of parody films?

There are so many terrific, cinematic shots and scenes that were deleted by Disney because they thought them too high brow for their kiddie audiences.  Although the experience of  shooting it was an incredible thrill, Disney so eviscerated it, I can’t even watch it.
Again, despite this pain, I’m still proud of some of the scenes that have never before been shot, especially without the aid of CGI which we couldn’t afford anyway.

 Again, despite this pain, I’m still proud of some of the scenes that have never before been shot, especially without the aid of CGI which we couldn’t afford anyway.

Above all, I was able to cast the most incredible actors and loved everything they brought to the party.

Spy Hard also marked your first collaboration with your son Jason, who has continued to become a modern mastermind in the world of spoof comedies. How did this collaboration come to be? And what was it like to take your son’s work to the big screen? That had to be a pretty proud moment, right?

After working with Leslie for several years, directing his Dollar Rentacar commercials (some shown on the Superbowl) and spoof golf videos (Bad Golf Made Easier) Leslie recommended me to direct Naked Gun 3.  I told this to my son, who was in college at UC Santa Barbara and he, along with a partner, Aaron Seltzer, had sold T shirts they designed to kids in the dorms and both had a love for movies.  They then wrote the first draft of Spy Hard on spec, thinking this is what I should present to Leslie for Naked Gun 3.  I didn’t get the gig but showed Leslie the screenplay which he agreed to  do.  Yes, this made me proud.  But what made me even more proud was when Jason and Aaron wrote Scary Movie without any help from me.

So what is next for you? Anything coming up that you would like to tell our readers about?

I developed a screenplay with a young Canadian, Mark Friedman, called Go Get Carlos, which is a heist comedy in the vein of Snatch.(I’m a great fan of Guy Ritchie.)  It’s a terrific screenplay and I need financing.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Last night, watching Better Call Saul.

Wanna hear more from the great Rick Friedberg? Of course you do, you can do just that by check out his book, Hollywood War Stories: How to Survive in the Trenches!

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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