Check out the two-part holiday special of All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman featuring award-winning film directors and producers, Peter and Bobby Farrelly! Join Jay, Peter, and Bobby as they discuss inclusion in the entertainment industry and why authentic representation of people with disabilities is so important!
Award-Winning Film Directors & Producers
Jay Ruderman (00:00):
Authentic representation in the entertainment industry of people with disabilities is something that the Ruderman Family Foundation has been involved with for some time now. While there have been some improvements lately, such as at the Sundance Film Festival making Crip Camp, a movie about summer camp for people with disabilities in the 1970s and the Disability Rights Movement, a major piece of their festival this year, and Zack Gottsagen presenting an award at the Oscars in February, Hollywood is still lagging behind when it comes to the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Speaker 2 (00:40):
All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation, and social justice, with Jay Ruderman.
Jay Ruderman (00:51):
I’m Jay Ruderman, host of All Inclusive. And we have with us today two people who’ve always made inclusion for people with disabilities an important aspect in their movies, acclaimed filmmakers and Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion honorees, Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
Jay Ruderman (01:06):
I’m also excited to announce that we’re running a giveaway right now to spread some joy during this season. From December 14th to January 15th, we’re giving away one iPad per week for five weeks. That’s five iPads. To enter, you simply go to my Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, @JayRuderman, follow me, and comment on the weekly contest post with the hashtag, #AllInclusiveiPad Contest to enter to win. We’ll draw a random winner each Friday, so enter now. You must be 18 or over and in the United States to participate.
Jay Ruderman (01:43):
Okay. So welcome Peter and Bobby. You guys grew up in Rhode Island and became acclaimed filmmakers. Tell me how it happened, how you guys started out, and how you got into the business?
Peter Farrelly (01:57):
The general way we tell the story is we had the ability to fail a lot early on in life. And so when we decided in our 20s to go out to LA and start writing, nobody tried to stop us. I remember I talked to a buddy of mine who went to Yale. He was like one of the top guys in our school class in high school. And he said once he went to Yale, he was on a path. He was either going to business school or law school, a certain track. It’s hard to hop off that track, and then say, “Hey, I want to take a wild risk and go make movies.”
Peter Farrelly (02:34):
We weren’t on any track. So when we did it, when we said, “Hey, Ma, Dad, we’re going to go to start writing movies and see what happens.” They were like, “Awesome, good for you.” There was nothing else going on. So that was kind of our advantage, honestly. I always tell kids when I speak at high schools and colleges, “Failure could be your friend a lot.” It pivots you. It changes your direction in ways that may ultimately turn out well for you.
Bobby Farrelly (03:02):
But also, when we were in high school and college, Pete, I remember that you were studying accounting, and I was studying geology in college. We had no idea that 10 years later we’d be filmmakers. We literally didn’t. It never even crossed our minds. So that’s what he’s talking about is that the path that we were going down just didn’t work out for us, so we tried something new.
Bobby Farrelly (03:26):
And it wasn’t until our mid to late 20s that all of this started to happen for us. So there was a lot of kind of flailing for a little bit. And it was a little… I remember that time of life was like didn’t know what was going on with ourselves really. But we were having fun, and it brought us to LA, and what we were doing was kind of exciting when we started writing screenplays.
Peter Farrelly (03:53):
It took us nine years to get a movie made. But in those nine years, we were selling scripts and meeting people and getting better as writers, and it was fun. We had a great time. It wasn’t a hard time. People say, “Boy, those must have been tough years.” No, they were the best years. It was great.
Bobby Farrelly (04:07):
We were waiting tables and driving limos and all that too, certainly a little bit, but it was all a lot of fun. It was.
Peter Farrelly (04:15):
I remember, if I could say one thing, I remember the first time it ever occurred to me that, hey, maybe we could do that. And I think it’s when Airplane came out, and I think that’s 1980 or ’79, ’80, something like that. And I remember thinking, I saw the guys, the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrams on Letterman or one of those shows, and they just seemed like normal guys. I had always had an image of what a writer would be like as sort of different than me. And I thought, “Well, those are guys like us. And we tell jokes. And what if we [crosstalk 00:04:45]?”
Bobby Farrelly (04:45):
Where were they from, Wisconsin or-
Peter Farrelly (04:47):
They were from Wisconsin.
Bobby Farrelly (04:47):
Milwaukee or something like that?
Peter Farrelly (04:49):
Yeah, I remember that was the seed, and started thinking it’s doable. And then a few years later, when we got the courage, went for it.
Jay Ruderman (04:56):
So were you involved in comedy before you started writing?
Peter Farrelly (04:58):
No, not remotely.
Jay Ruderman (05:01):
And just how did you get into writing? Were you always good writers? I mean, it takes a lot of discipline to write something and bring it to fruition.
Bobby Farrelly (05:09):
I got to hand it to Pete here in that when we were doing that thing where we were flailing on our jobs, he did just say, “Hey, you know what? I’m going to try something new in my life.” And he quit his job and dedicated himself to writing a book. And that’s what got the writing off and running. And our parents and everyone was like, “What? Writing? You’re not a writer, are you?” “I want to be.” And so, that was it. So he sat down and wrote and [crosstalk 00:05:41]-
Peter Farrelly (05:41):
No, we weren’t good writers. We got better as we went along. But like in high school or any school, grammar school, I never wrote a fictional paper. Nobody ever said, “Hey, make up a story,” which I could have done well, I think. It was always you had to do an essay or something, book report or that. And that kind of writing to this day, I’m not good at. So there was no indication that we could write, no.
Jay Ruderman (06:05):
So what was the first thing that brought you out to the West Coast?
Peter Farrelly (06:08):
I was in grad school in New York and my buddy and I, Bennett Yellin, we wrote a screenplay. I was working on a book. He was working on a book of short stories, and we realized you can’t make a living doing this. At that time, if you sold the book, you’d get five or $10,000, and it takes two, three years to write a book. So it wasn’t a living. But we knew that screenplays sold for more, so we kicked off a screenplay. It was called Dust to Dust, and it was about two dumb guys who work at a down and out funeral parlor. They had layaway sales and, “Don’t get buried with high prices.”
Peter Farrelly (06:42):
And basically, it was Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. It was those two characters. And we wrote this thing about these guys working at a down and out funeral parlor who pick up a load of, it was supposed to be a body, but it’s loaded with coke, and they don’t go where they’re supposed to go because they’re they’re idiots. And they go all over town. They got bad guys chasing them.
Peter Farrelly (07:00):
And it had some laughs in it. And the Zucker brothers and Eddie Murphy Productions simultaneously wanted the script. So the Zuckers flew us out. And when we landed, we had two jobs.
Bobby Farrelly (07:15):
Can you remind me how they got the script, the Zucker brothers and Eddie Murphy?
Peter Farrelly (07:18):
Yeah, the Zucker brothers, it was like just pure luck. The Zucker brothers, Jerry Zucker was in a Hebrew dance class with Bennett Yellin’s sister. They were Orthodox Jewish, the Yellins. And they were at a Hebrew dance class and Bennett had told me, he said, “Hey, my sister is actually in this dance class with David Zucker. So if we write this script, we can get it to him.” That was part of the inspiration.
Peter Farrelly (07:46):
And sure enough, we finished it. We gave it to her, and she gave it to him, and he took it, and he read it. It was miraculous. Simultaneously, I had a date with this girl in New York one night. Only time I ever went out with her, and I told her, “I just finished the screenplay.” She’s, “Oh, give it to me.” Because her parents had just moved to Alpine, New Jersey, and Eddie Murphy lived right next door to her family. And she said, “This will give me an excuse to go over and meet Eddie. I want to go say, “Hi,” I’ll give him your script. I said, “Excellent.”
Peter Farrelly (08:14):
So I gave it to her, the next day, she called me, she said, “I gave it to him. He took it.” I said, “You’re kidding?” She said, “No. I saw him out front, ran over, and gave it to him.” But I figured he’s going in the house, tossing it in the trash.
Peter Farrelly (08:23):
The same week that the Zucker brothers called us and said, “Hey, we like this. Come on out,” I was watching Letterman, and Eddie Murphy was on it. And Letterman says, “What’s this story about your neighbor gave you some kind of script or something? What’s this?” And he said, “Yeah, my neighbor gave me a script, and it’s really good, and we want to do it.” And he said the name of it, which is Dust to Dust. And the next day, I called Eddie Murphy Productions in LA… By the way, I hadn’t even written my phone number on the script, and her family was on vacation, so they didn’t know how to get in touch with her. And I called them, and they said, “Yeah, we’ve been trying to reach you.” So it was kind of a mini miracle, we got two deals.
Peter Farrelly (09:03):
That’s a major miracle.
Bobby Farrelly (09:05):
Jay Ruderman (09:06):
So it’s a lot of hard work, but a little bit of luck also?
Bobby Farrelly (09:08):
Jay Ruderman (09:09):
So how did you guys, as brothers, begin to work together?
Peter Farrelly (09:13):
Well, even from the beginning, when I was writing with Bennett, Bobby, he was in another business, but I’d give him the script. And he’d go through it and he’d punch it up and he’d say, “Cut this. I love this. Do that.” He was basically doing a pass on the script for us and with no credit. And then finally, once we got out to LA, I called him, and I could see he wasn’t burning it up back home. So I said, “Why don’t you come out and write with us?” So then it became a three-way team, me, Bobby, and Bennett.
Jay Ruderman (09:43):
So tell me about growing up with your parents and what influence that had on your life. You do a lot of comedy, but your values come through in your work. So tell me a little bit about growing up and the influence that they had on you.
Bobby Farrelly (09:55):
My father was a… We grew up in a what we would call a small town, rural town, in Rhode Island, outside of Providence. And our father was a doctor in town. So he was well-respected, and he had a lot of responsibility. And so he certainly made us behave ourselves just so that we didn’t embarrass him.
Bobby Farrelly (10:18):
But at the same time, he and my mom had a wicked sense of humor. And so at home, we’d always laugh a lot and sit around the dinner table and tell stories about what happened that day. And it was kind of like a little contest to see who could make each other laugh the most. It was sort of a daily thing, and I don’t know.
Bobby Farrelly (10:38):
So I think that’s where our storytelling came from is just being at home. And we were allowed to laugh, but you had to laugh within certain rules because my father was very strict, and he wasn’t irreverent at all. He was funny, but you had to behave.
Jay Ruderman (10:54):
There were boundaries.
Peter Farrelly (10:55):
Yeah. But also he was a, even though my father growing up, by the way, when we were growing up, he was always a Republican. He was extremely liberal in other ways, like every summer we always had inner city kids staying with us for the summer. And he was involved in the Fresh Air program. He believed a lot in giving back. Not that all Republicans don’t, it’s just that he was more liberal than most Republicans, at least today, are in a lot of ways, in the current climate, I’ll say.
Peter Farrelly (11:25):
And so, there was a lot of diversity around the house and in our lives, and also in our neighborhood too. We happened to have, we’ve talked about this a lot, friends with disabilities, just coincidentally. And so we were around it a lot.
Bobby Farrelly (11:48):
It was a different day in age, as you know, Jay, when your parents would say on a Saturday morning, “Go on out and be home by dinner time.” And so you’d go out, and you could go miles away from home. And I don’t think as many people do that nowadays. You were out a lot, and so, you would see all the kids in the neighborhood. And some of them were what we would call mentally retarded at the time, and we’d hang out with them. They’d just be part of the gang. If we were playing touch football, they’d be in it. They’d play with you. And I don’t know, I remember growing up with those kids. And when we started writing our stories, we included them, those people, in the stories. And I think it was a big part of our writing,
Speaker 2 (12:36):
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Jay Ruderman (12:47):
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Jay Ruderman (12:54):
So you were writing based on your background, how you grew up. There was no ideological agenda, like saying, “Listen, I really want to push this element of including people with disabilities in our writing and in our movies”? It just sort of came naturally?
Bobby Farrelly (13:12):
Definitely not early on. I mean, we didn’t think like that. And when it was brought to our attention that we hadn’t been using enough people with disabilities early on in our careers, we realized that was an oversight. And then we started, yes, then we were aware. And not in a huge way, it’s just in a way where it would just be fair. 20% of the population has disabilities, and if you don’t have something like that in your movie, it’s not a real world, for one thing. And we were trying to write reality. We wanted people to recognize the world they were in. So it just seemed natural to us. And then we were aware of it, but not that aware. We weren’t making a huge statement, I will say that. We were first trying to entertain.
Peter Farrelly (14:00):
No, no. Right.
Jay Ruderman (14:00):
But you were receptive to those conversations. You weren’t just blowing them off. Because I think a lot of people would blow them off and say, “Okay, yeah, you’re telling me there’s not enough representation. But, okay, not my issue. I’m doing something else.”
Peter Farrelly (14:12):
No. And it didn’t take much, it was one friend of ours who’s quadriplegic who I was with when he broke his neck, Danny Murphy, who said after Dumb and Dumber, “Hey, what’s going on? I didn’t see a lot of disability in there.” And I was like, “You’re right,” and that changed it right then. And also, because we’re very comfortable, we had two friends who broke their necks in high school, Danny Murphy and [Peter Bohack 00:14:39]. And so, we had wheelchairs all around us. Everybody was in vans, going to parties, and stuff like that. It seemed, of course, you’d have to do that. We just hadn’t done it the first time. We weren’t thinking about it.
Jay Ruderman (14:50):
So Danny ended up being in a lot of your movies.
Peter Farrelly (14:53):
Jay Ruderman (14:53):
He wasn’t a trained actor. I mean, where did the decision come from to say, “Okay, I think you should be in our movies”?
Bobby Farrelly (15:00):
Well, I think it was that day when he said, “Hey, how come there’s no one with disabilities in your movie?” Then we said, “All right, fine. You’re in the next one.” And so we kind of called him out.
Peter Farrelly (15:08):
We said, “Start acting.” He took a lot of classes.
Bobby Farrelly (15:11):
And he did. He took acting classes, and he did what he could do to take it very seriously. Actually, he did take it very seriously.
Peter Farrelly (15:20):
He improved a lot too.
Bobby Farrelly (15:22):
Yeah, he ended up doing some stage acting and he became an actor. He became a professional actor. But it was kind of like putting him on the spot because he was putting us on the spot. And so it worked out well.
Peter Farrelly (15:36):
But also, we learned a lot from him because he moved to LA to act after. He really got the bug and wanted to do it. He moved to LA, and then we started realizing how difficult it was because he was our friend.
Peter Farrelly (15:48):
First of all, it was almost impossible, rare when someone in a wheelchair would even get an audition. And if he did, most of the time, or not most of the time, but a lot of the time, he would get to the audition, and they’d have to come out and audition him out on the sidewalk because he couldn’t get in the building. It’s like they literally didn’t have the accessibility to get him in the building and up the stairs, so they’d come out. And he’d be auditioning right on the sidewalk with people walking back and forth. It was awful. And so, that opened our eyes.
Jay Ruderman (16:23):
And he’s not the only person. I mean, you’ve included many different actors with disabilities throughout your career in your films. At what point did you guys say, “Okay, well, we’re really leading in this business in terms of having more authenticity of disability in our film”?
Peter Farrelly (16:39):
We never thought that.
Bobby Farrelly (16:41):
Today was the first day [crosstalk 00:16:45].
Peter Farrelly (16:42):
Bobby Farrelly (16:45):
No, honestly, you guys are recognizing it, I guess. We never did. We never said, “Hey, this is what we’re doing, and we’re good at it.”
Peter Farrelly (16:52):
And we don’t deserve it because honestly we haven’t done much. We put some people with disabilities in the movies, but that is… I can tell you, unfortunately, like 30 stories of people with disabilities who we tried to help get a project off the ground or get this going and didn’t succeed. Putting people in movies is the easy part of what we’re trying to do. And it’s been an uphill climb for all of these things. So we don’t see ourselves like that. We’re just trying to make them represented fairly, and that’s it.
Bobby Farrelly (17:24):
Yeah, this business, Jay, anyway, I don’t care if you’re completely able-bodied or not, it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult to find work, it’s very difficult to get work, and to keep work, keep working. And so, these guys from the disability community, they don’t even get a chance to audition to do that. But even if they do, it doesn’t mean they’re going to get a role or find a good part. It’s just there’s so many people trying for so few parts that it’s just extremely difficult.
Bobby Farrelly (17:54):
I think one of the things that we did do, though, was sort of open up the possibility that we’d consider people from the disabled community. And if they’re good, we’ll cast them, but they’re not all good. They’re not all great actors, and it’s just difficult, but at least they have the opportunity.
Peter Farrelly (18:14):
Yeah. I’m proud of the fact that our casting agent, Rick Montgomery, he doesn’t, if you, say, the girlfriend walks in the room, and sits down to have a cup of coffee, he’s not thinking one certain thing. He’s thinking, “Okay, this could be a woman with hearing… a deaf woman. It could be a blind woman. It could be a this woman. It could be a that woman, black, white.” He’s very good because we trained him of not pigeonholing a thing. Just because you don’t say the person is hard of hearing doesn’t mean they can’t be. You could be anything.
Peter Farrelly (18:56):
And the casting agents have to start opening doors up because a wheelchair doesn’t really… There’s not many roles that you can’t be in a wheelchair for. There’s a few. But there’s most of them in a movie or a TV show, I mean, there could be somebody in the wheelchair, but it doesn’t have to be written as such. So he has to read those people and will pick the best one. And hopefully they’re getting their chance, people with disabilities.
Jay Ruderman (19:22):
Do you think that the industry, I mean, it seems like the industry is very self-aware of the influence they have on society. I mean, just in the past few years, you’ve seen minority groups really shoot ahead in terms of representation, African-American community, Asian community, Hispanic, LBGTQ. And I think, in my point-of-view, I think it’s had an impact on our society. So do you think that the entertainment industry is aware of the power they have to influence public attitude?
Peter Farrelly (19:54):
Positively, but their first goal is to make money. They are aware. They can make changes. And honestly, it was only when those changes that you’re talking about, like hiring more women, diversity, color, this, that, when that started becoming demanded of them, and if they didn’t have it, people wouldn’t go to the movies. And so they were like, “Okay, yeah, let’s do this.” It’s like Black Panther, that worked out, let’s do another one, that kind of thing. And they are aware of this, but they’re still behind on this one. They have not done anything. These are the forgotten ones.
Bobby Farrelly (20:29):
Absolutely. This is the one group that is completely forgotten, that is totally under-represented.
Peter Farrelly (20:34):
Jay Ruderman (20:34):
And we know, I mean, as you mentioned before, 20% of the population has a disability. We know that in the United States and around the world, they’re the poorest and most segregated part of our population. And yet, you see a lot of disability on film. In the last three decades, half of the men that have won the best actor Oscar have won for playing a disability, and they themselves were not. They were able-bodied.
Jay Ruderman (21:03):
So where is that coming from? It’s like the stories are there, the stories are selling. They’re getting acclaim. But people with disabilities are not getting cast for those roles.
Peter Farrelly (21:14):
Well, that’s about to end. Jenny Gold wrote a great op-ed piece, I think it was in Variety, it might’ve been Hollywood Reporter, about that very thing. And she termed it cripface, like somebody wearing blackface. It’s not acceptable anymore. And that this won’t be acceptable, either, the idea of using people without disabilities in disabled roles, especially since there’s so many people out there who could do these roles perfectly fine. But nobody’s pushed back yet, now, it’s starting to get pushback. And they’re going to be embarrassed, and they’re going to stop doing it.
Peter Farrelly (21:49):
I had a horrible thing happen about a year ago. I was in Vancouver, and we had a role for a college age, a guy in a wheelchair. And I called the biggest casting agent in Vancouver. And I said, “Hey, I want to see a bunch of guys, college age, in wheelchairs, actors.” And she said, “Well, we don’t have any.” I said, “What are you talking about?” She goes, “We don’t have any up here.” I said, “Canada?” She goes, “We have no actors that you’re describing, college age men in wheelchairs.” I was like, “Well, they’re all over town. They’re everywhere. And they want to act.” And they were behind us.
Peter Farrelly (22:26):
So I hooked them up with media access people down here who represent people with disabilities. And I got her on the phone. She felt horrible, by the way. She was embarrassed, the casting agent. And she said, “I’m sorry, what do we do?” And I said, “You got to wake up. You got to change.”
Peter Farrelly (22:46):
And she called Allen Rucker, who’s a gem. We had a conference call. And basically she got the ball rolling up there. Because this had happened, believe it or not, like a couple of weeks earlier when I said, “We need a little person for a role,” and she says, “Well, we have two.” I said, “No, no, no. I want to read a bunch of little people.” And she said, “Well, we only have two.” And so, we actually had to fly somebody in from the States, a little person, and Nic Novicki, who’s unbelievable, he’s one of the best actors on the planet, by the way, and he killed it.
Peter Farrelly (23:17):
But it’s just change is happening. It’s happening fast. And it only happens when you shame them a little. And she was embarrassed, and she realized that this is an overlooked population.
Jay Ruderman (23:28):
So do you think that, I don’t know, 10, 20 years down the road, whatever, we’re going to look back and see inauthentic portrayal of disability the same way we would look at inauthentic portrayal of other minorities as we do now?
Bobby Farrelly (23:40):
I certainly hope so. I certainly hope that we look back and say that it’s not inauthentic anymore. Because, like we’re pointing out, all these great roles, it’d be great if people with real disabilities were playing the people that had disabilities in the story. And right now, that’s not really the case. So we’re hoping to go that direction.
Peter Farrelly (24:02):
I think it’s changing quickly. And also, the movie that you’re familiar with Crip Camp, which is coming out this month, that movie is a game changer. I think if people see it, and I highly recommend you see it, not because of it’s educational, though it is extremely educational, it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in the last five years. I laughed out loud 15 or 20 times and bawled my eyes out.
Peter Farrelly (24:25):
It’s a true story of this camp in the 1970s in upstate New York for kids with disabilities and adults with disabilities who had suddenly, because the guy who ran it was the lunatic, gave them ultimate freedom. And it’s all the beautiful things that happened at that camp and the friendships that were made and how those people came on to be the leaders of the disability movement in the late ’70s and ’80s, and to this day. I’m hoping that movie will change people’s thinking in a huge way.
Jay Ruderman (24:57):
The one thing, I’ve known Judy Heumann for a long time, and she’s one of the leaders in the history of our country on the Disability Rights Movement. And there’s so many things, she’s one of the people that was at the camp and became a leader in the movement. And there’s so many things I didn’t know about her. I mean, there was a full-fledged Disability rights Movement in this country in the ’70s and ’80s. And I think so many people are not aware of it, yet, it’s a movement that existed.
Jay Ruderman (25:25):
And I think that great thing about Crip Camp, and I hope a lot of people see it, is they have the actual footage, not only of these kids, young kids who are teenagers or younger at camp, but then as they move through life into their 20s and 30s and become major activists.
Peter Farrelly (25:41):
This is going to be a historical document, I predict, forever because of the footage. It’s unbelievable, the footage. It was also Jim LeBrecht directed it, and he’s in it. It’s just one of the most… The Obamas helped produce it.
Bobby Farrelly (25:58):
Peter Farrelly (25:59):
So, yeah, I mean-
Bobby Farrelly (26:01):
People are going to want to check it out when it comes out on Netflix.
Peter Farrelly (26:03):
It went right to my top three documentaries of all time.
Bobby Farrelly (26:05):
Peter Farrelly (26:05):
Yeah, it’s up there. American Movie, if you haven’t seen it, see it. And I also loved Icarus a couple years ago, which is phenomenal. But this one’s right there, right at the top.
Speaker 2 (26:20):
All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive. Have an idea for a podcast? Be sure to tweet @JayRuderman.