Looking Back at Tommy Boy’s Tenth Anniversary

Peter Segalís Tommy Boy
Architect of arguably the greatest comedy of the last twenty years, Peter Segal did to Tommy Boy what no other director has been able to; he successfully translated a Saturday Night Live aesthetic to the silver screen.
Penelope Spheeris came close – dangerously close – with her version of Wayne’s World , but for a sheer representation of the off-the-cuff, volatile zaniness that is the signature of the best kind of SNL skits, nothing gets closer than Chris Farley’s and David Spade’s endlessly-rewatchable banter in Tommy Boy.
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the release of the movie that gave us √¨Fat Guy in a Little Coat,√Æ but for the anniversary, sat down with Tommy Boy director Peter Segal and talked about the film’s development and legacy.
– How did the idea of a 10th anniversary DVD edition of Tommy Boy come about?
It was pretty simply, actually. Lorne [Michaels] called me about a year ago and said, ìI think we should do a ten year anniversary DVD.î
-Seems easy.
Yeah. And Chris Zito at Paramount Home Video is a big Tommy Boy fan, so it was a no-brainer there, and, most importantly, someone told me six years ago that Tommy Boy had made $60 million on video. It’s a continual top-ten title – at least it was . So Chris saw no problem in blowing it out for a 10th anniversary edition.
– This might be a dumb question, but where did you find all this bonus material? Does Paramount keep dailies in a vault or something?
Some of the Paramount archives are in a vault in Pennsylvania; there are millions of feet of film preserved there in underground cave vaults. That’s where we found the stuff.
At first we only found a portion of the dailies. Shipments would come to L.A. and my editor would look through them and recognize things that weren’t in the finished films. Then bits and fragments of things would lead to more searching and so on and so on.
We spent six or eight months doing this.
– What was it like revisiting the film in this way?
It was great, especially in the development of this DVD, because the stuff between [David] Spade and Chris [Farley] that wasn’t in the film was just as funny as the stuff that was.
– If it was so funny, why did you cut it?
Oh, you have to just stop at some point. Farley and Spade could go on forever, but elongated scenes in a movie like this . . . it’s like eating too much ice cream. After your fortieth scoop, you’re going to get sick.
– What’s it like looking at the movie today?
Well, you can’t really judge a movie until a few years pass. You need a certain perspective in order to evaluate what you had and what you did. We were lucky because Tommy Boy stuck in pop culture and became a DVD on everyone’s shelf. I’m on team planes every once in a while – with the Boston Red Sox or the San Diego Chargers – and somebody’s always playing it. It’s always on cable.
So in a lot of ways, I don’t quite have that hindsight perspective because Tommy Boy has never really gone away. It’s gratifying and charming knowing how much the film has been ingrained in people.
– How did you get involved with the film in the first place?
I had worked with Chris Farley on an HBO special and on The Jackie Thomas Show and I thought he was one of the funniest people on the planet. I wanted to do his first starring vehicle, and right after I made Naked Gun 33 1/3.
There was this script going around town called Billy the Third – it was sketchy, a blueprint for something. Paramount had passed on me taking the project because I had too many ideas for it; I thought it needed a lot of work. Then they went to other people and no one else was interested, and then they came back to me.
Once we ripped the lid off, we decided we really wanted to gut the engine of this thing. And it became doubly difficult process because we were shooting the film in the summer and we had to finish it before SNL started back up in the fall. And we didn’t quite make it. It was an arduous task for Chris and David to fly back and forth between New York and Toronto (where we were shooting the film).
– How much of the film was scripted and how much was invented on the spot?
Fred Wolf worked with Chris and David on SNL , and he’d make index cards of funny bits they did. We’d utilize that sometimes. And there was one time where we were waiting for a lighting setup when they came up with the √¨Does this suit make me look fat?√Æ / √¨No, your face does√Æ riff. Man, we’d take anything. I’d follow those guys around with a pad.
I’d call Fred in New York, √¨We’re at a gas station and we need something funny!√Æ Then he’d tell me to have Chris dance around like an idiot singing a song from Flashdance. And we’d do it. That definitely wasn’t in the script.
Overall, I’d say what you see on screen in the film is 80% scripted.
– Last question: What’s it like doing a commentary track for a DVD?
My first one was for Naked Gun 33 1/3 and all the way through it, I whispered like a golf announcer because, you know, you’re not supposed to talk when you’re watching a movie! (laughs) The best thing with commentaries is to have an actor or a writer in the room so you can construct some banter, but you wind up alone sometimes.
I think the best way to interview a director, though, is to have featurettes, like we do on this Tommy Boy DVD. That way you can show by example rather than just have people listening to a disembodied voice on a commentary track.