How Steven Spielberg Changed The Course For ‘Green Book’ – Awardsline Screening Series


by Anthony D’Alessandro –  Deadline Hollywood

Originally, Focus Features was set to make the Peter Farrelly-directed feature Green Bookbut ultimately passed on the project.

Then Participant Media stepped up to finance the $23M drama-edy about American pianist Don Shirley’s tour through the 1960s American South, and the male-bonding that forms with his Italian American chauffeur, Tony Lip. However, Participant had a distribution deal with Focus. That concerned Farrelly a bit because he knew internally Focus wasn’t wowed by the project.

Knowing Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks’ influence at Universal, Farrelly told us at a recent Awardsline screening for Green Book that he called his CAA agent Richard Lovett, “who is the greatest agent on the planet by the way; I’ve been with him my entire career. I knew he represents Spielberg” and asked his rep “‘Any chance you can get this to Spielberg? I think he’s going to flip if he sees this.’”

“Spielberg watched it at 8AM and called me at 10AM,” said Farrelly, “He flipped and said it was his favorite buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Oscar-nominated Green Book editor Patrick J. Don Vito added that Spielberg loved the movie so much “he watched it five times over two weeks.” The pic was on a DCP which has a code, and Spielberg called every time he wanted to watch Green Book. The three-time Oscar winning filmmaker took Green Book over to his DreamWorks which had a put deal at Universal. The studio slid the film in at TIFF, where it won the Grosch People’s Choice Award and the rest is history. Green Book has racked up five Oscar noms including Best Picture (which Farrelly shares), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Best Original Screenplay (Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Farrelly), and Best Editing (Vito).

Vito achieved such an even balance in the rhythm between jokes and drama in Green Book that the first test screening went off without a hitch, with a fantastic result that impressed Farrelly.

“We were always concerned if something was too jokey,” said Vito saying that their rule of thumb was “is this character really going to say that or is this something a comedian would say? If it is, it’s out.”

One of the best reactions that Farrelly received in the wake of the pic’s success was from Harry Belafonte. Farrelly received a phone call from the famed singer/actor, “He said ‘I know Don Shirley. You knocked it out of the park.  You really touched me because I felt bad for Don Shirley because he was going throughout the South alone. I always had a band. He had to face them alone.’”



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