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LITTLE FOCKERS

First Comes Love
As Meet the Fockers closed with a radiantly pregnant Pam marrying Greg in front of their loved ones, the next chapter in the blockbuster series was nimbly established. If raising children was to be the crux of a new Parents sequel, this chapter would need to bring us back to focus on the relationships of the Byrnes and the Fockers—both romantic and familial.

For series producer Jane Rosenthal, the film title may have fallen into place with ease, but fleshing out an original story that would excite audiences would prove to be a bigger challenge for her team. "Little Fockers and Meet the Fockers are not traditional sequels,” cites the veteran filmmaker and partner with Robert De Niro at Tribeca Productions. "Each film ends up chronicling the growth of these characters—whether it's Pam and Greg's tentative steps as a committed couple, meeting her parents or the introduction of both sets of future in-laws. The one thing about this franchise that makes the comedy work so well is the dynamic between the characters. With each film, the audience is more vested in these relationships. The audience has grown with the franchise, so we always aim to be at the top of our game.”

The key to any successful chapter is a lively, entertaining take on characters the audience has come to love. With back-to-back blockbusters behind them, the filmmakers once again turned to the screenwriter who most intimately knows the Focker-Byrnes history. John Hamburg, who previously co-wrote the screenplays for both Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers and also serves as a producer on Little Fockers, returns with his combination of original story lines and broad comedic sensibility that solidify the circle of trust.

For Hamburg, the beauty of the previous films lay in the simplicity of the premise: boy meets girl, boy meets girl's parents, boy's parents meet girl's parents. But he would find his biggest challenge was trying to sustain the relatability that propelled the first two comedies. As much as Hamburg looked forward to revisiting the characters he'd helped to create 10 years earlier, it turned out that the working title the team had embraced would present a whole new set of challenges.

Aiding Hamburg in navigating the new trials and tribulations of the Fockers and the Byrnes was Larry Stuckey. An associate producer on Meet the Fockers, Stuckey's writing partnership with franchise director/producer Jay Roach, coupled with his own experiences as an anxious new father and husband, helped inspire this chapter for the two screenwriters.

Roach, who previously directed and produced both Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, admits that the process of finding another chapter was a lengthy one. "It took a few years to come up with a story that we thought earned its way back in,” the producer notes. "We wanted to make sure that our audience would buy into the set of conditions that would pit Greg Focker against Jack Byrnes again. I'm happy that we keep getting invited back.”

When it comes to developing material, Hamburg, who in addition to the Parents series has collaborated with Ben Stiller on Zoolander and Along Came Polly (which Hamburg wrote and directed), has cultivated a shorthand with the multitalented actor.

"When you're making the third film in a series, the constant question is ‘How do you keep it fresh and retain what people liked about the first two movies?'” he asks. "Ben is a perfectionist and one of the smartest people I've ever encountered. He wants to keep working at the material from a character standpoint. So you challenge yourself to make it better, make it real and more original. The voice I have as a writer and the voice that Ben has as an actor just go together well. It's a very fluid process.”

Stiller knew he was only interested in revisiting his role as Greg Focker if the material lent itself to another entertaining story that moved the characters' lives forward. "We worked on the script to get it to a place that was organic and felt like it made sense for the movie to be happening at this point,” he notes. "It's dealing with issues that are relevant for each of the characters at various stages in life.”

The concept was reduced to the universal challenges that any couple deals with as they expand upon their family. Wanting the best for your children, keeping your head above water financially, facing your mortality and maintaining a marriage—whether five or 35 years along—are all relatable to the audiences who have embraced the series. More of life's ups and downs, coupled with meddling in-laws, turned out to be a welcome foundation for the next chapter.

Taking the helm of the third film is director Paul Weitz, whose knack for injecting heart into comedy, whether broad or subtle, has proven to win over audiences in such films as American Pie and About a Boy (which he directed with his brother, Chris), and In Good Company. Says Rosenthal of Weitz joining the fold: "Paul brings a terrific sensibility to Little Fockers. One of the things we were looking for was to take these real situations and push the comedy within the situations. Paul possesses that ability in spades. He's terrific with actors, and especially with the kids.”

For Weitz, who has shown a predilection for comedy with a strong emotional connection, the Meet the Parents franchise was a good fit—one to which he could bring his own stamp. It also reunited him with two of his producers from About a Boy, Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro. Little Fockers gave the director a chance to flex his comedic muscle again and shepherd the Fockers and the Byrnes as Jack passes on the mantle of leadership to Greg.

The director has an interesting take on what brought him to this installment, in which the entire cast agreed to reprise their roles: "I'm drawn to independent film, but I'm also drawn to classic filmmaking of the studio era, and it's almost impossible to replicate that situation where you have huge stars committed to a project. It's almost like the studio is saying, ‘We have Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, and we're going to put them in the movie.' This felt similar to that. It's such an incredibly unusual situation to have a cast of this caliber in place.”

Weitz particularly appreciated what the script had to say about our decisions to grow up. He offers: "Ben's character seems like one of those archetypical characters that everybody is able to project their neuroses onto. For Greg, they are feelings of insignificance. The primary thing that made this click was the idea that Greg was at a particular point in his life where you have kids who are old enough that you no longer feel like you're in some weird dream that you're going to wake up from. You actually feel like, ‘Wow, I really do have kids.' You're next in line and taking responsibility for both the generation before you and the one after.”

With Weitz now a part of the filmmaking team, the fine-tuning of the material continued. A key element to developing the storyline was to maintain the familial relationships while jumpstarting the story. The screenwriters accomplished this by introducing us to the characters at a new juncture in their lives. Namely, Jack and Greg's contentious relationship, which has propelled the series, would again be a primary focus.

Being unable to choose your family and the baggage that comes along with them is a universal theme. In the two men's shared history, Greg has set Jack's backyard ablaze and been administered a lie detector test by Jack. Now, they have finally settled into a semblance of harmony and genuine affection. But as the in-laws navigate life's latest hurdles

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