Dave talks to screenwriter Matthew Flynn about the decade-long quest to get his family flick from script to screen.
In May 1999, when Unapix sold nineteen horror flicks to cable network TNT, clinching their biggest deal to date and reinforcing their position as one of the most active distributors of low-budget movies to cable, Rob Miller, the company’s president, mentioned that they also had a handful of other titles sat on the shelf they were keen to showcase.
MY BROTHER THE PIG (1999) was one of them.
Following in the wake of Babe (1995) and its sequel, and boasting an impressive ensemble cast, director Erik Fleming’s film was left stranded in distribution limbo after its completion. Come early 2001, when producer Scott Vandiver was hawking his latest epic, Beneath Loch Ness (2001), around various film markets, Variety were referring to My Brother the Pig as “a little-seen family picture” . However, by the end of the year, Fleming and Vandiver finally seemed to be making headway in respect to getting their lil’ porker out into the wild, and My Brother the Pig finally premiered in December on iconic kiddie station Nickelodeon. For scripter Matthew Flynn, though, My Brother the Pig‘s journey to the (small) screen is even lengthier.
“I wrote the script in 1992,” says Flynn. “My idea was to create a kind of updated version of the live action Disney family comedies that I grew up watching. During this time in Hollywood, spec scripts were a huge thing: they’d go out weekly and within days you’d know if you had a hit or flop. The competition was palpable. Without much knowledge of the agent game, I ended up with a green agent at a second-tier literacy agency who LOVED the script and was sure it would sell. It was also one of the few mainstream family films at the time to include Spanish spoken and written dialogue – which I had to repeatedly fight for, by the way.”
“The script went out on a Friday and by Monday afternoon my agent called and announced we were in a bidding war. I tried to trust her, but I never really clicked with her style and energy. It was pushy without the credentials to support it. The next week I had meetings with some top producers in Hollywood. They all loved the script and urged their studios to buy it for them. This included Amy Pascal who said, “Your agent fucked this up so it may not get made now. But it will get made sometime. I know this.” A few weeks pass, and the script gets optioned to Aaron Spelling’s film division. They own it for a year and can’t get it made, but they extend the option and pay me again.”
“Anyway, several years go by and I’m working at Disney Animation. I get a call from a producer who got the script handed to him at a party from the trunk of my former agent’s car, and he says he’s looking for a live action family comedy. He buys the script, Scarlett Johansson loves it, the film gets funded, and they attach Judge Reinhold because of the German investors, as apparently their countrymen love him!”
Two decades on and My Brother the Pig has certainly developed something of a cult following – although it certainly helps when Ryan Gosling called it his “standout film of lockdown” within the pages of GQ . However, that might have something to do with the presence of the mother of his children, Eva Mendez, who plays Matilda, the nanny to both Kathy (Johansson) and George Caldwell (Nick Fuoco). Kathy’s disdain for her brother extends beyond standard sibling rivalry; his mischievous pranks are the bane of her existence. It all comes to a head when their parents (Reinhold and Romy Walthall) leave for a holiday in France, and with the assistance of some age-old Mexican witchcraft, George is magically transformed into a pig. The solution to this lies south of the border with Matilda’s ancestors, so a road trip is only option, with chaos and hog-themed hijinks high on the agenda.
The neatly animated opening titles that introduce us to My Brother the Pig carry a playfulness that carries across to Fleming’s pleasantly engaging movie. Flynn’s screenplay has a nice rhythmic quality to it that sets Johansson up with the majority of zingers and one-liners. The up-and-coming actress was fresh off the back of some rave notices for The Horse Whisperer (1998), and here she’s an absolute delight, full of infectious enthusiasm. Alex Linz (who’d already been paired with Johansson in Home Alone 3 (1997)) is a smart addition to the cast as well, bringing a cherubic rascality to the character of Freud, George’s best bud.
Credit also to cinematographer Michael Stone for getting the best out of some fine vistas that lie south of the Rio Grande. Stone had amassed quite the resume as a camera operator, working on several of Charles Band’s ’70s classics (Crash! (1977), Laserblast (1978) and Tourist Trap (1979) among others) and bigger fare such as Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984) before graduating to director of photography here. Sadly, the extremely talented camera wiz was killed at the age of fifty-six in a head-on collision on his way home from the set of When a Stranger Calls (2005). My Brother the Pig might be an unexpected highlight in a career filled with iconic features, but it’s nevertheless a deserving one.
“I was fortunate to be close to all aspects of the production,” adds Flynn. “That included rewrites, changes, and alterations to satisfy investors, actors, producers, and of course budget [$2.3 million]. But what we ended up with were some great performances, especially by Scarlett. Her voracious confidence and true talent really drove the production. Eva, Judge and Renee Victor were brilliant, and a stellar, full-orchestra score by my friend Michael Giacchino was the most anyone could hope for with the short schedule we had.”
“One thing I’ll never forget is getting a very early call on a freezing Sunday morning, asking me to rush to the location on the last day of production to write several new options for Scarlett’s last line of dialogue in the film. Of course, it had nothing to do with the line, it was really about some scheduling issue the novice producers wouldn’t accommodate for Scarlett. But it made me very happy! Here I was, sitting on the curb, outside the trailer of Scarlett Johansson, freezing for what was supposed to be the middle of summer in the film, writing three new lines for the lead actress to choose from. It doesn’t get much more ‘Hollywood’ than that!”
 The deal included such notables as The Fear (1995), The Surgeon (1995) (aka ‘Exquisite Tenderness’), Ice Cream Man (1995) and Grim (1995).
 Lower Budget Titles Find Niche at Mart by Ramin Zahed, Variety, 18th February 2001.
 Ryan Gosling Interview by Stuart McGurk, GQ, 1st January 2022.