When Peter Farrelly visited Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairifeld, Iowa, as a guest lecturer in 2017 to help launch the MFA in Screenwriting at the David Lynch Graduate School of Cinematic Arts, he had been practicing the Transcendental Meditation® (TM®) technique for two years and had written four TV pilots and co-written a screenplay for the film Green Book.
“I have been extremely creative since I started meditating, but it remains to be seen if it’s any good,” he said to a round of laughter from the audience at a panel called “Meditate and Create” on campus. “We will find out what’s happened in a couple years. Then we’ll look back and say, ‘This changed my life, or ruined my life.’ ”
Two years later, having won two Academy Awards for Green Book—Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay—it’s clear that Farrelly’s life has changed for the good.
He directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the popular film based on a true story from 1962. A working-class Italian-American named Tony Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortenson, nominated for Best Actor) is hired to be a driver and bodyguard by Dr. Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali, who won Best Supporting Actor), an African-American jazz pianist, for a concert tour in the South. Over the course of their journey through segregation and discrimination, they influence each other and develop a strong bond, transforming Tony’s initial racism with love and respect.
“The whole story is about love,” Farrelly said in his Best Picture acceptance speech. “It’s about loving each other despite our differences and finding the truth about who we are. We’re the same people.”
“The whole story is about love. It’s about loving each other despite our differences and finding the truth about who we are. We’re the same people.” —Peter Farrelly, Best Picture acceptance speech
Farrelly Helped Launch Innovative Screenwriting Program
“We are so fortunate to have had such a talented filmmaker as Peter Farrelly share his expertise with our students,” said Dorothy Rompalske, program creator and director of the groundbreaking Consciousness-BasedSM MFA, a low-residency, two-year degree to hone screenwriting skills with industry professionals and enhance creativity with the TM technique.
“He came to Fairfield for the first MFA in Screenwriting residency in February of 2017 and helped us launch the program. Pete was just starting pre-production of Green Book at the time. He spoke a lot about writing the film, generously allowed students to read the screenplay, then later Skyped with them during a break in the filming,” Rompalske said.
The pioneering class of 22 students, on campus for their first immersive dive into consciousness and creativity, had no idea they’d be working with Farrelly, and shared their impressions for this article.
“We are so fortunate to have had such a talented filmmaker as Peter Farrelly share his expertise with our students.” —Dorothy Rompalske, Program Creator and Director
“I wasn’t expecting to get to meet Peter before arriving at our first residency, so it was an incredible thrill to have the opportunity to pick his brain and learn more about him,” remembers Cale Curlett by email. “I’m a comedy writer from Maine who grew up a big fan of the Farrelly brothers’ films. They’ve definitely left their mark on me and helped to define my sense of humor.” Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s string of hit comedies includes Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, and Fever Pitch.
Accessing Your Creative Forces without Leaving Home
At the first residency, Farrelly talked a lot about how his TM practice helped him tap into his creativity in a consistent way, which inspired and resonated with the MFA students.
“He told us about how he used to work out ideas prior to learning TM,” Curlett recalls. “He would get in a car and drive coast to coast, or to Northern California and back, as a method of sparking creativity, getting out of his head, and finding answers for his projects.”
On a smaller scale, Curlett had been doing the same thing for years, working out ideas by driving aimlessly for hours or hiking in the woods. “I couldn’t believe that I was accidentally using the same process as a comedy icon! That gave me hope that I was on the right track,” he says. When Farrelly said learning TM had “allowed him to reach the same zone from the comfort of his home, I figured I might as well reduce my carbon footprint and give this TM thing a whirl.”
“Since learning and practicing TM—and learning about how creativity exists in the unconscious—I feel much more confident about my ability to access it.” —Marcia Buhler, student
Marcia Buhler, an MFA student from Racine, Wisconsin, also connected with how Farrelly had looked for ways to jump-start his creativity from the outside, because she had never known when or if her own creativity would show up. Now, like Farrelly, she can count on her own inner resources.
“Since learning and practicing TM—and learning about how creativity exists in the unconscious—I feel much more confident about my ability to access it,” she emails. “It’s always there. I don’t have to hope it decides to show up or create elaborate rituals to attract it. Now I just sit and meditate regularly, and I never worry about it!”
Following Your Heart and Listening to Your Own Voice
“Having Peter as a mentor showed me that generosity is key to success,” comments Tracy Flannigan by email from Los Angeles. “He was humble and present and acknowledged each of our gifts. He lets those around him shine.”
Farrelly’s advice to screenwriters emphasized finding and valuing their own unique vision. “If you really think about it, those stories are in you somewhere; there’s a voice in you,” he said at the “Meditate and Create” panel. “It just kind of comes, and then you follow that story.”
And “if you’re following your heart and committing yourself to what’s inside you, you’re going to be happy,” he added. Once you’ve found your story, don’t let others steer you away.
“One of the most important things I learned about screenwriting from Peter Farrelly was that if we feel strongly about a scene staying in the script, don’t budge according to someone else’s note,” writes Cherisse R. Leopold from Los Angeles.
She shares that the MFA program gave her “the tools to do my best screenwriting, and it shows. The mentors pushed me to pursue my creative visions in the best way possible, and learning the TM technique changed my life. That made my work better, and I was truly able to understand the art of storytelling.”
Now Leopold is a professional screenwriter herself. “After I graduated, a couple of writers hired me to write a feature comedy screenplay with all female leads. That’s what I’m working on currently. I couldn’t be more excited for the future at this moment,” she writes.
As Farrelly says in his short video for the program, “If you yourself are evolving, then it’s going to come through in your writing. And it shouldn’t be the goal of your writing to inspire—it will come through. Your goal is to entertain.”
“If you yourself are evolving, then it’s going to come through in your writing.” —Peter Farrelly
Green Book Glow
Farrelly played a significant role for the first class, which graduated in December 2018, culminating in their final residency in Los Angeles, when they met with industry professionals. There was also a screening of Green Book, followed by a discussion at Farrelly’s offices. (See image above.)
“It was so surreal to be able to speak with Peter Farrelly… at his offices right after seeing Green Book,” writes Leopold. “I feel like he’s a good example of how all of us can make it if we develop some outstanding original ideas.”
Later, watching the Academy Awards broadcast in February 2019, “It was so exhilarating to see him win a couple of Oscars! I couldn’t believe it, even though I was hoping that would happen,” Leopold recalled.
For Cale Curlett, who’s getting ready either to direct a short film or hike the Appalachian Trail this summer, it’s Farrelly’s generosity and humor that will stay with him. “Peter was incredibly gracious with his time over the course of the program. I am grateful to have had a chance to chat with him, learn a few things, and thank him for the laughs throughout the years.”
“If you’re following your heart and committing yourself to what’s inside you, you’re going to be happy.” —Peter Farrelly
The David Lynch MFA in Screenwriting program is accepting applications for the next group, starting in August 2019. “It’s a phenomenal program and I think it’s going to make you a much better writer,” says Farrelly. “Hope to see you there.”