Todd Phillips

Active - 1976 - 2019  |   Born - Dec 20, 1970 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Raised on a steady diet of such goofy '80s comedy staples as Revenge of the Nerds (1984), Stripes (1981), and Just One of the Guys (1985), fearless filmmaker Todd Phillips didn't even see a Bergman or Welles film until he hit his early twenties -- a fact that's relentlessly obvious when watching his debut fiction feature, the raunchy retro-reeking teen-comedy Road Trip. Born Todd Bunzel in Long Island, NY, and inspired by his junk-food movie addiction, Phillips enrolled in N.Y.U. to pursue a career as a filmmaker. Fascinated by the revolting antics of extreme punk rocker G.G. Allin, Phillips set out to film a documentary about the controversial feces-slinging musician while still a student at N.Y.U. With such a unique subject matter to begin with, it would have been hard to make the documentary uninteresting, though with Phillips' no-holds-barred, guerilla approach and keen editing skills, the film became an instant underground sensation (pegged by many as a funnier, true-to-life version of Spinal Tap) and paved the way for Phillips to continue honing his notable documentarian skills. After next producing an insightful look into the life of Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein (Screwed) in 1996, Phillips returned to the director's chair with a scathing and unflinchingly graphic portrayal of college hazing rituals in Frat House (1998). Produced as an installment of HBO's popular America Undercover series, the film took the Grand Jury Prize for Documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival before becoming marred in controversy and shelved by HBO due to questions of authenticity and complaints from the subjects. Asked to leave and later threatened with physical harm by their subjects in a jarring scene, Phillips and partner Andrew Gurland were forced to continue production by finding another willing fraternity and actually taking part in the extreme hazing process (Gurland was later hospitalized as a result of one of the rituals), a situation Phillips claims to have given him a new perspective by breaking the boundaries and actually experiencing that which he documented. Though he admits to feelings of disappointment over the fact that the film never reached a large audience, the film continues to circulate heavily on the gray market and Phillips continues to push for a suitable release for the acclaimed film. It wasn't long before Phillips decided to expand his horizons, and after meeting producer Ivan Reitman and directing polarizing MTV funnyman Tom Green in a series of Pepsi One commercials, the established documentary filmmaker made a leap to fictional features with Road Trip in 2000. Simultaneously producing and directing Bittersweet Motel, a documentary on musical cult phenomenon Phish, Phillips' debut feature gained a lukewarm reception at the box office though his further documentary pursuits gained positive receptions from legions of rabid Phish-heads. Regardless of the less-than overzealous reaction to Road Trip, Phillips continued his celluloid tributes to the zany comedies of the Me decade with Old School in 2002. The unabashedly low-brow comedy proved a hit at the box office thanks in no small part to a fearless comic performance by former Saturday Night Live leading-man Will Ferrell, and it wasn't long before Phillips was gearing up for his next feature comedy.

If Road Trip and Old School only hinted at referencing the "anything goes" comedies of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Phillips' next film would find him taking the helm for a direct (at least in name) remake of the beloved 1970s cop show Starsky & Hutch. With Ben Stiller stepping into Paul Michael Glaser's wooly sweater and Owen Wilson donning David Soul's trademark 1970s mop top, it seemed as if everything were in place for another comedy hit. Though anticipation ran high for Phillips' version of Starsky & Hutch, the excitement was somewhat dampened by the fact that the film received only fair to middling reviews upon release in early 2003. Nevertheless, Phillips would stick with frequent screenwriter Scot Armstrong to tell the tale of a shy meter-reader who enrolls in a confidence-building class in order to get the attention of the girl he longs for, only to discover that his teacher also has eyes for the girl, in a modern-day adaptation of the 1960 comedy School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating! entitled The Better Man in 2006. With a cast that included Billy Bob Thornton and Napoleon Dynamite sensation Jon Heder - as well as an impressive supporting cast of comic talents including David Cross, Sarah Silverman, and Luis Guzmán - Phillips kept audiences laughing as he began preparations for the eagerly anticipated sequel to his 2003 hit Old School.

Movie Highlights

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  • Serial killer John Wayne Gacy painted the promo poster for Phillips' 1993 documentary Hated: G.G. Allin & the Murder Junkies, about the 1990s punk rocker and his band.  
  • Directed the 1998 documentary Frat House, about college-fraternity hazing practices, which was a Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival. The film has never been widely released amid accusations that portions of the documentary were staged.
  • Directed comedian Tom Green in a number of Pepsi One commercials in 1999, and was at the helm for a 2012 Honda ad that featured Matthew Broderick in a Ferris Bueller knockoff that aired during the Super Bowl.
  • Appeared as one of the cab drivers in the first seasons of the late 1990s cable reality series Taxicab Confessions.
  • Was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his contributions to the script of Borat. Phillips was director of the film in its early stages, a position he left due to creative differences.
  • Took little upfront salary for directing 2009's The Hangover in exchange for receiving a share of the film's profits, which reportedly total more than $75 million.
  • For a scene in The Hangover that involved a stun gun, he wanted his actors to be shot with a live Taser claiming, "It doesn't hurt that much," but studio lawyers nixed the idea.
  • Likes to make cameo appearances in his films.