Producer and director Brent Hodge on Freaks and Geeks documentary to be screened at CUFF
By: Robyn Welsh, Publishing Editor
It’s generally accepted that high school sucks. What a lot of us have in common, is that we got through it. Freaks and Geeks puts a window to the traumatic, emotional, funny, terrifying and life-changing experiences of high school and adolescent home life. While the truthful portrayal of high school experience spoke to the audience, for many, it was the little victories (like the cast surviving through each whirlwind episode) that kept them watching the show.
If you’d like to reflect on your highschool experience while feeding your inner freak or geek, watching Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary may be the perfect addition to your weekend plans. The film will be screened Sunday April 22 as a part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival.
Despite being cancelled after a single season, Freaks and Geeks has gone on to become not only a cult classic, but holds a spot on both Time magazine and the Rolling Stones top 100 series of all time lists.
Producer and director Brent Hodge was thrilled to be given the documentary assignment as part of A&E’s new series Cultureshock. When he went to creators Judd Apatow and Paul Feig for their go-ahead he “felt like we went to the parents. We went to the two creators and asked if we could take this baby,” Hodge said.
The Freaks and Geeks tree was the first brain-child of the documentary. Cancellation of Freaks and Geeks was the seed from which branches grew that illustrate the cast and crew’s intermingled careers. A visualization of this tree can be seen in the documentary.
“We mapped out what Freaks and Geeks, this one moment in pop culture, has created. That was our starting point and we worked backward from there,” Hodge said.
The next step was tackling the many unanswered questions that surround the series with an air of mystery. How did a show that didn’t last on network television get picked up by Netflix, and see a DVD released 5 years after cancellation? Why was it still getting written about and what was keeping these actors working together?
With Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, Hodge knew he had to answer these questions fully, and get all sides of the story. This included hearing from the NBC executive who cancelled the show.
Hodge said the last thing he wanted to create was, “a ninety minute commercial on how great Freaks and Geeks was.”
But Hodge struck gold when Fieg got him in contact with one of the writers of the series, Gabe Sachs. With a garage akin to a Freaks and Geeks museum, Sachs held onto memorabilia from set props and the first script, to script notes and a floppy disk with labelled ‘Judd’s notes.’ After digging through all this, Sachs handed Hodge a box of MiniDVs: Hodge now had access to hours of unseen archive footage from on set.
“The power of archive footage is so important in a film. [It] was like we could actually go back to 1999,” Hodge said.
“We mapped out what Freaks and Geeks, this one moment in pop culture, has created. That was our starting point and we worked backward from there.” -Brent Hodge
Why a Freaks and Geeks documentary?
From 1999 to 2000, when Freaks and Geeks was created and aired, it was the only show portraying a genuine glimpse into the high school experience. With game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire dominating network television, the heartfelt dramatic comedy faced a tough market, very different than today’s. This documentary delves into how Freaks and Geeks was picked up by NBC, and why it was cancelled so quickly.
The show was quite unique for its time, predating many series we know and love like The Office and Arrested Development that featured casts that were not typical Hollywood beauties. “There are so many stereotypes to it. And I think that’s why the show has done so well, and why it would do well right now, is that we are kind of getting away from those stereotypical type shows,” Hodge said.
What to expect
Despite not being a typical cast at the time, the cast and crew went on to work as some of Hollywood’s largest names in directing, producing, writing and acting. In Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary you’ll hear from each of the actors in the film and how being a part of the series in their formative years influenced them as people, and actors.
Fans should pay extra attention to the interview locations because they all hold significance. “We were kind of just hoping that all the cast were into it because we never told them beforehand. So when Jason Segel showed up and there was a 27-piece drum kit around him, he was very excited and started taking selfies and loving it,” Hodge said.
Hodge says he felt nervous about the interviews and sets they created. “We are going to have to make James Franco sit on the floor under the bleachers, so I hope he’s into that,” he said.
The actors fond memories of the show, played a huge role in building excitement for the documentary. “For these actors and actresses, their careers keep going. You look back to their early stuff and they’re proud of it. You don’t usually get that,” Hodge said.
The series is so relatable because we all have a bit of freak, geek or both in us. So I asked Hodge which he identified as. “In high school I was definitely a jock. […] I lean toward being more of a freak. Jock-freak,” he said.
Hodge said the documentary is for everyone, and fans can expect to see references like the doughnuts spilled on the hallway floor. “It would bring up memories if you’re a fan of the show and if you’re not or don’t know what the show is it’ll bring up some reasons you’d want to watch the show,” he said.
Catch Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary at CUFF on Sunday April 22, 6:30PM at The Globe Cinema.