Richard Pryor Documentary, Omit The Logic

This moving portrait of legendary comedian Richard Pryor chronicles his life from his troubled youth in Peoria, Illinois, to his meteoric rise as one of the most respected comic actors of the 20th century. Often misunderstood during the height of his celebrity, the late superstar has never been profiled this extensively. Marina Zenovich’s revealing and entertaining film lays bare the demons with which he struggled and reminds us just how daring and dangerous artistic
freedom can be.

Long Emmy Award-Winning director Marina Zenovich takes a new look at the life of Richard Pryor, one of America’s greatest and most gifted comedians. Pryor’s comedy — a blend of brutal honesty, dead-on observation and sheer surrealism – grew from a life that was at turns comic and tragic. A master truth teller, a man of huge gifts and extraordinary flaws, a lightning quick artist who lived close to the edge, Richard Pryor used comedy to transform the way blacks and whites saw each other, in a way which still rings true today. Using never-before-seen performance and talk-show appearances, coupled with revealing interviews with comic legends, Zenovich revives Richard Pryor’s genius for a new generation.

A Q&A with Director Marina Zenovich

How did Showtime’s RICHARD PRYOR: OMIT THE LOGIC first come together?

I was approached by Joan Boorstein from Showtime who were lining up projects for their newly launched “Sho Closeup” documentary banner. They had a great inaugural documentary in the works and were excited about the team on RICHARD PRYOR: OMIT THE LOGIC which included Roy Ackerman, an English producer who now runs Jamie Oliver’s company, Fresh One. He and Nick Fraser, of the BBC, initially approached me with their idea to make a film about Richard Pryor and thought I might be a good fit because of my prior work on Roman Polanski:  Wanted and Desired. Roy came to LA and we met up with Jennifer Pryor, Richard Pryor’s widow and the caretaker of his estate, and gave her our pitch.

Were you a fan of his work before?  

I was a huge fan of Richard Pryor. It’s true that he remains a legendary comedian who broke barriers and expanded the envelope when it came to racial equality in Hollywood, but I, like his millions of fans, loved him because he was great entertainer. I can still remember the feeling I had watching LIVE IN CONCERT when I was a teenager. Richard’s energy is riveting and he still remains thrilling and vital. When you are watching Richard Pryor, you literally can’t take your eyes off him.

Was his family receptive to the idea?

I think they had been approached a few times but were waiting for the right team to come along. When we met with Jennifer Pryor I was lucky in that she had not only seen ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AN DESIRED but had also seen a film I did called WHO IS BERNARD TAPIE? about my fascination with the French character called Bernard Tapie. So she had an idea of the range in my work. Roy is also a hug Pryor fan and I think she responded to his enthusiasm. When did you first start filming and gathering footage and when did you wrap production? We first met Jennifer in 2009. We did some filming in 2011 but did the bulk of the filming from May to November of 2012. We started editing in August of that year and are just wrapping up now.

Why do you think Richard Pryor is a good subject for a documentary?

He changed comedy forever. And he’s extremely controversial, incredibly honest and very funny. What more could you ask for? More broadly, I also wanted to peel away the icon and the tabloid image of Richard Pryor and find the human being within. His life is really an extraordinary story. From his being reared in a brothel, to his marriages, his very public battle with his dark demons to his superstar film status, you just can’t make this stuff up.

What are you hoping to convey about him with this film?

I want people to know his place in entertainment history. His groundbreaking controversial talent moved our culture forward and blasted away rigid racial barriers. He was a first. I also wanted to show younger people that before Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, there was Richard Pryor.

Do you expect the film to change how viewers look at Richard Pryor?

I hope so. People tell me that they always loved Richard and his work but were not aware of his trailblazing status. Perhaps part of that is because his work has not aged at all and it still crackles with contemporary relevance. His concerts still connect with audiences in the same vital way they did thirty years ago. I hope this film will make people understand him better and seek out his recordings and films.

As a filmmaker, what was the greatest creative challenge you encountered while making RICHARD PRYOR: OMIT THE LOGIC?

When you have someone like Richard Pryor, who had best selling concert albums, blockbuster movies, a television show (albeit a short lived one) and was frequently tabloid and news fodder, it can be a tremendous editing challenge.  My editor and I had to juggle between the on-air comedy routines, the acting roles, the audio routines and interview material. When we had an early test screening, people said “we want more Richard.” It is almost like people just want to see him telling stories.

What aspect of the film are you most excited about?

I am excited to screen it for an audience in front of some of Richard’s friends and family. You can never please everyone with a film but we hope we did a good job of showing who he really was. You’re known for your biographical documentary films, including Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

What draws you to making this type of film?

I’m drawn to fascinating men. Not that I am not drawn to women — but there is something about difficult men that interests me. I also like survivors. And Richard Pryor is the ultimate survivor.

Do you see any similar characteristics in Roman and Richard?

I am fascinated by people with epic lives. Roman Polanski falls into that category and so does Richard Pryor. The film I made before WANTED AND DESIRED was about a difficult French man, Bernard Tapie. It has kind of become what I do.

Is this your first time at the Tribeca Film Festival?

As a filmmaker, yes. I attended the festival several years ago when I lived in NY. What are you hoping to accomplish at the festival? ‘m so excited to share the film with New York audiences. This film has the energy and vitality of New York City. And hey, it’s where Richard Pryor started out. So in a way he is coming full circle.

About: Marina Zenovich, Director – Showtime’s Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic is Marina Zenovich’s most recent project. Her last film was Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out which played at the 2012 Toronto and New York Film Festivals. Odd Man Out is a follow-up to Marina’s 2008 film Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (TWC/HBO/BBC). Wanted and Desired premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to great acclaim and considerable media attention.  It also won the award for Best Editing. It then screened at the Cannes Film Festival as a Special Screening. Soon afterwards, Roman Polanski’s lawyers used Marina’s film as evidence to reopen the 30 year old case.

Wanted and Desired was selected by the National Board of Review as one of the Best Documentaries of 2008. The film also won Emmys for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming and Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming (shared with Joe Bini & P.G. Morgan.) Marina’s past work includes: Who is Bernard Tapie? about the French former politician convicted criminal turned actor and her fascination with him; Independent’s Day about the struggles of independent filmmakers set in Park City, Utah, and  Estonia Dreams of Eurovision! about the wacky world of Tallin, Estonia as it prepares to host the Eurovision Song Contest.

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