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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear Producer Thought Script Was So Wild It Would Only Work as a Writing Sample

With Cocaine Bear now on 4K, producer Brian Duffield tells SYFY WIRE how the crazy bear movie actually got made. 

By Tara Bennett

When the first trailer for Cocaine Bear dropped in late 2022, everyone howled in delight that such a B-movie concept had been green lit into existence. Then finding out it was also directed by Elizabeth Banks and starred a great cast including Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, and Ray Liotta was cause for even more incredulity and excitement. One of the architects of Cocaine Bear's path to existence is producer Brian Duffield (No One Will Save You), who helped shepherd screenwriter Jimmy Warden's (The Babysitter) insane script to the right eyes... and voila, Cokie was born. 

With Cocaine Bear available on a new 2-disc 4K HD combo edition featuring an alternate ending, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and a feature commentary, SYFY WIRE caught up with Duffield to find out how they were able to sell such a crazy idea, what changed from script to screen, and the status of Cocaine Bear 2.

Producer Brian Duffield reveals how Cocaine Bear actually got made

(from left) Stache (Aaron Holliday) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) in Cocaine Bear (2023)

In case you're wondering, the screenplay for Cocaine Bear always featured that title, even when it was just a spec script that Warden floated to Duffield, his friend and fellow writer, a few years ago. "I think we both thought it would, at best, be a really cool writing sample for Jim," Duffield said of its humble origins. 

RELATED: Cocaine Bear's Elizabeth Banks on Possibility of Directing a Sequel

As long-time friends, Duffield said they would always exchange scripts for feedback. "He texted me the premise of Cocaine Bear, which I'd never heard of before, and he had his very Jimmy take on it," he laughed. "I think he had pitched it to other people, but they were like, 'Hmm?' But I was like, 'Hell yeah, let's go!' He sent me like a full script a month or two later. I read it and it was very, very similar to what the movie is on screen."

Duffield said that aside from an alternate opening with the kids, Dee Dee and Henry already doing the cocaine found in the park, then jumping to a flashback, everything unfolded in much the same way. "It was really great and fun and unique and very Jimmy," he remembered. "So, he's like, 'What should we do with it?' I knew it would do really well for him as a sample. But the goal is always — especially [from my] mentor / producer angle — is to get the writer paid." Not long after, Duffield's friend and producer, Aditya Sood, called for a catch up. Having recently joined Lord Miller, the production company of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Sood asked if Duffield had any comedy scripts. 

"I was like, 'I have no comedies at all. But my buddy, Jimmy, has a really great script that I'm producing that you guys would be great for,'" Duffield said. "He's like, 'What is it called?' I said, 'It's called Cocaine Bear, and I'm not telling you anything else.' I sent it to him and the next night, he was like, 'It's great. We should show it to Chris and Phil, and Jimmy was ecstatic."

How Banks Nailed Her Pitch

(L-R) Elizabeth Banks and Cocaine Bear onstage at the Academy Awards

With Lord Miller behind the script, the director collective Radio Silence [Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella] signed on to direct it. "Radio Silence loved it," Duffield remembered. "Then we went to Universal and they were like, 'Absolutely, yes!' So, it was very fast and all of a sudden off to the races."

But then two majors shifts put Cocaine Bear in some serious distress. "COVID happened and Radio got offered their dream job, which was to go off and do Scream," Duffield revealed. "With the one-two punch of that, we thought me might be sunk. But Universal were always gung-ho."

RELATED: How Matthew Rhys Ended Up in That Hilarious, Shocking Cocaine Bear Cameo

The team continued to meet potential directors, and then Banks came in to pitch for the job. "She did a full song and dance for the studio, which was extremely funny," he said. "She used a PowerPoint because it was a COVID [meeting], but she kept sneaking very graphic mauling wounds into the slide," he laughed. "People would recoil and then we'd hear her just cackle. She very quickly, got the job."

Additions and Subtractions

Matthew Rhys in Cocaine Bear (2023)

In August 2021, the entire Cocaine Bear team — sans Duffield — shipped off to Ireland to film the movie on location. "My son was born in pre-production of Cocaine Bear and I was in a early prep for my next movie," he said of the fast timeline. "But I was able to hand my son off to my wife and mother-in-law to go to Ireland and then quickly come back. What I'm really proud of about Cocaine Bear is that Jimmy was always the only writer. Usually, you get fired when they love you," he joked. "But he was on set the entire shoot. And I was never approached by Chris or Phil, or by Elizabeth," he said of rewrites. "I think she knew that Jimmy cracked the code of the bear doing cocaine and she really valued him.

"And she definitely brought a lot to the movie like opening with Thorton's (Matthew Rhys) plane crash," Duffield added. "Elizabeth thought it would really help set the stage." 

He said Banks also did a lot of work to make the opening 20-minutes do what it needed to do in terms of introducing the concept, the cast, and the bear. "In the edit, the biggest challenge for Elizabeth was getting to Cocaine Bear as fast as possible. You have to produce so many characters and try to get the audience invested in these characters before Cokie shows up," he said of the bear's in-house nickname. "It was always about asking: Do we need all these scenes with this character, or all of these things with that character? Like, there's a couple of scenes in that first 20 minutes that we would lose, and then it felt like you never really got invested in that character. So then we put it back, but then it felt like it's taking a little bit too long to get to the main event, which is the bear. As I recall, every cut I saw was a different version of that opening 20-minutes or so. It was working to find that right balance."

The Bear Necessities

VFX of the bear in Cocaine Bear (2023)

As a producer on Cocaine Bear, Duffield said he managed to suck up as much knowledge as he could to prep for his second film as a director, No Will Save You, an original alien invasion movie he wrote coming out this Friday, September 22. It features a lot of VFX work, which Duffield said he got plenty of lessons about working on Cocaine Bear

RELATED: 'That's a hell of a title': Watch 'Cocaine Bear' stars react to hearing film's name and premise

"I got to be in all of Elizabeth's meetings with Wētā FX, and also being on set seeing how specifically they were shooting the bear," he said. "They had more money and a harder job, I think, than we did on No One Will Save You, because it's a bear in the daylight and you know what a bear looks like. They had more resources towards the bear, but they had to because it's a bear and for most of the movie, it's in broad daylight."

Having worked on a string of original IP films since 2017's The Babysitter, Duffield said it's been gratifying to see audiences respond to the smaller and weirder things that have managed to get made. "In terms of why I'm doing these original things instead of the IP things, no one has really asked me to do the franchise stuff. So I gotta feed my baby somehow. It might as well be with cocaine," he joked.

And in truth, the success of Cocaine Bear means it could be the first of a franchise, which he hopes happens because he can confirm that Warden has ideas. "Oh, Jimmy's had ideas for many [sequels] since the very beginning," he laughed. "He has a big wish list of things he would love to do. We'll see what happens after after the [WGA] strike. I've not read Cocaine Bear 2 yet, but I would love to someday."

Cocaine Bear is available now as a 2-disc combo edition on 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray + Digital code. You can also watch Cocaine Bear: The True Story documentary streaming now on Peacock.