Vivi Friedman

Now cracks a noble heart.
Good night, sweet princess.
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
(Hamlet, V.ii.359-360)

It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we inform you of the passing of Vivi Friedman yesterday, January 2nd, 2012, after a long battle with cancer.

Our condolences to Vivi’s partner Steven and relatives. Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem be-tokh avelei Ẓiyyon vi-Yrushalayim.

Here is a story we ran just a few months ago on the premiere of Vivi’s first feature film in the United States:


Finnish Vivi Friedman’s first feature film ‘The Family Tree’ premiered on the big screen last weekend in Los Angeles and New York. The film boasts a star-studded cast: Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chy McBride, Selma Blair, Jane Seymour, and others. Vivi Friedman is not yet a household name, but she is well-known in the advertising world. The 43-year-old director has had a long career in TV commercials. She has directed spots for both Finnish and international companies and is represented by an agency in Germany. In America, ad agencies don’t seem to bother much with subterfuge while European TV commercials often tell a clever little story with a twist (revealing the advertised product or service at the end). Vivi became known for these kinds of story-driven commercials. Vivi Friedman came to the United States 20 years ago. She studied at Rochester University in New York and at UCLA in Los Angeles. However, she admits that school was not really something for her and that she got most of her training in the field. In Hollywood, Vivi familiarized herself with the production process of American movie-making by taking on production assistant jobs here and there. Then she made a short film called ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’.

Vivi Friedman directs Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis

“My agent sent copies of the my film to various producers and agencies, and one of the recipients was screenwriter Mark Lisson’s manager who was looking for a director for Mark’s script. I then met with Mark and we got along great. That’s how it all started,” Vivi recalls. Along with the writer, Allan Jones produced. Alan didn’t divulge the exact budget amount, but said it cost less than five million dollars to make. The Ohio-based movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles in 2008. The tight budget allowed for only 25 days of shooting.

‘The Family Tree’ is a dark comedy about a family in crisis. The parents are on the brink of a divorce, the teenage son is mixed up with a fundamentalist church and its gun-worshipping pastor, and the daughter struggles with her sexuality. The Burnetts get a second chance when the mother (played by Hope Davis) loses her memory due to a head concussion and starts believing that everything is fine with the family. This reboot starts the chaotic sorting out of the whole family mess.

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree'

Before the cameras were able to start rolling, Vivi had to ‘sell’ her film to some top Hollywood names. With the help of a good casting director, she succeeded in attracting a stellar cast to her first directorial effort. The first one hired was Dermot Mulroney for the role of Jack Burnett, the husband and father of the family. Mulroney is perhaps best remembered from Julia Roberts’ 1997 film ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’

“Dermot has a dry sense of humor. He is fantastic as an actor. He totally put his heart and soul in a role that required him to be less than his usual handsome leading man,” Vivi describes. Dermot is reunited with his ‘About Schmidt’ costar Hope Davis who plays the mother and his wife Bunnie.

“Hope is aware of her talents and she has an enormous scale as an actor. She took the young actors under her wing. She says that once you have made a movie together, you are like family members with them for the rest of your life.”

Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis in 'The Family Tree'

Brittany Robertson, Max Thieriot and Jane Seymor complete the Burnett family as the teenage daughter, son, and grandmother.

“Jane is fantastic. She appears at the end of the film in a scene that requires her to cry. When we were discussing that, Jane asked, if I wanted her to cry from the left eye, from the right eye or from both eyes.”

Chy McBride plays Bunnie’s neighbor and lover. He agreed to show an intimate body shot for the film.

“Chy said that he would rather not appear naked. I said that I just want to show your ass. He replies, oh that? Go ahead, it’s in good shape!”

The featured cast is also full of familiar names. Keith Carradine is the gum-chewing, gun-toting priest. Christina Hendricks of the TV series Mad Men is cast in a similar office manager’s role. Selma Blair portrays a lesbian teacher.

“Selma is just as wild in real life as in her roles. She is an incredibly wonderful person. She questions everything but agrees to everything as well.”

The premiere night at the Laemmle 5 Theater in West Hollywood attracted a great audience who applauded enthusiastically at the end.

Vivi Friedman


Family background: Vivi was born in Helsinki in 1967. She spent her childhood years in Nummela, Southern Finland. Her brother Sami works for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).

Education: University of Rochester, NY, UCLA, CA. Career: Started making TV commercials in 1989. Has made spots for Aktia Bank, Asuntopörssi (a real-estate company), Lumene (cosmetics) and Valio (dairy products). Directed a short subject ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’ in 2003.

Vivi Friedman

Personal life: Vivi is in a relationship with Steven Kaminsky, a post-production supervisor.

‘The Family Tree’ movie trailer:

Links: (Official website)


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