Patton Oswalt and writer/director Robert Siegel share their thoughts and insights into the making of Big Fan.
Patton Oswalt is known to many as a hilarious stand-up comic and as a voice actor in both films and on TV. Oswalt takes a break from comedy to create the character of Paul Aufiero, a hardcore New York Giants fan.
SWL: What attracted you to the story and character of Paul?
OSWALT: I just liked the script overall, and I’m a big fan of Robert’s work – plus, they promised me donuts every morning.
SWL: How did you emotionally prepare for the role of Paul?
OSWALT: This is going to sound like I’m joking, but I actually tamped down my emotions, since I conceived of Paul as a gleeful blank, emotion-wise. It’s only when people are trying to drag him into having a full life that he reacts.
SWL: Were the comedic moments in the script, or were you allowed to improv certain lines?
OSWALT: There were comedic moments but, thankfully, they had nothing to do with people trying to be funny. Most of my improv came in the scenes with my mother, when I got to bounce ideas off the wonder Marcia Jean Kurtz. She was amazing.
SWL: What is your favorite sports team in real life? Who is your favorite athlete?
OSWALT: Oh man, I don’t follow sports. The Bad News Bears, maybe? Kelly Leak?
SWL: What jobs did you have before you became a stand-up comic/actor?
OSWALT: Horrible ones. I’ve blanked them all out. I think one of them may have involved making salads.
Known primarily as the screenwriter of the Mickey Rourke film, The Wrestler, Robert Siegel makes his directorial debut with Big Fan. He discussed the genesis of the idea and other aspects of filmmaking with us.
SWL: What inspired the idea for the film?
SIEGEL: When I was a kid, every night when I would go to bed, for hours I’d lie under the covers in the dark listening to WFAN, the New York sports radio station. I’d hear guys named Vinny From Massapequa and Joe From Kew Gardens calling in to rant about Phil Simms’ bonehead interception against the Niners or the or the fly ball Mookie Wilson dropped to cost the Mets the game. They had these amazing, colorful voices and personalities, and I’d wonder what they looked like, what their lives were like. And I loved how they had relationships with each other over the airwaves, these guys scattered around the New York area who’d never met, bound by their love of sports. Many years later, I came up with this idea for a movie about a sports fanatic who gets beaten up by his favorite player. As soon as I started to write it, all those old voices from the radio came flooding back to me.
SWL: Talk about your writing process?
SIEGEL: I wrote this movie a pretty long time ago, back in 2001. I cranked it out in 10 days, during a winter break from The Onion, which I was the editor of at the time. We only got a few weeks of vacation a year, and I decided to use one of those breaks to write a screenplay. So I really felt on the clock. Which, in retrospect, probably helped. Having this precious, narrow window of time when I was free to write with my full attention and concentration forced me to really buckle down. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly fast writer in general. The Wrestler, by contrast, took me almost three years to finish. But for whatever reason, Big Fan just poured out really fast. It’s hard to explain why that happens.
SWL: Talk about the pre-production, production, and post-production processes on the film.
SIEGEL: Oh, man. They were all pretty exhausting and intense in their own way. Pre-production was all a blur. I hardly remember it. As I recall, we hired a bunch of people off Craigslist and rented a Red camera, and off we went. Production was outrageously stressful but thrilling. Twenty-three days. Very little sleep. A series of disasters narrowly averted. And somewhere in between all that we got ourselves enough footage to make a movie. Then came post-production, which, as an experience, is by far the most pleasant of the three stages. You’ve got your footage, and you can just lock yourself away with it (and your editor) in a room. In my case, that room was my editor and friend Josh Trank’s apartment. We edited the whole thing on his Macbook laptop in Final Cut Pro.
SWL: What were some of the challenges you experienced while making the film? Most rewarding experiences?
SIEGEL: The challenges and rewards were actually one and the same. The movie was super-low-budget, so I had a really tiny crew, and everybody worked incredibly hard for little to no pay. Which, as the person in charge, makes you feel kind of exploitative. But the flipside of that is, a lot of people got opportunities on this movie that they’d never had before. Non-professionals acted for the first time. Actors who’d only had bit parts were cast in major roles. People who’d only worked as second assistant to the second assistant got to head up departments and be in positions of real responsibility. The average age of the crew on Big Fan was probably 23. It was a bunch of young people who were placed in positions of real responsibility for the first time. I think this movie has been a very good thing for a lot of the people who worked on it. That feels really good.
SWL: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters or filmmakers?
SIEGEL: I know it’s kind of a cliché, but the best advice I could give is to make something that’s personal, that comes from you. Because it will come out better than something that comes from a cynical place. I guarantee you.
My thanks to Patton Oswalt and Robert Siegel for participating in these interviews.
Big Fan opens in select cities on August 28, 2009. Check out my review of the film by clicking here.