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Finding Love When Your Talent is "Doing a Really Great Robot"

Husband and wife Lee Kirk (director) and Jenna Fischer (star) team up for a charming romance about a silver-painted man (Chris Messina) and the woman who loves him.

Tribeca: We are really excited to be showing The Giant Mechanical Man both at the Festival and on VOD (starting April 17). How do you describe the movie in your own words?

Jenna Fischer: The Giant Mechanical Man is about a silver-painted street performer and the woman who falls in love with him. It's a love story about these two lost people in a city who find each other, living in a city just trying to navigate their lives.

Tribeca: I found it so charming. It's very sweet.

Jenna Fischer: Thank you. I think charming is a good word to describe it.

Tribeca: Lee, this is your debut as a writer-director. What inspired you to tell this particular story? Where did it come from?

Lee Kirk: When I went to college in Chicago, I used to notice these guys—occasionally you’d be on the El, and a guy would get on who’s all painted silver. I’d be going downtown, just thinking, “Who is this guy? What’s the story with this guy who gets up in the morning and puts silver makeup on?” I always thought it would be interesting to explore.

Years later, when Jenna was looking for a project, I pitched her this idea about a mechanical guy, and she liked it. So then I had to figure out who her character was, and what this story was, and it naturally became a love story about these two people.

Jenna Fischer: I really identified with it because in theater school I’d meet these people who had an incredible talent for something that was not mainstream in any way: an amazing juggler, or an amazing stilt walker. And when you come up in the theater world, you meet these people who go on to clown school or they join Cirque de Soleil—and other artistic people who are kind of on the fringe. They are very, very devoted to what they do, and it's just sort of their dumb luck that the talent they're born with is that they do a really great robot. But that doesn't mean that they should pursue that any less than someone with a great scientific mind should pursue a life of science.

So the movie is about how those unusual talents go misunderstood by most people, and what it would mean to one of these artists to have someone be so taken with their art and then also be able to love them. Those obscure talents can be alienating to people when they don't understand why you would continue to do something so odd. As the brother in the movie says, "People aren't meant to walk around like this, all painted silver," but for Tim [Chris Messina], he's absolutely meant to do that.

 Lee Kirk: And really, with any sort of artistic endeavor, I feel like even if you're rejected by a hundred other people, as long as you have that one person saying, "No, man, you gotta keep doing this. It's really cool and it's worth something," a lot of times that is enough to keep at it.

So Janice [Jenna’s character] becomes that character for Tim; she’s moved by what he's doing, and there's sort of a metaphor tied up in this robotic, mechanical man standing there; he only moves when money is dropped in his bucket. I feel like she responds to that metaphor, because when we first see her in the movie, that's the way she feels about her life.

The Giant Mechanical Man

Tribeca: It's a great cast, led by the lovely Jenna. What can you share about the casting process? Did you have Chris Messina in mind as you wrote it?

 Lee Kirk: Not at that point. Chris came a little later, but we were so lucky that he was handed the script; he really became the reason that the movie eventually got made. He had such a passion for it and was so excited about the role, and he'd say, "We can do this movie for nothing. I don't care about the money. I'll hold the boom mic if I have to; we just have to make this film."

Jenna Fischer: This was one of those scripts that went around town, to the agencies, and people were always really taken with it and really charmed by it. But it would get built up and [seem like it was] about to get made, and then something would fall apart. This was a time when things were in a lot of flux because of the economy; it was really hard to get a movie made. When Chris' agent read it and passed it on to Chris, we weren't even really in the casting process yet, but Chris reached out to us and he was the first person who attached to the movie. From there, we started to build the cast around him, and we just got really lucky. His passion reignited the whole project.

Tribeca: We did an interview the other day with the director of Fairhaven, and it’s funny because it sounds like a similar movie in terms of Chris helping get the movie made. Oh, and Rich Sommer's in both movies.

Jenna Fischer: Yeah! We were in Detroit making our movie and Chris was helping his friend get Fairhaven set up as well. Chris is like that. Listen, anyone out there making a movie: if Chris Messina wants to make your movie, it'll get made out of his sheer grit and passion. He's an amazing force to be reckoned with. He's unstoppable.

Tribeca: Oh, that's great. I love that now both films are at Tribeca! So, Lee, what was like it for you to direct your wife?

 Lee Kirk: It was actually really fun! We communicate well, and we have a really collaborative, fun relationship. So it wasn't difficult. But there was one scene where [Chris and Jenna] kiss on the couch, which is just an awkward scenario to be dealing with: to be directing your wife and saying, “You guys have to kiss, you have to make out, more...” [All laugh.]

Jenna Fischer: You did have to keep telling us to kiss more passionately! I think we all felt weird.

 Lee Kirk: It's a strange situation. But other than that, it was wonderful directing her. She's such a terrific actress and it was really fun just to watch her deliver.

Jenna Fischer: That's so sweet.

Tribeca: And how about for you, Jenna?

Jenna Fischer: I think Lee said it really well. We have a very collaborative marriage, we enjoy spending a lot of time together, we make one another laugh, and we just have a very easygoing relationship. That translated, then, to our relationship on the movie. I felt like he was able to elicit a performance from me that was probably richer and more layered—because he knew me so well, he could give me direction that no one else could.

Giant Mechanical Man

Tribeca: That's nice to hear. So other than having Chris Messina in your movie, do you guys have any advice for aspiring filmmakers looking to make their first film? What does it take to get things off the ground?

Jenna Fischer: I think you just have to be unstoppable. There were times when getting this movie made felt like pushing a boulder up a mountain. You just have to stop and rest sometimes, and reassess and figure out how you're going to get it up there. So my advice would be: in making an independent film, your film will probably fall apart four or five times, and it will become reinvented in all of these different ways, and you just have to stay very adaptable and relentless.

 Lee Kirk: Yeah, that was the biggest realization for me. The moment I put the first the first word on the page, I didn't realize the length of the journey I was about to go on, the work that I was going to have to do once the script was finished. That was when the real work began: keeping this thing afloat.

Jenna Fischer:  At a certain point, we just decided we were going into production, and we started changing the way we talked about the movie. Rather than calling people and saying, “Hey, we're wondering, would you want to help us with a budget because we're thinking about getting this movie made?” or “We're trying to get this movie made," we changed the way we talked about it. We just started saying, "We're making a movie, so who wants to get on board?” I didn't even realize how powerful just changing the way we spoke about it was.

Tribeca: In addition to the Festival premiere, we're going to distribute The Giant Mechanical Man in over 40 million homes on VOD, which is casting a really wide net. How do you guys feel about this new distribution model?

Jenna Fischer: I like it, because I'm a new mom and this is how I see movies now: in my living room, after the baby's gone to bed. So I like the idea of the access to current films—particularly films that are at festivals that you may not be able to see otherwise.

That said, we make movies to have them broadcast on a big screen: that's the format that we intend them to be seen in. So I also appreciate that the movie is going to be in theaters as well, so that people can have either experience.

Lee Kirk: To be honest, working with Tribeca Film has really opened me up to VOD. I think I've watched a lot more on VOD since Tribeca Film acquired The Giant Mechanical Man, and I really like it: I like the easy access, and I feel like the quality's all there. As an independent filmmaker, it's especially exciting for me to get the film out to a wider mass of people than if it were just playing in two cities in a little house theater.

Tribeca: Switching gears, if you could have dinner with any filmmaker alive or dead, who would it be?

Jenna Fischer: I think I know what Lee's answer is.

Lee Kirk: Woody Allen?

Jenna Fischer:  I was going to say Paul Thomas Anderson.

 Lee Kirk: How about both? Can I have both of them?

Jenna Fischer: Can I just come to that dinner?

Tribeca: Sure! What's your favorite New York movie?

Lee Kirk: Manhattan.

Jenna Fischer: When Harry Met Sally.

Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?

Jenna Fischer: There's More to Her Than Loving Cats.

 Lee Kirk: Jenna, do you have any idea about my biopic?

Jenna Fischer: You're just a nice guy. I don't know what it would be.

 Lee Kirk: What about The Guy From Dallas?

Tribeca: That works. And finally, what makes The Giant Mechanical Man a Tribeca must-see?

Lee Kirk: Jenna's performance!

Jenna Fischer: Aww, thanks! I think it's an uplifting film that's sweet and charming and funny. And it'll make you swoon.

Lee Kirk

Lee Kirk is from Dallas and graduated from the theater school at DePaul University. He has written numerous short films, as well as the featurette The Man Who Invented the Moon. His playwriting credits include the absurdist comedy Sad Happy Sucker. The Giant Mechanical Man is his directing debut.


Note: The Giant Mechanical Man will premiere on VOD across the country via Tribeca Film on April 17, and in select theaters beginning on April 27. Learn more.


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