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One Sucker at a Time

One Sucker at a Time

Articles - Acting

James Gunn and Jenna Fischer
James Gunn and Jenna Fischer star in LolliLove.

Jenna Fischer has a philanthropic side. With her writing-directing debut, LolliLove, the actress best known to audiences as Pam, the sweet receptionist on NBC’s “The Office,” is proving she’s more than just a pretty face. And she’s taking her charity to the streets, providing Los Angeles’ homeless with the ultimate feel-good accessory: A lollipop.

Here, Fischer speaks with MM about her hilarious new mockumentary, what it takes to make it as a director and the difficult task of keeping her husband—writer-director James Gunn—under control.

Jennifer Wood (MM): First off, I have to tell you that I really loved the film. When and how did the idea for LolliLove originate?

Jenna Fischer (JF): One year, shortly after I moved to LA, I went to a charity event that was raising money for a low-income school. I had done some grant writing and fundraising for the charity, so I got to go for free. It was a big event; a black tie dinner that cost something like $1,500 a plate. All of the women were wearing ball gowns and dripping in diamonds. There was a photographer that took your picture—like at a prom. But the disturbing part was when they brought a group of the school children on stage to sing for us while we ate our eight-course meal. I was like, ‘Does no one else see how disturbing this is?’ A group of poor Mexican children were singing to a group of white folks, who sat back feeling good about themselves. It was insane. My only way to cope was to find the humor in the situation—and so LolliLove was born.

MM: The film really has such a laid back, fun feel to it—almost like a project that you did for fun with your friends. Was it a “formal” shoot, or was this a project that you worked on in between acting work, etc.?

JF: It was the complete opposite of a formal shoot; this movie took about four years to complete. We shot mostly on the weekends, since everyone was working for no money in their free time. To cut costs we would rent equipment on Fridays, because then you could use it all weekend and only have to pay for one day of rental fees. We’d shoot around the clock and then race to get the stuff back before 9 a.m. Monday morning.

We had an amazing time together. The crew was small and the actors were all our friends. We laughed a lot. Our camera guy, Peter, would laugh and ruin takes all the time because he would shake the camera. My husband, James, who plays the lead in the movie, wouldn’t be satisfied with a scene until he’d managed to make Peter laugh; it was like a little game they would play. It actually created a good energy on set and some of our best stuff came from James trying to make Peter laugh. But then it would just get ridiculous and we’d never get anything done. A couple of times we kicked Peter off set because we couldn’t pull ourselves together. Our producer, Stephen, had to fill in as camera operator twice because of the giggles.

MM: You’re best known as an actor, but took on the reigns as director and writer of LolliLove. Being a first-time director, how difficult was it to direct yourself in the film? Or your husband and friends, for that matter?

JF: I guess it was sort of crazy for me to cast my real-life husband (James Gunn) to play my husband in the movie. Probably also not such a great idea to cast all of my friends. But it actually worked out pretty great.

There were difficulties. It was hard for me to shift from having a personal relationship with my husband to having a work relationship. There were times when I wanted to share a problem about the production with James because he’s my husband, but because he was also an actor in the movie, I couldn’t. Like when our first round of dailies came back and the sound was skipping all over the place. I didn’t want to freak him out since he had just shot for 12 hours and had to shoot again the next day. I just felt very alone. But, I think this is also just something very common to directors. They are like lone wolves.

Also, in our marriage, I can wear the pants in the family but make him think that he’s really the boss. It’s sort of a thing wives do. But, in the movie… Being a director very clearly makes you the boss. And I’m not sure he was crazy about that.

My husband is a film writer and director. He directed me in his latest movie, SLiTHER, which comes out in theaters on March 31st. We had a great time. I had a small role in the movie and, like I said, I’m very comfortable letting my husband think he’s the boss. So, it worked.

MM: Do you think it would have been different had the film not been a mockumentary?

JF: We made this movie for $2,000. We could have never done that if it wasn’t a mockumentary. The mockumenarty style is very forgiving; if the sound drops out or if something is out of focus for a moment, you can still use it. We wanted the movie to seem like the “documentarians” were capturing real-life moments as they happen. Nothing should look planned. That part worked out very well with my directing style, since I didn’t plan out any shots. That would be a very bad idea on a regular film.

MM: How much of the film was written as opposed to improvised? Considering that so many actors make appearances in it, did you allow them to pretty much do their own thing or was there a pretty formal script?

JF: Most of the film was improvised actually. I started by writing a plot outline. I invited my friends over to the house and I filmed us acting out the scenes. At that point all of the dialogue was improvised. I gave very general character notes and people just ran with it. I used the tapes to write the script. I expanded the characters and streamlined the dialogue. I found some things that worked and some that didn’t. We all met about six months later to shoot the film. We had a full script at that time. But still, most of the movie is improvised; the script was more of a suggestion.

Our interview segments were the most fun to do. We have tons of deleted interview scenes on the DVD. Some of them are funnier than what made it into the movie but because they went so off plot we couldn’t use them. In addition to improvisation, a lot of this movie was found in the editing room. My editor and co-writer, Peter Alton, is brilliant. He threw out the script and attacked the footage as if it were real documentary footage and started editing. There is so much about this movie that was found rather than intended.

MM: Do you have any plans to write or direct anything else yet? What’s up next for you, acting-wise (and no, I won’t ask about any spoilers regarding “The Office.”)

JF: I love the mockumentary style of storytelling—I love this style of acting. But I do not feel drawn to write and direct another project right now. I am more interested in taking what I learned and applying it to my career as an actress.

My next project is a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) called Blades of Glory. They play a figure skating team competing against a sibling skating pair played by Amy Poehler (“SNL”) and Will Arnett “(Arrested Development”). I play Will and Amy’s little sister and Jon Heder’s love interest. It is a hilarious movie! I’m very excited. We start shooting in a couple of weeks. In addition to being funny, everyone is really nice which makes it all the more cool.

MM: At the end of the day, what was the thing that surprised you the most about LolliLove?

JF: My goal for this movie was to finish it. My wildest dream come true was that people would pass it around to their friends and think it was funny. The fact that it is coming out DVD is crazy; I am completely shocked.

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