Press Pass LA was invited to attend Press Day for The Giant Mechanical Man.This was my first time attending a Tribeca Roundtable and I was really excited to meet first time Director Lee Kirk, as well as the cast of this charming comedic love story. We also caught up with the cast on the red carpet of the premiere!
The film stars Jenna Fisher (The Office) who plays the role of Janice, a 30 year old woman forced to live with her overbearing sister Jill, played by Malin Akerman (Wonderlust), after being evicted from her apartment. The film also follows the life of a silver-painted street performer named Tim, played by Chris Messina (Damages) who is also trying to find his place in society. After both Janice and Tim’s lives become suddenly intertwined, we see both characters attempt to break free from the life that others claim define them. They begin to understand the importance of love and belonging.
The ensemble cast also includes hilarious performances by Rich Sommer (Mad Men) as the husband of Akerman’s character Jill, and Topher Grace (That 70’s Show) as a self centered, egotistical, self help Guru, that Jill has forced upon her sister Janice in this delightful feel good comedy.
“What if only one person understands your art?” That is the question that began Lee Kirk’s mission to create a film that would explore this journey of true emotion that ultimately became this beautiful love story. The idea for this screenplay was in fact, “just an ‘idea’ that I brought to Jenna Fischer (he met with her after learning that she was looking to become involved with a new project). She really got it! She knew what I was trying to do, and she decided to become a Producer on the film.”
Lee told us that they immediately began working together on the project, and he created the character of Janice based on real life experiences that Jenna went through in her own struggles before her acting success.
Now four years later, they are married, have a completed film, and a baby! It’s a romantic comedy all in itself. “This film is how our real-life relationship got started,” Jenna told us, “It’s been a part of our lives for a long time, and it’s really special to us.”
Jenna recalls working with Kirk as a director and told us, “it was really nice because at times he could just whisper something in my ear that he knew meant something to both of us, and it would help me bring that certain emotion that he was looking for in that particular scene.”
The film was originally set to be shot in Chicago. However, with a low budget and limited time to shoot, they settled on a place they could afford, Detroit. Although the location wasn’t originally what Kirk had in mind, he said the nineteen day shoot in December worked out really well for the film. “I was surprised at how much the city leant itself to the film,” he said “It’s a grayish city with spirit,much like the mechanical man.”
The film was made for $900k and the majority of shooting took place outdoors in the Detroit Zoo. “The people there were great, had a lot of heart,” said Fischer, “Everyone was so supportive. The folks at the Zoo gave us access to the most beautiful locations and helped us work the animals into different shots.”
Although the cold weather served as its own character in the film, it also almost prevented the film from being completed. Chris Messina recalls getting a slight case of pneumonia after filming the majority of his scenes outside. “I had a nurse actually come to the set to inject me with something to allow me to be able to speak so I could finish my scenes.” Kirk told us that “Chris was an integral part of the this film coming together. He came to us and expressed a real passion for the project.”
Around the same time that Chris joined the cast, Topher Grace read the script and responded to the role of the motivational speaker. “We went out to dinner and he did some imitations of motivational speakers he had seen on TV and was so funny, that we knew it was a brilliant decision to give him the role of Doug Duncan,” says Fischer. Casting was then finalized with Malin Akerman and Rich Sommer playing her husband.
The film served as a passion project for all of those involved. Due to the low budget of this production, the cast and crew shared hotel rooms (some slept on couches), and they were happy to do it because they felt so strongly about the message of the film.
As I left the meeting room, I felt a sense of excitement and inspiration after meeting these amazing people who are willing to work on a project because of their passion for a film, regardless of the budget. I can’t say enough about this talented group of people who dedicate themselves to the arts, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Lee Kirk.
The Giant Mechanical Man premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on April 23rd and is currently available on Video On Demand.