Robert Siegel left his post as editor-in-chief of the Onion to do what all writers eventually try their hand at: write screenplays. How’d that work out for him? He wrote the words that lead to Mickey Rourke’s Oscar nomination for Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. After wrapping that film, Siegel returned to an earlier script, a drama about a sports-radio obsessed New York Giants fan, to direct himself. Big Fan premiered this week at Sundance, where Heeb caught up with Siegel.
How’s Sundance been going so far?
It’s been exactly like it is on Entourage. It’s been really fun and great. You don’t see any movies, and you go to stupid parties that you just want to leave. And you see your movie a few times.
How’s it been seeing it with audiences?
Awesome. The premiere went really well. They say it’s really easy to get a standing ovation at Sundance. People are just excited to see moving images on a screen here, and there’s the thin air. You always hear about these movies that kill at Sundance, and just die once they reach the real world.
The script for Big Fan made it to Darren Aronofsky.
Exactly. I saw him at High Holiday services once.
I wrote the script in 2002 and it floated around for a while. Different directors were circling it, and one of them was Darren. He came pretty close to doing it. Then he called maybe six months later, saying he had this other idea that he thought I might be right for. When he read Big Fan, he thought it was similar to what he was thinking about for The Wrestler.
Big Fan and The Wrestler are both about the dark underbelly of the sports world, and my aim was to make these â€˜70s-style, character-driven pieces that were dark and dramatic, but also a little bit funny.
Did the set of The Wrestler serve as directing boot camp for you?
That’s what I was supposed to be doing there. Instead I wound up collecting crew members. I definitely absorbed some of the directing that was going on, but mostly I was sneaking around, collecting the crew’s protÃ©gÃ©s.
As a first-time director, how close did the film come out to what you were expecting?
It really came out the way I envisioned it. Unless you really suck or fuck up, it’s going to come a lot closer than if someone else directed. I think Darren did a great job, but it’s not what I pictured in my head. It can’t be. We just don’t have the medical technology yet to do brain transplants.
When you started writing Big Fan, did you know the tone, or did it start off more comedic?
This was definitely the tone. Between leaving the Onion and writing Big Fan, I wrote a bunch of screenplays that were much more the kind of thing I thought I was supposed to be writing. More Will Farrel, Jack Black-type broad comedy. I thought when you’re a 30-something Jew and writing for the Onion, you’re supposed to write comedies for Ben Stiller. Those are all Jew-written comedies. But I was not that good at it.
I’m definitely a comedy guy, but I also really love â€˜70s art house films. Early Scorcese is my absolute favorite stuff. So this idea was much more in the tone of those kinds of movies. There is a broad comedy version of this that I could have written, but I think if you wrote it as a comedy you’d be laughing at the character more, and I wanted to treat the character with respect.
Are you interested in trying a comedy now, or do you feel like you’ve changed directions?
I’d like to ride this groove for a while. If something hits me that’s a comedy, I wouldn’t be opposed to it. But I feel like I found my voice doing this kind of stuff.