Since last week was the finale of “The Office,” it seems like a good time to tell you about how Jenna Fischer (“Pam”) was almost in an independent movie I made back in the day. Actually, I can do even better than tell you… I can show you!
Let me backtrack a bit first. After graduating from film school in 1998, a few classmates and I decided to put our newly acquired skills to the test and make an independent film of a screenplay I’d written. Since it was going to be a low-budget affair, we pulled in a favor at the film school so that we could hold our auditions there for free (as opposed to having to rent a rehearsal space).
On the day of the audition we saw actors non-stop for twelve hours straight even though we could only offer what is known as “meal and copy.” Basically, that meant that we couldn’t pay our actors, but would feed them and supply a copy of the movie so they could use it as part of their all-important “actor’s reel.” This might not sound like much to non-actors, but there are so many people trying to make it in Hollywood that even a small film like ours had a lot of competition. We had nearly a thousand submissions of mostly up and coming actors.
One of the roles we had was a quirky one – a second generation gravedigger who was incredibly passionate about her work. Around mid day we’d seen a number of young actresses for the role, but none were quite right. Then an actress with memorably curly hair walked into the room. She was friendly, professional, attractive, and gave a great audition that made it clear she was very talented. I was sure this Jenna Fischer person was right for the role.
My co-director on the project, however, wasn’t so sure. Though I pushed to offer Jenna the role, he resisted. A few weeks later, though, after we’d seen many other actresses (none of whom blew him away), he agreed to offer the role to Jenna. I called her agent that day, but he was less than pleased that we were offering Jenna the role so long after her audition, and told us she was no longer available.
Cut to this weekend – I was cleaning out the home and garage, throwing things away in preparation for the baby, when I stumbled across a VHS tape marked: “Auditions.” I’d forgotten all about the audition tape, but once it was in my hands I wondered if Jenna’s audition was on it. I pulled our ancient TV/VCR from the garage and popped in the tape.
In the intervening fourteen years the quality of the VHS tape had deteriorated a bit, but sure enough, after fast-forwarding I found Jenna’s audition. As I remembered, she was terrific, and watching it today you can definitely see a little “Pam” in her performance!
We all know what happened to Jenna… as for our film, we successfully completed the project and it debuted at The Malibu International Film Festival (then played at a number of other film festivals across the country). It was far from a “Blair Witch Project” sized success, but I’m proud of what we accomplished. It sure would have been a lot more interesting, though, if Jenna Fischer were in it!