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'Fan Girl', by director Paul Jarrett and screenwriter Gina O'Brien, was a total trip when it premiered at the LA Film Festival. A “trip”? Dude, that’s so last century. If there is anything this movie isn’t, it’s last century. Fan Girl is a winner of a movie because of the writing, the casting, and the acting. If all that works together, the director deserves credit as well. On the surface Fan Girl is a story of teenager Telulah Farrow, played by Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men, Flowers in the Attic), who adulates the punk band All Time Low. She thinks she needs to connect with the band and create a music video for her filmmaking class to launch her movie career. What she really needs, and the story beneath the surface, is to learn what is really important in human relationships.

LA Film Fest: Kiernan Shipka of ‘Mad Men’ and Meg Ryan make ‘Fan Girl’ Fun

Fan Girl, by director Paul Jarrett and screenwriter Gina O’Brien, was a total trip when it premiered at the LA Film Festival. A “trip”? Dude, that’s so last century. If there is anything this movie isn’t, it’s last century. Fan Girl is a winner of a movie because of the writing, the casting, and the acting. If all that works together, the director deserves credit as well.

Kiernan Shipka Fan Girl LA Film Fest
Kiernan Shipka, star of ‘Fan Girl,’ at the LA Film Fest red carpet.

On the surface Fan Girl is a story of teenager Telulah Farrow, played by Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men, Flowers in the Attic), who adulates the punk band All Time Low. She thinks she needs to connect with the band and create a music video for her filmmaking class to launch her movie career. What she really needs, and the story beneath the surface, is to learn what is really important in human relationships.

I usually discreetly take notes with pen and paper (very old school) during films I intend to review. I wanted to during Fan Girl, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for fear I’d miss something. The pace of the film was extremely fast, and you had to pay attention, but it was fun, like riding a roller coaster.

I made up for not taking notes by talking with Director Paul Jarrett and screenwriter Gina O’Brien.

The Writing

I was curious how O’Brien was able to learn the ins-and-outs of current teenage slang and the high school social groups.

selfie fan girl
In the spirit of ‘Fan Girl,’ director Paul Jarrett and screenwriter Gina O’Brien posed for a selfie

O’Brien said she began writing the script when her daughter was 15. “She’s 18 now, but I would listen to her and her friends talking and that’s pretty much how it all began,” she explained.

Jarret added, “At a certain point Gina asked her daughter to explain all the teenage social groups.”

O’Brien said, “I discovered things like ‘fashion blogger.’ Things had changed quite a bit since I was in high school.”

She had a good source. She shared that as they sent the script around to young actors; they kept getting the response, “Hey, that’s how we talk.” She nailed the dialog.

This was O’Brien’s second screenplay made into a film. Jarrett was the producer on the first film and the two met for lunch to discuss the new project. Jarret said, “I loved it; teenage girls and social media. Who wouldn’t want to read that? At the time I didn’t know that All Time Low was a real band and that they were really popular. This made it a fun movie to make.”

The Casting

The band was important to the story. I asked O’Brien how she got them involved.

“I had written my first draft and contacted Hopeless Records, the label for All Time Low,” she explained. “Then I thought, ‘Oh no, this is my first draft. I don’t want anyone to see it,’ but they were very responsive and enthusiastic.”

The performance by Shipka really carries the film. I asked whether it was hard to get her involved in the project.

Jarrett said, “I had seen her on Mad Men and she was the only one we went after. She read the script and said, ‘These people talk like my friends.’ She was on board.”

What about film legend Meg Ryan?

O’Brien said that they had fabulous casting directors. “Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto and Christine Kromer worked on this project. They sent the script to Meg’s agent, she read the script and that was it.”

The Acting

If there were an Academy Award for most dialog per minute, Fan Girl would walk away with the statue. Shipka rises to the occasion going from sensitive and playful with her little brother, to using a fake English accent with the boy who wants to date her, to sophisticated and crazy.

Fan Girl Cast
Fan Girl team at LA Film Fest, from left, Joshua Boone, Nicole Coulon, writer Gina O’Brien, Kiernan Shipka, director Paul Jarrett, Jon Christian Costable and Beanie Feldstein.

Both O’Brien and Jarrett agreed that there was a lot there, but they thought it was important to keep the back and forth between the teens going.

Scott Adsit (Big Hero 6, The Italian Job) plays the filmmaking teacher who is Telulah’s mentor. His shtick is jumping all around the classroom from tables to chairs.

Jarrett had high praise for Adsit’s performance. “Scott Adsit is amazing,” he said. “Many people know him from 30 Rock. He is a great improvisationist and he just did a great job with this role. He was so funny.”

Adsit’s character sounded to me like many a want-to-be filmmaker obsessed with his IMDB credits and assuring Telulah that he “knew people”. (Hmm, that hit close to home.) I asked if the filmmakers were poking some gentle fun at the world of indie film.

Fan girl Kiernan Shipka
Punk band All Time Low was the target of obsession for ‘Fan Girl’ character Telulah Farrow, played by Kiernan Shipka

“Absolutely,” O’Brien admitted. “He was very loosely based on a college professor I had.”

Telulah’s mother, played by the ultra-charming Meg Ryan (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally), has her own character-arc and could almost have supported a separate movie by herself.

“And it almost was,” O’Brien said.

There was also a story arc involving Telulah’s boyfriend and the school bus driver, hinted at when the boyfriend calls the bus driver “Mr Miyagi.”

“We did have to cut out some of the story involving these characters because we thought it was important to keep the film focused on Telulah,” O’Brien said.

So Wonderful

I asked O’Brien if there was something that stood out in her memory about making the film.

“This set, this group of people, were so wonderful,” she said. “There was one late afternoon when I walked over to the high school cafeteria where we had craft services. When I opened the door, I saw that our young cast had put on music and were dancing. I looked around and thought, ‘This is so cool’.”

So is Fan Girl. I saw a lot of comedy at the LA Film Festival. Fan Girl was definitely my favorite and the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen in ages.

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About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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