Exclusive Interview: Paper Heart Director Nick Jasenovec
Paper Heart is a documentary. And a fiction film. Sorta. It's a combination of the two, a crazy Mobius strip of fiction and reality crafted carefully by the movie's star, Charlyne Yi, and the director, Nick Jasenovec. Wanna know how complicated this movie is? There's a character in the movie named Nick Jasenovec, who is directing a documentary about a character named Charlyne-- and NIck is played by an actor, Jake M. Johnson, who is not the real Nick at all.
Trust me, in the movie it all makes sense. Earlier this week I got on the phone with Jake and talked about all the different fictions and truths of Paper Heart starting with the origin of the movie itself, with Charlyne Yi wanting to make a documentary about love. We talked about picking the subjects for the movie, having Charlyne and Michael Cera play roles that resembled themselves, and the movie he may or may not make with Bill Hader. Paper Heart comes out in limited release today.
It seems like the documentary started the same way it says in the film, and the fictional element came in later.
Yeah. Originally [Charlyne[ wanted to make a documentary. She wanted to collected real, unique love stories, partially based on her own skepticism and doubts. The minute I found out that there was all that skepticism there, I thought that was an important element as to why she wanted to make it, and it should be part of the film. So I made her be on camera, which she was reluctant to do.
Now why was she reluctant? She's done stand-up, she's been in films before.
I don't know. I think that she just maybe had her mind set on kind of being behind the camera. At the time she wanted to co-direct it with me. The more we started to talk about it, the more we decided that if we put her on camera, that would be harder for her to direct. But she was still very, very involved all the way, through post and everything. We were there every day with the editor for like 6 months. It's very much a collaboration.
Is the relationship between you and Charlyne similar to how it's depicted in the film?
Yeah, we've been friends for a few years. I think most people kind of have an older brother-little sister relationship with Charlyne. It's sort of in the film that way too. In an early cut we showed, people thought they were watching Nick fall in love with Charlyne. I think they in the movie-- and in real life-- love each other as friends, but we didn't want that to be distracting from the main relationship, so we toned it down a little bit.
Yeah, there's a point in the film where you think it could have gone that way, but it didn't seem like that kind of movie.
When we were first figuring out the story, we talked about going that route, which is probably a more conventional movie storyline. We quickly decided against that, and that we were going for something a little more realistic.
When you picked Jake to play the director figure, how did you pick him, and how did you direct him as yourself?
Basically we picked Jake because he was a friend that we had all worked with, and we were all fans of what he does performance wise. He was just unknown enough that if you were watching the movie, you wouldn't know that he was necessarily not Nick. So he can pull it off pretty believably. In terms of directing him, he was probably the character we had the most fun with, and we were most unsure of what his role would be in the final film. We shot a lot of more broadly comedic stuff with him that ultimately didn't fit the tone. Also, he wasn't supposed to be in the movie that much as originally intended. We quickly realized as we started shooting that he was a good device to have onscreen, so Charlyne would have someone to talk to.
So you never tried to direct him to be like you?
Not really. Ultimately on screen he's probably somewhere between my personality an Jake's personality. Definitely with all of them, with Michael, Charlyne and Nick, they're based on real people, they share names with real people, but they kind of have to do and say things that they maybe wouldn't do in real life in order to move the story forward. It's definitely a fictionalized version.
Was that ever uncomfortable?
We would talk about, we need you to do this for the sake of the storyline, we need your character to do this. How would you approach this in real life? What sort of situation or circumstances would lead you do this in real life? We'd try to ground things as much as possible in a personal, real-life way.
How did you come up with the types of people you interviewed for the documentary portion?
It was more like a variety. Charlyne had some specific things, like the bikers-- she really wanted to talk to a biker couple.She really wanted to do a captain of a ship who was married to the sea--she had some sillier ones like that. Sometimes too, what we set out to get wasn't necessarily what we got. The guy she plays pool with, we had found him because we were looking for a millionaire, to see how the presence of wealth could affect views on love. The interview turned into something completely different. You plan and you prepare as much as possible, but when you make a movie in this style, there's going to be a million surprises. You have to be ready to adapt to whatever's presented.
How do you feel when people question all the details of the film, like what's real and what's not?
I've always stuck to the idea that it is intended to be a fictional film, a piece of entertainment. But it is intended to be a fictional film with documentary support. We didn't want the relationship scripted stuff to feel any different than the documentary stuff. We felt that would be really distracting. We approached in the same manner, and presented it as realistically as possible. Really, it's completely fictional.
What are you doing next, and do you want to do another movie with all your friends?
I'm writing something right now-- I wrote the original draft with my friend Bill Hader, and he's really busy, so I'm doing a pass on my own right now. Originally we had written it for Bill to star, but I'm not sure if that's how it's going to work out or not. I'm a little bit excited to go outside of my comfort zone on this one, perhaps, and working with a new crew and new actors. The script that I'm working on is a little bit more dramatic. It's still a comedy, but it's not a broad comedy. Most of my friends are known for doing more broadly comedic stuff. I may cast more dramatic actors that I don't already have relationships with. We'll see if they even let me make it.
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