By far one of the sweetest and most charming films to come out of the LA Film Festival is Nicholas Jasenovec’s film Paper Heart starring Michael Cera and the creator and co-writer of the film Charlyne Yi. The film is a mixture between a documentary that Charlene embarks on in order to find out what love is and a film about a love story. The film has interview with many different types of couples around the country and cardboard cut-out vignettes to show us how they fell in love. Overall, this film has a homemade and genuine quality that both intrigues and entertains.
The film has already won a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and been nominated for the grand Jury Prize at Sundance. After the screening at LAFF, Jasenovec and one of the shining interviewees of the film David from Atlanta, got up to answer some questions.
Here is what they had to say…
So, there’s a version of the story of how you came to make the movie in the movie, but it’s a hybrid of fiction and documentary so what’s true in that and what isn’t?
Nicholas Jasenovec: Well, all the documentary stuff is real. And even the psychic which is probably the most commonly confused true moment. And then all the narrative stuff is completely scripted, or loosely scripted.
How did you come to the idea to make a movie in this style?
Nicholas: Ok, it’s pretty simple actually. Yeah. Charlene really doesn’t believe in love and she, so she was kind of fascinated with the idea. And she started meeting people that she felt were incredible stories. She started recording them on audiotape just kind of like research. And, she, I guess at some point she decided she wanted to make a documentary about the subject and so she came to me. And then when I talked to her about it and realized it was because she didn’t believe in love, I felt she should probably be on camera, that was an important element and that a, you know, that the audience would want to see the movie through her eyes. So then once we did that, we realized we needed some sort of narrative and the obvious thing would be for her to fall in love and experience that while she was making the movie. But the odds of that happening on camera were really small, so we decided to make it up. (laughter)
Was your part real or fiction?
Nicholas: Yeah, we did not feed David any lines. People often ask that. Yeah, that was all from your mind, impressively so.
Obviously, you’re not in the movie, why is that?
Nicholas: Yeah, sure. Basically, it was very important, we made a decision early on that scripted stuff would be shot and told in the same style as the actual documentary stuff and so everything had to feel extremely real, extremely natural. And, I’m a terrible actor. And I’m even nervous right now, and I would have been really nervous up there. I couldn’t take the chance that I would ruin the film so we decided to cast someone to play me. And, then that was fun too. It’s fun making yourself a jerk or an idiot. Which we didn’t keep a lot of it but there’s a lot of embarrassing stuff that we cut.
And then just because of the way you described how the film evolved how, for the narrative part, I mean it feels very loose and improvisational, how controlled were does sections?
Nicholas: It wasn’t, it wasn’t terribly scripted. It was outlined, there was about a five page outline, and, you know, certain scenes were more sort of defined then others. But then before we would shoot, we would sit-down for about half an hour, would talk through the beats and everything. We learned like early on, that if like I would tell Charlene a specific line to say, it would really screw up her performance. And, so it was kind of out of necessity to do it that way and also it feels more fresh, more real.
For the documentary subjects did you really just go out on the street and find people or…?
Nicholas: No, we had a, we had a great casting director, Ilene Kennedy. And, she did some preliminary work from L.A. and found some people in the cities that we were planning on going to. And then, we had a four week trip from L.A. to New York and she went out a couple weeks ahead of us to all the same stops. And so, every night she would send us like five-to-ten videos of people she had met and put on tape and we would choose the people used in the film from there.
David could you talk about how you were found?
David: I was found at an acting studio in Atlanta. I think it was outside Atlanta, not in it but outside. They put auditions up on their website so I decided to go. Yeah. Not impressive, but it’s good.
Nicholas: He was a first choice for sure. He was just as good in his tape that we saw of him. We just knew that we had to have him.
How did you land on the cities that you ended up going to?
Nicholas: It was, there was certain cities that we knew we had to go to like Vegas because we wanted to cover the chapel scene and we knew we had to end up in New York. And then there was a few other things we wanted to do. We wanted to go to Nashville, Charlene actually performed in Nashville but we didn’t use it in the film. So, based just based on the amount of time and money we had, and certain cities we had to hit, it sort of dictated, you know, we tried to do a new city every three days I think and they were just all around the route.
Can you talk a little bit about the funding, I mean since it sounds like you traveled a lot and how was it funded and how much…can you talk about the budget?
Nicholas: The budget was basically just at a million even. We pitched for probably like three or four months like you know, from private investors all the way up to studios. For the price, it couldn’t really be made in the studio system, just because they do things a certain way and it would have probably cost like five times as much. So, ultimately, we ended up with, we pitched our company which is called Overture, who’s actually distributed in theaters and they got us the money through a sister company called AnchorBay, who primarily do like genre films and straight to DVD stuff. And so I think there was a big concern over whether or not there would actually be a movie at the end of this process. And so, they knew no matter what they could at least they could put it on DVD with Michael and Charlene on the cover and probably make their money back and luckily the film makes sense and they are going to put it in theaters and stuff.
How many takes would you do for a scene?
Nicholas: We tried to…can everyone hear the questions by the way. (Yeah) We tried to keep takes to a minimum just to keep things as sort of fresh and in the moment as possible. I think maybe the most we ever did for anything that was like loosely scripted would probably be like three or four takes. I think if we went up to the like double digit range it would start to feel like an actual written scene and it wouldn’t have the life it does. So, luckily we were able to usually get stuff pretty quickly.
Can you talk a little bit about the puppets and when that came into the scenario?
Nicholas: Yeah, yeah. I’m trying to think of stuff that I could have David say. (laughter) The puppets were one of the original things that Charlene had. She really loves documentaries but she doesn’t like (b-role). She figured if we were going, you know, have these people tell their stories that it would be more interesting to see them re-enact it by puppets then to see still images. In her live shows and stuff, she does a lot of similar sort of like cardboard creations. So, it’s really like a, pretty specific style to Charlene, her and her dad built everything together and it took weeks ‘cause she wouldn’t let anyone else help her.
David, you seemed to have a strong idea of what love was, after seeing the film, do you still feel the same way?
David: Yeah. Well, they’re pretty much the same but you know, I would cut out the French Riviera ‘cause it’s a place I’d go but not a restaurant. That last line, yeah, I’d probably would say that but I don’t think it made as much as sense as I thought it did back then. Yeah, pretty much.
Did Charlene’s vision of love change from beginning to end?
Nicholas: Um, I don’t know. She would be able to answer much better than I could on her behalf. Hard to say. I mean, I think that she still definitely still has a lot of reservations and still probably doesn’t think herself capable of it but I think you can’t do what we did and not be affected by it in some way. I think everyone who worked on the film definitely was a little inspired and uplifted by all the people we met and all the stories we heard. So, I’m sure, whether she would admit it or not, she’s probably changed a little.
The film will be hitting select theaters on August 14th. Check out the full review of the film coming soon…