by Joanna Orland
For the back story on the film Paper Heart, please read our film review – part of our Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival coverage.
Charlyne Yi and Nick Jasenovec aren’t your typical Hollywoodites. They’ve come out with their first feature film and have found themselves flung into the spotlight. They remain down to earth, charming, funny and not TWEE like some critics claim. Yes, they are slightly bitter about those patronizing reviews. Nonetheless, they persevere with endless promotion of their charming, funny and just AWESOME film Paper Heart.
The origin of Paper Heart goes way back to the days when a girl named Charlyne met a boy named Nick. They met through a mutual friend, shot some hoops and Charlyne pursued him. Not romantically or sexually of course. “We’re like brother and sister..so that would be like incest”, says Charlyne.
Charlyne had the idea about making a documentary about love and came to Nick. She questioned the idea of love and wanted to focus on that aspect of the narrative, but Nick suggested that she appear on camera. He convinced her to appear on camera, but they couldn’t guarantee that she would experience love firsthand to create a story arc, so that inspired the idea of creating a hybrid of fiction and documentary.
“Ideally, you know, if it was more than just stories, if there was an arc, and if I actually experienced love firsthand, that would be a great situation, but we couldn’t guarantee that, so that kind of inspired the idea of creating a hybrid of both fiction, a through line, and documentary elements.”, says Charlyne.
So that is how the film Paper Heart got its heroine Charlyne Yi. Alongside Charlyne is the character of Nick Jasenovec. But this is not the real Nick Jasenovec. Nick and Charlyne approached their friend Jake Johnson to take on the role of Nick for the film. But why would the real Nick Jasenovec bail out on acting in his own film? “Um, I’m just not a very good actor so we knew, we realized very early on that the Nick character was going to need to play a fairly big role just in terms of being the sort of on screen friend to Charlyne so that she had someone to talk to and sort of get exposition and feelings across on camera. And, um, so the minute we realized that that was going to be kind of an important role, I wasn’t really up to the task and, uh, we decided to get our friend Jake to play me.”, admits Nick.
It’s a CHARACTER, not the real Nick. Jake briefly considered following the real Nick around to study him and accurately portray him, but as the real Nick points out, “It was kind of unnecessary too cuz no one knows who I am or what I’m like so…”.
Charlyne also appreciated working with Jake rather than Nick on screen. “It’s also nice to have someone who knew how to act and improvise cuz I didn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing, so like being paired up with him is so helpful and he SAVED me, you know!”, she says.
So we know it’s not the real Nick on screen, but are we witnessing the “real” Charlyne?
“It’s close to me as far as mannerisms and voice and certain habits, but I think you know ultimately a character or a person is defined by actions and I would never make a documentary exposing my real life, my personal life especially. In that way I think we’re very different… “ says Charlyne. “It’s like it’s fictionalized just enough to make the movie work.”, adds Nick.
With all this blurring the line between reality and fiction, they hope that the audience will just enjoy the film for its entertainment value, and hopefully not be too upset about these blurry lines of reality and fiction.
Making a hybrid documentary / narrative, Nick and Charlyne found many challenges. “One of the earliest ones just in the creation of storyline and stuff was always trying to rationalize why the cameras would be there for example.”, says Nick.
Over 300 hours of footage were shot and they had to root through it all in the edit sessions. They first put together all the fictional elements and at first it ended up as 2 hours of footage! That’s obviously longer than the film’s total final length, so back to the cutting room and voila- 45 minutes of fiction on film.
So after all this hard work and life on the road, did Charlyne change her thoughts on love? She realized that no one is right and no one is wrong about love. For some people love at first sight can work out, or it cannot. “I think it’s great that people believe in what they want…. I think there’s this whole thing about Hollywood and how they think that true love is forever, but I’m like, I don’t think so. I think it can last for weeks, days or years, and that’s something that I learned.”, states Charlyne.
So finishing up our interview with the usual question… what would be the one word to sum up Paper Heart?
“Twee!… Quirky!… That’s what negative people would like to …. I embrace it.”, jests Nick.
“Voluptuous!”, shouts Charlyne.
“Anti Sexy!”, retorts Nick.
“What? That’s contradicting what I’m saying!!”, says Charlyne.
In the end, they both agree that to define Paper Heart as one word in a serious way would be too difficult and too pretentious, so they can only joke in the end.
Paper Heart is out in UK Cinemas November 6, 2009