Nicholas Jasenovic for “Paper Heart”

Self-confessed Dark Horizons lover for the past 10 years, director Nicholas Jasenovic makes quite the impressive feature directorial debut with his “Paper Heart”, in which stand up comic Charlyne Yi tries to figure out exactly what love is, by interviewing regular couples around the country while at the same time exploring a somewhat fictional relationship with actor Michael Cera.

The film was a huge hit at Sundance, was previewed at Comic Con and now the Overture release is screening in select theatres. Director Jasenovic talked to PAUL FISCHER about the film and its commentary on love.

Question: Paper Heart’s been getting a lot of buzz since its release. How surprised are you by that?

Jasenovic: Oh – I mean, it’s a nice surprise, you know? I think sometimes – you know, with the buzz, it’s easy to forget what a small, strange movie it is. I mean, granted, it’s kind of got a universal subject. But it definitely is, like, a very sort of independent, personal movie, you know? So, yeah. It’s nice that – the audience is a little bit bigger than we ever expected it could be, so it’s a very nice surprise.

Question: Now, did you come up with this concept, did Charlyne come to you? How did this relationship begin?

Jasenovic: Yeah, Charlyne and I had been friends for a couple of years, I guess, when she first mentioned an idea of doing a documentary about love, and kind of collecting people’s love stories. And basically, you know, she had her doubts about the idea of love. Especially, like, for herself. And, would she ever fall in love? And so I think that’s kind of what inspired her to look into doing this. She had met a lot of people who had kind of opened up to her, and she had really enjoyed hearing their stories and their takes on the subject, and so she decided she wanted to do that. So she came to me, and was basically kind of looking for, like – you know, a director to help her realize the idea.

Question: Well, how did you initially create a narrative through-line for this? I mean, it began, presumably, with her interviewing a number of people about the subject, and traveling the country, I guess, was the genesis for this. Was the Cera angle purely coincidental?

Jasenovic: No. Actually, before we started shooting, we had already figured out the narrative, as well as the doc aspects. We were developing the idea together, before we started pitching it, and looking for financing. And – you know, we made the decision that she should be an on-screen character in the film, eventually. Like, a Michael Moore, basically. Like, the documentarian on camera. And – you know, when we started thinking about what the arc of the film would be, it made sense that – you know, it’s about a girl who’s trying to understand love by talking to other people. But we really felt that she wouldn’t be able to understand it unless she experienced it. And so that’s when we came up with the idea of actually scripting a relationship story line to kind of – you know, work with the documentary stuff we were planning to shoot.

Question: And how did Michael come on board, then?

Jasenovic: Charlyne and I both knew Michael already. I had shot a couple of short films with Michael at that point. And – you know, we were looking for – I mean, he was the first choice. Like, I think – you know, we have a lot of friends who are actors and comedians, and there’s definitely other people we probably would have asked if Michael had said no. But he was our first choice, just in terms of his acting style, and the fact that we already knew him. And so we went to him with the idea. Before we even started pitching it, we got him interested. And then once Michael was on board, we had all the pieces, and then we went out and started pitching the idea to various companies.

Question: How did the relationship between Charlyne and Michael develop? How improvisational was it, and how spontaneous was it?

Jasenovic: There was like, a five-page outline that we were working off of. And – you know, we decided to forego a script, because we wanted those – you know, those technically loosely-scripted scenes to feel sort of as spontaneous as the documentary footage that they were going to be edited right up against.

We had a pretty strong outline that didn’t – you know, it evolved over time as we were shooting. But it’s pretty close to the original intention. And – you know, every morning, we would just kind of get together and go over the scenes that we were scheduled to shoot that day, and sort of talk them out, and come up with the – you know, the story beats, and the scene beats that were necessary, and then let the actors sort of improvise their way around those beats, so that all the dialogue felt very organic and fresh.

Question: How amusing was it for you to have an actor play the part of you?

Jasenovic: It was kind of fun. You know? Because I guess you don’t think about it too much, because – you know it’s not you, and you know that – you know, it’s basically my name, and not much else about me, asides from maybe, like, my friendship with Charlyne. So, we definitely had a lot of fun with that character. Like, we went a little bit more comedic with him at times. Ultimately, like, it didn’t necessarily fit, tone-wise, so we lost a lot of the sort of more joke-y scenes with him. But yeah, it wasn’t really – I guess I was never really too concerned about him having my name. I mean, I guess a lot of people probably see the movie, and have no idea that it’s not actually me.

I mean, there’s something kind of fun about that, I think, too. I think – you know, the film, there’s so many different realities going on. And so it kind of fit in the spirit of the project to do something like that. And really, it was only – you know, the main reason for doing it is just that I’m not a very good actor. And so if I was playing myself in the movie, I probably would have – you know, the reality of those moments probably would have been sacrificed with my inability to act. So. That’s where it really came from. And then we just kind of had fun with it, after that.

Question: What do you think Charlyne ultimately learned throughout the process of making this movie?

Jasenovic: I think she definitely was more optimistic at the end of the process. And I think the big thing that she took from it is that – you know, that you can’t kind of force anything. That you just have to – you know, kind of live in the moment, and sort of let things happen. That – you know, I think she was so concerned with the idea of finding love, which is what sort of sparked the inspiration to do this project, and I think afterward, she realized she just had to not worry about it so much. And then – you know, if it happens, it happens.

Question: Is she single at the moment?

Jasenovic: Yeah.

Question: Funny. [LAUGHTER]

Jasenovic: Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know – I’m sure it’ll happen for her. [LAUGHTER] Eventually.

Question: What did you learn as a filmmaker doing your first feature? And do you hope that your next film will be diametrically opposite to this one?

Jasenovic: I think – you know, I got a piece of advice from another filmmaker before we started, that was – it’s very simple, but it seemed to influence every decision. And his advice was just, ” Don’t hold back.” And I think for – especially the way we were shooting, and maybe for a first-time filmmaker, that was pretty great advice. Because it just kind of, like – it suggested to me that we should just try everything. Even if it wasn’t going to work, or if we thought it might not work – like, just to go for it. And I think – yeah. It was a really good lesson. Where there’s definitely a lot of stuff we shot that didn’t work. You know, we had three other hours of footage at the end of the process. But it really gave us a lot of options, and a lot of freedom in post-production to kind of find the movie, and find the story. And so that’s probably the most important lesson I learned, is just to kind of – you know, trust your instincts, and just go for it no matter what.

Question: What do you want to do next? I mean, do you want to do something very different to this, as your next feature?

Jasenovic: Yeah. I mean, I think – you know, I think this film, the story and the style was sort of – the method of which we shot the film was definitely dictated by the story, and what we were trying to do, you know? In terms of mixing documentary and narrative. So, I don’t think most movies would benefit from this approach. And – you know, the next thing I do, I’m definitely pretty excited to actually have a script, and a little bit more of a set plan going into things. But I definitely want to leave room for sort of improvisation, and surprises. I think that’s really important, and I think it’ll be a little more structured next time out.

Question: Do you have a script that you’ve already written, or you’re in the process of writing?

Jasenovic: Yeah. I’m actually writing a script with Bill Hader, who’s an actor. Bill and I have known each other for over ten years now, I guess, and we’ve written together almost the entire time. And it’s kind of an old script that we had written, where – we’re just kind of rewriting it right now. It needed some work, so we’re kind of reworking that script, and we really hope that’ll be next. And hopefully – you know, Bill can play the main character as well.

Question: Now you went to Sundance. You even went to Comic-Con, which I thought rather interesting.

Jasenovic: Yeah, yeah. That was – it was a strange fit, but we had a really good time. I mean, Michael and Charlyne are fairly geeky characters in the movie, and a little bit in real life. So, I guess that’s probably the approach that made sense for Comic-Con. Like, why it would be a good fit. And, you know, Michael and Charlyne have both been to Comic-Con in the past, and been on panels. So, yeah. It’s not an obvious connection, but I think it worked. I think our panel was really fun, too. We had Drew – Drew McWeeny moderated, which was great. And – you know, his endorsement of the film, and doing the panel, I think helped a little bit as well.

Question: How’s the film doing at the moment, do you know?

Jasenovic: I think it’s doing okay. I think hoped it would do a little bit better than it’s doing, but it’s doing all right. We’ll see. I don’t know – I’m not sure if it’s gonna continue to roll out into more cities and theaters or not.

Question: How many extras will there be in the DVD, do you know? Have you done a DVD cut of this as well yet?

Jasenovic: Yeah. Basically, I think we’ve put about a half-hour of deleted scenes from performance footage of Charlyne – you know, we had shot a couple shows of hers for the film that – a lot of that stuff didn’t make it in. And there’s sort of a – I guess you would call it a gag reel, but it’s basically Charlyne fumbling through all of these interviews, which is pretty funny to watch. And she’s actually a pretty big fan of that piece that our editor cut together. But you can see how difficult it was for her at times to talk to strangers. And – there’s more commentary, and there’s a couple – oh, we also shot a bunch of short films, basically, for the internet, to help promote the film, with a lot of our comedian and actor friends. And so those will also be on the DVD.

Question: Is the DVD going to be regular and Blu-Ray?

Jasenovic: As far as I know, yeah. Yeah. I think – I’m not sure what the differences will be, in terms of features. I think that they’re planning – maybe they’re holding some of their stuff for the Blu-Ray. I’m not sure, though.