CLIPS PAPER HEART INTERVIEW
by Roger Tennis
PAPER HEART follows Charlyne Yi as she embarks on a quest across America to make a documentary about the one subject she doesn't fully understand. As she and her good friend Nick search for answers and advice about love, Charlyne talks with friends and strangers, children, scientists, romance novelists and bikers. They each offer different views on modern romance, as well as various answers to the age-old question: does true love really exist?
Then, shortly after filming begins, Charlyne meets a boy after her own heart: Michael Cera. As their relationship develops on camera, her pursuit to discover the nature of love takes on a fresh new urgency. Charlyne risks losing the person she finds closest to her heart.
I recently sat down with Charlyne and director Nicholas Jasenovec to discuss the film.
Q. As executive producers, were there any aspects of the movie that you clashed with, as in keeping something real or maybe twisting it up a bit?
NJ: I don't think so. It was a pretty smooth collaboration. I remember some resistance early on with Charlyne, in terms of not wanting to be on-camera. Once I convinced her to do that, she kind of saw things my way.
CY: Yeah, originally it was supposed to be a traditional documentary, but Nick thought I should be on camera, too. I said, "I don't know, you are so vulnerable on camera" but he thought it would be interesting to see my perspective on camera since I was a bit skeptical of all that. He thought the movie might suck if I didn't fall in love - which I thought was creepy but it inspired the idea of creating a story and using the documentary elements of it to base the story on.
Q: Who created the puppets? They were the highlight of the film but what was the idea behind them, other than showing something besides talking heads?
CY: I worked with puppets before for stage purposes. ďStage purposes...Ē that sounds so smart (laughter) ...not really. I enjoy puppets.
NJ: To me, it plays into that she sees love in a childlike manner.
CY: Hey! (laughter)
NJ: All of her views were based on Disney movies and fairy tales, so not only does she see love in that way, she sees the world that way too. So when she told me that was what she wanted to do, it made perfect sense. Thereís definitely innocence and a childlike wonder in the stories she tells and the way she presents them.
Roger: You shot 300 hours of video. Were there any segments that you obsessed over that didnít make the final cut?
NJ: Originally the fireworks segment was like 3 minutes long. It was just them shooting off fireworks, and now itís like 2 seconds long.
CY: Yeah, itís just me and Jake having a blast.
NJ: Super self-indulgent. We were in love with it. It was so much fun to shoot. We did it in various speeds - like slow-motion and stuff.
CY: It was more of a personal attachment. We were actually documenting me having fun.
NJ: When we first put together just the scripted elements, the first cut was like 2 Ĺ hours. We knew we wanted to make a 90 minute movie, half documentary and half scripted. We definitely lost a lot of stuff. At a certain point though, itís clear what should stay and what should go. I donít think I really miss anything.
CY: I think it makes sense, what we have. It became obvious after watching it hundreds of times. It just kind of stuck out.
Roger: So for the special edition DVD?
NJ: There are a few scenes with Charlyne performing music because we couldn't clear the music she uses in her actual live shows -- so there's none of that. We're just kind of putting that together right now.
CY: There's some story stuff that was way too broad to be in the film.
NJ: Thereís a whole different version of this film where the Nick character is a pretentious, bumbling idiot. So we shot hours of him bossing the crew around while not having any knowledge of technical aspects of film-making and making stupid mistakes. He was much more of a puppet master.
CY: He was really mean to me in Paris. He was rude and pushy.
NJ: He was much more about getting his movie. But comedically so.
Q: Do you feel this hybrid film-making thing, as in part film and part documentary but presented as if itís entirely true, will confuse audiences?
CY: I think hopefully itís not an issue and they can accept the movie and not constantly think - is that real? or is that fake? and itís not a distraction.
NJ: That's part of the fun of it. Ideally, everyone will watch it and feel that itís real. But with the internet these days, people are always more knowledgeable. Thatís one of the reasons why we never announced the movie and just let it happen. Because we didn't want to let everyone know we were shooting it and editing for six months. We just wanted it to come out of nowhere and surprise people. Part of me feels that I wish people would just watch it and accept it, but it is a piece of fiction and entertainment. But also, if thereís some confusion about it, thatís kind of interesting. I know that some of the movies I like, I want to go read up on and then learn more about how it was made and the details of its construction. Hopefully that uncertainty over reality will lead people to do that with our movie. We felt that if you thought it was real, youíd be more invested in the characters and the relationships and hope things will work out for them.
Q: People are interested to know in whether the relationship was real or not?
CY: Iím not sure myself.
NJ: I think for us it doesnít have any relevance over whether or not you can enjoy the movie. What Charlyne and Michael Cera did on camera was pretty believable and quite subtle. It was very carefully constructed. Talking about it might cheapen the effect.
Q: You seemed very upset in Paris.
CY: Did I?
NJ: Itís because she was hungry.
Comment: Youíre supposed to say itís because sheís a phenomenal actress.
CY: I was thinking about all the poor people in the world and I just started crying.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of shooting in Paris, and how did you come up with the name Paper Heart?
NJ: Paris was surprisingly easy to shoot. We didnít have permits. We had a guide who drove our van. She was an American girl and she spoke French. None of the rest of us were French speakers and had never been to the city before, but it was the most enjoyable three days of the shoot. We never had a problem. We shot at the Eiffel Tower, at the Louvre, everywhere and never got kicked out.
CY: I think the only struggle was trying to get all the shots we needed in such a short time. There were so few of us, that we were all carrying the equipment and running around.
NJ: The traffic was really bad. It was kind of hectic but really, really fun.
NJ: As for "Paper Heart", at one point there was a different puppet sequence for Michael and Charlyne.
CY: Yeah, after the break-up there would be this heart beating that would crumple up, more of a sad recreation of what happened, so that's where the name came about.
NJ: It was a literal paper heart. That was an easy reference point. When we cut that sequence out of the film, we went back and forth. We had always called it The Love Documentary and we just went back to that, but it seemed long.
CY: If we cut it down to The Love Doc, that sounds gross Ė like The Love Guru.
NJ: Then we embraced Paper Heart, at that point, because you could still connect it to the other puppet recreations. It suggested a weakness, a weak heart. I donít want to explain the title. (laughter) Mostly it ties in with the puppets.
Q: We only got to see it briefly onscreen, but where do you draw inspiration for your stand-up comedy?
CY: I think I just like to have fun on the stage. I really enjoy magic, or bad magic to make the audience say, ďoh, whatís going on Ė she's really bad,Ē with nervous laughs. I just realized that you are who you are from when you are born and your body may get different but the rest is the same. (laughter) Essentially, I donít know. I just like to have fun onstage. I just like to entertain, whether it's music or comedy or magic, it's great to be having fun. Mixing reality with fiction.
NJ: In her scripted shows, Charlyne is the lead character, but the main romantic interest is often an audience member who will have no idea what theyíre doing, what the story is, or whatís going on, and sheíll construct a half-hour story about how they somehow become the co-leads in this story. In terms of her solo stuff, itís just strange, but very funny. The first thing I saw was the magic thing where she collects a bunch of money from the audience. Then she says, ďAlright I have $112.46 and a lighter. Iíll give this to whoever wants to come up and punch me in the face.Ē
CY: And then I say that itís just a magic trick and that no one will get hurt.
NJ: And the minute someone cocks their arm back, Charlyne starts crying and saying, ďNo! No! No! Please donít!Ē Itís interesting watching how real people handle the situation.
CY: And when they say, ďSorry,Ē I call them a big wuss and egg them on.
NJ: I donít ever remember how it ends.
Q: It doesnít end with someone getting hit in the face?
CY: Not yet. Iím a bit worried about that. It usually ends with me booing them off the stage and telling them that weíre going to watch the recording and laugh at them. Itís jokingly mean.
Q: When you first came up with the outline of the film, did you have a definite, pre-planned ending?
NJ: Yeah. The ending used to just end in Toronto with Charlyne going inside and then cutting off the camera. But we showed it to people and it didn't work for everybody. We didnít want to compromise the idea behind the ending in that you don't necessarily know the answers but still leave people with a more uplifting spirit.
Q: Did you ever find out if true love really exists?
CY: I think it definitely does. Maybe not for everyone Ė maybe it lives in moments. It can live for an existing part of time, but yes it exists.
Q. How did you find all the people to interview?
CY: We had a list of all sorts of people we wanted to interview that we gave our casting director. She went out two weeks in advance.
NJ: First, she did a lot of research and preliminary work. She found 1/3 of the people in L. A. -- like just from the internet. Then we had a four week schedule for L.A. to N. Y. driving. She went out two weeks ahead of us and we had these pre-determined cities based on location and subjects we were looking for. A lot of times, she would just go into a diner or coffee shop and start talking to people and that's how she got stuff.
CY: She's very sociable.
NJ: Yeah, she's perfect for what she does. She found us some really fantastic people.
CY: Some were spontaneous, like the bikers. Our hotel was right across the street from a biker bar and I really wanted to interview bikers. That night we went out and made friends with them. They were really intimidating. They were flashing their boobs and dancing.
NJ: Knowing what you know about bikers, theyíre not supposed to be very friendly. But they were.
CY: One of the scariest things was when we went in there I had my Sherlock Holmes hat on and I took it off hoping that people wouldnít look at me. Nick came in with his fedora. This large man came up to us really intimidating, and said, ďIf I were you, Iíd get the hell out of here.Ē Nick said, ďWhy?Ē and he said, ďThe fashion police are cominí to get you!Ē (laughter) These guys were really nice!
NJ: We were shooting some scripted stuff and this homeless couple interrupted us and it turned into an interview. It didnít make much sense so it didnít make it in. It was mostly stuff about Jesus. (laughter)
Q: Did you enjoy the motorcycle ride?
CY: Yeah, the producers said, ďDonít go on it!Ē and I said, ďBye!Ē It was awesome.
NJ: It was like 90 mph.
CY: His speedometer was rattling and he said that's not supposed to be happen. (laughter)
NJ: The worst part was when we went back and watched the footage, during the whole interview beforehand heís taking shot after shot after shot. We had no idea.
Q: Do you have any relationship advice to give to other girls looking for someone special?
CY: I donít know Ė I donít know how to find someone special. Iím still searching. My friends were trying to teach me how to flirt. I just want to be myself. I donít want to pretend. I donít want to get dressed up. Just be yourself!
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