Writer-Director Rebecca Addelman on ‘Paper Year’ and Making Her Feature Debut

     September 11, 2018

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From writer/director Rebecca Addelman, the indie feature Paper Year shows what can happen when an all-consuming young love can change, once you’re married and facing obstacles that create and reveal cracks in the relationship. Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia) are 22-year-old newlyweds who learn, over the course of the first year of marriage, that the honest struggle of finding your place in the world can sometimes push you apart.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, filmmaker Rebecca Addelman talked about how Paper Year became her feature debut, why she decided to direct the film, how much the story mirrored her own life and how much it evolved into its own thing, finding the right tone, casting the perfect Franny and Dan, how her own experiences as a TV writer inspired what Franny goes through in the film, finding her voice in this business, and what she’s hoping to do next. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed. 

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Image via First Generation Media

Collider: I was so moved by Paper Year. I was a big fan of The Knick and will follow that cast anywhere, so I was happy to see Eve Hewson in this.

REBECCA ADDELMAN: I’m glad to hear that. I’m kind of in love with her, and I don’t mean that in some funny way. She’s an awesome person, and she’s a killer actor. As I was casting the movie, I would meet different people. Eve and I had a Skype session because she was in New York and I was in L.A., and it became this two hour long discussion about all of our relationships. She’s very open. I don’t know what we expect from a rock star’s daughter, but she’s really down to earth, and she’s got that Irish charm and wit. She told me all about how she actually had a really challenging time at the Tisch School of the Arts, where she went to acting school, and how they all dismissed her. They were like, “Well, you’re going to drop out. You don’t need to be here.” And she was like, “Fuck those guys! I’m staying here and doing it all. I’m doing my four years.” I think that kind of verve and metal is the thing that is going to send her very far.

How did this specific story end up being your feature debut, as a writer/director?

ADDELMAN: Honestly, I never want to completely draw parallels between my life and the movie because they are very different and the characters did very different things, but I was a young writer trying to, initially, break into television writing, and I was married really young, in a way where we really threw caution to the wind and were like, “Screw what everyone else says! We know ourselves. We’re doing this!” It wasn’t a bad relationship. It was a good relationship, but it ended. And in the wake of that, I felt that thing that writers and creative people feel, which was, “Oh, my god, I’ve gotta get something out of me. I’ve gotta go somewhere and barricade myself in a room and just put it on paper because I’ll feel better if it’s on paper. I truly never actually intended it to be anything because I thought it was self-indulgent, but I kept rewriting it and showed it to a few friends, and then showed it to a few other people. As I was rewriting it, I became more detached from it, just in terms of it being, in any way, a truthful account of my life. The characters changed and had to do things that I didn’t do to make it more of a movie. There was draft after draft after draft written. Eventually, I just got really attached to it. I thought, “I want to see this made, and if anyone’s gonna make it, I guess it should be me.”

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Image via First Generation Media

Was the script basically ready to go, when you decided that you were going to direct it?

ADDELMAN: The script had been around, in some iteration, for a few years, by the time a producer saw it. Then, honestly, the people who did produce it – Christina Piovesan and Jennifer Shin from First Generation Films in Toronto – were the only producers that read it. They read it and were like, “Yes! We love this. We love you. Let’s do it!” Spoken like someone who had never made a movie, it felt like a fun adventure. I was like, “Yes! Okay. Great!” I didn’t really, fully understand the magnitude and scope of what I was entering into. It’s like jumping into the deep end. If you kind of walk into a cold pool slowly, it’s more torturous. Sometimes it’s better to just jump in, and then try to keep you head above water. That’s how it went. The script was pretty ready, but we kept changing it. I definitely adapted it, based on who was cast. I think that the Dan character, specifically, was like a lot goofier and was slightly different, in the original script. And then, we cast Avan [Jogia], and he’s got more of an Elvis Presley, smoldering thing happening, so we adjusted it a little bit for him. You have to adjust it, based on where you’re shooting, too. We shot most of it in Toronto, even though the movie is set in L.A., so that took some adjusting. 

Was this one of those things where, as you were writing it, did it feel cathartic, or did you actually need distance from to have perspective on it?

ADDELMAN: I think it’s both. It’s so hard to say which thing made me feel what, but I definitely know that with writing, in general, even if it’s just the random, idiotic thoughts, at the end of the day that you kind of scribble down in a notebook, once it’s out of my body, I feel better. There was definitely an element of that catharsis. It’s funny, I always tell myself, “Don’t talk too much about my own life,” because it’s not really about that, but then, it also is. The ending changed, many times. When I first wrote it, it was different than what is in the movie. I actually left the ending kind of unwritten because I was afraid, when I was too close to my own break-up, to write it. In the movie version, I didn’t know if I wanted them to stay together. As I got further away from my own break-up, I had the realization that what I wanted was for this couple to also break up and to do it in a way that gives a feeling of hopefulness, at the end. So, there’s a break-up, but it’s not completely devastating. By breaking up, you understand that Franny, at least, is on a path of maturing and self-awareness that she’s gonna need, for the rest of her life. And then, there’s this feeling of, how do you write the character that everyone’s gonna think is your ex-husband? At whose feet do you lay the blame for the relationship not working out? Who do you make more guilty, less guilty, or innocent? There are all of these things that you think about. There was a concerted effort, on my part, to make our female lead really imperfect and really the driving force of the self-growth. The character needed to make mistakes to then have to fall as low as she could, to then try to pick herself up. To give her that journey was important to me.

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Image via First Generation Media

Because this story moves back and forth between comedy and drama, was it also challenging to find the tone that you wanted? Was that tricky?

ADDELMAN: Yeah, that was actually the hardest thing. In my experience, that’s the most difficult aspect of filmmaking because you’re making all of these smaller decisions – whether it’s casting a day player or choosing a location or picking the t-shirt he’s wearing – but they come together to equal one larger thing, that’s a movie with a feeling and an atmosphere and a tone. The tone was difficult to find. I had an idea, going in, based on what the script was, but then, when you get the actors together and you see how they interact, and a specific joke on the page isn’t really what those two actors are gonna do best, you have to be able to adapt to that and find the tone that starts to emerge, as you shoot. And then, you have to find the tone in editing, with the pieces that you have. You have to decide whether to put a joke right after a sad moment. As you’re cutting the movie, you’re deciding how to un-spool it all. It’s a fascinating process to find that and to try to make it cohesive.

Once you did have your Franny and Dan, what did you most enjoy about watching Eve Hewson and Avan Jogia work together?

ADDELMAN: I’ve gotta say, it was so fun and such a trip to work with those two actors, specifically. They were around 24, when we were shooting the movie. Not that I’m that much older than them, but I felt like I was from a completely different world. It was as if they had a different language. The things they knew about Rihanna, I couldn’t keep up with, but they really bonded and clicked right away. In part, it was just their personalities. They got along. They were professionals and doing their job well, and they knew they had to be husband and wife. Their chemistry together was really addictive, and they were so much fun on set because of that. Avan thought the course of the relationship in the movie should mirror his relationship with Eve, off camera, so for the first week or two, they were really getting along. And then, he started to do little things, like playing video games on his computer when we weren’t shooting because he said Eve hated it when he played video games, so he was doing it to annoy her, at the point in the movie that Dan and Franny were starting to not get along, which I thought was very clever. They just threw themselves into it, which was a joy.

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Image via First Generation Media

When you were writing how Franny’s career would go, were there specific aspects that you wanted to work out, from your own experiences of being in a writers’ room environment?

ADDELMAN: That stuff is almost more true to my life than perhaps even the relationship stuff is. In that case, I really felt that you write what you know, and you write the specifics that you know. When I was breaking into TV writing, even 10 years ago, there weren’t a lot of women. I had one job that I interviews for, and a wonderful man, who’s actually still a good friend, at the end of the interview said, “Oh, shoot, I wish we’d met you earlier because we already hired a woman.” It didn’t compute that they could have two women on staff. He did hire me, anyway, but there was a quota system that was around, when I was first starting out. So, not only is Franny just starting out – and anyone getting their first job at 22 or 23 will be nervous, have some insecurities, really want to please and just be so grateful for the job that maybe they’re willing to put up with whatever kind of bad/abusive behavior is around them – but she’s also a woman entering a world that was dominated by men.

I’m not trying to be political with it. That’s just the case. It’s the way it was and, honestly, in many, many parts of the industry, it still is. On a bigger job that I was on, at a fancier network where there was more money and there were more writers, an older female writer, who became a mentor to me and who had been doing it a lot longer, pulled me aside one day and said, “Here’s a tip: Always make sure there’s someone in the room that wants to fuck you.” What she meant was that you should be appealing and be attractive because it’s gonna help you. I think the unspoken assumption was that it’s gonna be a man who’s gonna want to fuck you, and if that man finds you sexually appealing, you’ll have an easier time in that writers’ room. That’s something that Franny, in the movie, is very much contending with. She’s trying to do her job, but because she’s going in as a woman, she’s somehow immediately sexualized and has to contend with sexual politics, just by being a woman. That was my experience, so it became her experience.

As a woman in a still predominantly male industry, when did you feel like your voice was actually being heard? Was it something that you felt like you had to really fight for?

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Image via First Generation Media

ADDELMAN: Yes. That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many factors that go into an answer like that. I’m sure there were times where I felt like I wasn’t heard, and it had nothing to do with being a woman. It just had to do with the fact that I was talking too much or saying ideas that no one liked. Just because I’m using my voice and speaking doesn’t mean that I’m saying things that are of value, in that specific moment and in that specific writers’ room. Writers’ rooms have all of these different codes of behavior that you have to learn and adapt to, to survive in them. Some of those codes have to do with gender, but some of them have nothing to do with that. So, I don’t quite have a clear answer to your question, but what I will say is that there’s a noticeable difference when rooms have a diverse make-up. Rooms that are 50% or more women, I find that there’s a lot more listening that goes on, and perhaps less competition. Rooms that are diverse, in terms of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and all of those things, just make for a more interesting show that you’re writing. You get different ideas and different points of view, and people do seem to treat each other with more respect. Hopefully, that positive change keeps on going.

Have you thought about what you’d like to do next, or do you know what you’ll be doing next? Would you like to continuing doing both film and TV?

ADDELMAN: I just sold a TV show, so I’m basically gonna be writing and creating my own show that, hopefully, makes it to your TV screen, at some point. So, I will be sticking to the TV world, in that capacity. Actually, a great way of having your own voice heard is to create your own material. To that end, I’m writing a few new feature scripts, and I’m starting to direct TV, as well. I think directing is the absolute greatest, and I fully intend to continue doing that, but writing is what I’ve done since I was a kid. Writing is just a more elemental, basic expression that I’m gonna keep doing. Directing takes a lot more people and money, and a specific situation. Both things will keep happening, and probably in TV and film.

What kind of show is it, that you’re working on?

ADDELMAN: It’s a dark comedy. There are a few different offers from a few different networks, so we haven’t made the deal yet. We’re negotiating. But, it’s a dark comedy about a journalist getting in too deep with her subject.

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