By JOHANNA SCHNELLER
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, June 22, 2018
Rebecca Addelman's life sounds so much like an indie-film heroine's, I picture her story in scenes.
EXTERIOR, MULHOLLAND DRIVE (lonely road high above Los Angeles) -- 3 A.M.
REBECCA ADDELMAN, mid-30s, smart, vivacious, Canadian writer/director living in L.A., crouches in the bushes to pee. It's comical, because she's nine months pregnant with her first child.
She's written for Fox's New Girl and Love, Judd Apatow's Netflix series. But now, she's scrambling to get a few final shots for her feature debut, Paper Year, which opens in select Canadian cities and on VOD on June 22.
ADDELMAN (thinks to self): "There's no cell reception. I could have this baby any minute. This is the craziest thing I've ever done."
FLASHBACK: Born in Ottawa, Addelman studies literature and comedy writing, and does stand-up in Toronto. Her community is tight-knit but opportunities are few: If a TV writing gig comes along, everyone she knows goes for it. So at 26, she sublets her apartment and drives to L.A. She has no job, no friends. She doesn't even know if her work visa will be approved.
ADDELMAN (voiceover): "All I had was some kind of inner conviction that this is what I should do. Tina Fey was an idol of mine at the time. I thought, 'I'll try to be like her.' " When Addelman's visa comes through, it's for comedy. She can perform or write, but she can't get a backup job at, say, Starbucks. She has to succeed or scram. So she writes series pilots every day, and performs somewhere every night. Slowly, she gets an agent, a manager and interviews for writing jobs.
INTERIOR, SHOWRUNNER'S OFFICE - DAY.
MALE TV SHOWRUNNER (to Addelman): "Oh, it's too bad I only met you today, because we've already hired a female writer."
That's not a joke. That's the attitude in Hollywood in 2008: You need a woman's voice in the room, but only one. Luckily, this showrunner (Addelman won't say his name) is a radical - he hires her.
She learns a tricky balancing act. The men in these TV writing rooms are the smartest, funniest guys she's met, and some of them become her mentors. But they're also sexist. "It's in the way they speak and behave, and who they choose to deputize and respect," Addelman says. They're racist and homophobic, too, but always under the guise of joking around.
ADDELMAN (V/O): "The women who succeeded knew how to be diplomatic and not get angry. Because if you say, 'That was offensive,' suddenly you're the person without the sense of humour."
Addelman succeeds: She lands a job writing for New Girl. She lands a job writing for Love - an hour after meeting Apatow. ("One of the many cool things about Judd is how decisive he is," Addelman says.) She also marries young, and divorces a few years later.
Then she condenses everything she's lived into a script, Paper Year.
Addelman begins writing it in 2014, in the wake of her divorce, during her two-month hiatus between seasons of New Girl. Although the specific plot isn't autobiographical, the realizations are.
"I was trying to write about what young love/lust/hopefulness and big dreams really feel like, all that stuff that gets rolled into our relationships when we're young," she says. She also wants to show that just because a relationship ends, it doesn't mean it failed.
The film centres on Franny (Eve Hewson, who played Clive Owen's head nurse on The Knick).
Eager for her real life to begin, she impulsively marries Dan (Avan Jogia), an actor, and tries not to mind how unambitious he is. She scores a job writing for a reality show. Her boss is angry that he can't sleep with her, but she deflects that. Her married co-worker Noah (Hamish Linklater) is a different story: They share a sense of humour, they share drinks, Franny starts investing him with qualities - and then reality crashes in.
ADDELMAN (V/O): "For me, Noah represents who Franny wants to be, more than who she wants to be with. You can fall into a lot of traps with a job - you want to believe that a job will be the answer for your life." But your job can't be your lover, just as your lover can't be your job.
Addelman admits that people - men in particular - might disapprove of Franny's choices. "But that's the hill I was ready to die on," she says. "That's the whole point of the movie: She's going to make mistakes. Because she's experimenting, she's searching for who she is, she does things that don't make her feel good, that don't answer the big questions.
The hard thing she realizes is that no one is going to give her the answers. She has to do that on her own."
INTERIOR, L.A. APARTMENT - DAY.
Addelman shows her script to a male friend, and wonders who might direct it.
FRIEND: "Why would you have someone else direct it? You should direct it."
Addelman is startled. Why didn't she nominate herself? ADDELMAN (V/O): "I don't think my reluctance was biological. I think it's something the culture teaches us, that we internalize."
She realizes that every other director had to say to him/herself, "I'm a director," before they'd directed a single frame. "It's not arrogant," she says. "You're not putting yourself in a position you shouldn't be in. You just have to make that choice and stick to it."
MONTAGE: Addelman pulls together a US$1.2-million budget, and shoots her film in 19 days (15 in Toronto, four in L.A.).
EXTERIOR, CREEPY TORONTO UNDERPASS - NIGHT.
Addelman shoots a key scene, Hewson and Linklater in a parked car. It's the moment where Franny's fantasies crumble. But the road isn't blocked off, so strangers amble into her frame. Plus it's late October, raining, cold. Addelman realizes she'll only get a fraction of the shots she was hoping for. So she lets the few takes she does get run long. She forces us to live in Franny's raw, awkward moment.
It ends up being the hinge scene of the film.
ADDELMAN (V/O): "I didn't write or shoot that scene thinking, 'I need to make sure I'm representing this from a female point of view.' It was just the way I, as a human, as a woman, experienced it. But for so long, the culture was dominated by men. We didn't think, 'This is a male point of view.' We thought, 'This is a director, showing us life.' So this does speak to the fact that we need more representation, we need more people from all different walks of life sharing their stories."
FINAL MONTAGE: Addelman, in the editing room until the day her daughter (now 15 months old) is born. Addelman, doing the sound and colour correction while nursing.
INTERIOR, WRITERS' ROOM - DAY.
Addelman, five other female writers and one man are hard at work on a Netflix series, Dead to Me, due in spring, 2019. It's about two women in their 40s who become friends in a grief group, although one is keeping a big secret from the other. The showrunner, Liz Feldman, wrote for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and 2 Broke Girls. This room isn't sexist at all.
Eve Hewson plays Franny and Avan Jogia plays her unambitious new husband Dan in Paper Year, Rebecca Addelman's semi-autobiographical feature-film debut as both screenwriter and director.