Rebecca Addelman discusses Paper Year, fictionalising her first marriage into her feature debut, which took years of rewrites, great casting, and generous collaboration. This is an excerpt from the ebook The Canadian Cinema Yearbook which is available for purchase here.
Rebecca Addelman’s feature debut, Paper Year, begins in a whirl of ecstasy. Twentysomethings Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia) just got married, and they run from their community hall ceremony in a fit of joyful laughter and rapturous embraces. We’ll never see them this deliriously happy again.
What follows is a patient, observant look at their first year of marriage, and the regrets and troubles that spawn from such an impulsive, passionate union. Once the dust settles, doubts about the marriage start to creep up on both, but they try to make the most of it. The film is episodic in the way it follows Franny’s and Dan’s various trials and triumphs, both separately and together — although Addelman positions the film largely from Franny’s perspective.
Paper Year is very personal, inspired both by her own divorce and by her experiences with sexual harassment in TV writers’ rooms. Franny’s new job writing for a game show provides ample ground to explore the various forms of misogyny that women face in the workplace. Addelman’s personal experiences with this male-dominated environment means her take is strikingly nuanced. Franny’s problems aren’t just with the more overtly sexist producer, but also with a colleague, Noah (Hamish Linklater), whose attempts to save Franny from their boss’ advances simply mask another form of misogyny. What’s more, the film avoids patronising Franny, as she is just as aware of these men’s creepiness as we are.
I talked to Addelman about the years of rewriting it took to develop such a personal story into a script, the importance of great casting, and how truthfully reflecting the experience of being a woman in the workplace is inherently political.
Seventh Row (7R): What came first: wanting to tell a story about women in the workplace, or wanting to tell a story about a young married couple?
Rebecca Addelman (RA): It was definitely telling a story about the couple. It was written in the wake of my own divorce, as a relatively young person. There are things in life that feel so seismic that they’re with you forever. I couldn’t write anything else until I wrote this.
I had a lot to say about being a young woman not just in the workplace, but in this kind of workplace, which is something I was very familiar with.
I just tried to put [Franny] in a place where nothing in her life was on stable footing, even this marriage. Marriage is supposed to be something that is so permanent and gives you a foundation in life. The way that Franny and Dan get married is so impulsive and, yes, full of love, but not done with caution and thoughtfulness.
7R: When you’re writing a story like Paper Year that’s so personal, how do you navigate the extent to which you’re going to fictionalise it?
Rebecca Addelman: It was rewritten a lot. I can barely remember the first draft, but I think that it’s quite probable that the first draft was closer to my life, just because it felt like a hairball that was caught in my throat.
I remember reading the early drafts thinking, “More things need to happen here.” My real life was, for me, emotionally exciting and turbulent, but it wasn’t actually that eventful. It wasn’t something that anyone would want to watch. So I started to fictionalise it based on what I now wanted the characters on the page to do and how I wanted them to treat each other — how I wanted that relationship to end, which is very different from how my relationship ended.
When you cast it, your brain has to crack open, because it’s no longer the person you pictured in your head. It’s someone completely different who brings their own experience and point of view to the character. It’s so great to have these incredibly talented new people come in and open up the project. Once I cast Eve Hewson in the role, she embodied it so well that I don’t watch her and think, “That’s me up on screen.” Nothing about it, anymore, reminds me of myself, besides some of the emotional journey she’s going through.
7R: Were there any rewrites after you finished casting Paper Year?
Rebecca Addelman: There were. The process of rewriting is so ongoing. Sometimes, a rewrite will just be one scene rewritten, or you’re cutting things, and then there’ll be a new draft that people will read. But other times, there might be a whole new idea that courses through the movie. That needs a bigger rewrite.
I remember, on the location scout, I was sitting with DP [Steve Calitri] and production designer [Zazu Myers], and we were talking about one scene that’s no longer in the movie. I would say “I don’t think it works,” telling them my concerns. I think it was Steve who pitched this idea for a different way to go, and we were all like, “that’s great!” We were eating fish and chips in a pub in Toronto, location scouting, and we rewrote it.
7R: How much time passed between your first and final drafts?
Rebecca Addelman: Maybe two years. Or two and a half.
7R: We get almost no context for what Franny’s and Dan’s relationship was like before the marriage. We simply watch this first year of marriage in isolation. Why did you approach the story that way?
To read the rest of the article, purchase a copy of The 2019 Canadian Cinema Yearbook here.