Writer-director Rebecca Addelman brings her debut feature Paper Year to CUFF for its world premiere

Rebecca Addelman is very funny. This will come as no surprise, given her background. A former member of the famous alt-comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, she is also a writer-producer best known for her TV work on New Girl and Love. Now, her debut feature, Paper Year, enjoys its world premiere as a part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival.

Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia) are a young couple without a care in the world. Totally in love, and completely confident in their future together, they face some unexpected challenges during their first year of marriage. While the humour is less obvious, the story is one with a personal connection for Addelman.

“I had been married pretty young and I had a story I wanted to write,” she says. “I guess this sounds a bit cliché, but I did really write it for myself.”

Even with that personal context, it wasn’t obvious to Addelman that she would be the one to direct the project. After sharing the script with a few close pals, a good friend suggested that she make the movie herself.

“I never really directed anything before, and it wasn’t even a path that I was all that focused on following,” she says. “Once I made that decision, it felt like the most obvious, natural thing to do was to shepherd this story all the way from the original germ of the idea to finished product.”

Set in Los Angeles, the film is a modern look at relationships and marriage – realistic, romantic, and, in the end, reverent. It’s also very funny, just not in an overt way. Melancholy is often partnered with a palpable optimism that makes you want the best for the characters, even when they aren’t at their best. Hewson and Jogia are wonderful as the young bride and groom; believably infatuated at the get-go, and equally convincing as their characters are distracted by other influences in their lives, bringing a coherent sense of comfort and empathy to the screen.

Paper Year also looks great, with a warm and stylish LA haze. The film shot in Los Angeles for four days, but the rest of this Canadian-funded project was filmed in Toronto at the end of October. “It almost snowed some days and we were outside,” says Addelman, who is a Canadian ex-pat and therefore no stranger to our winters. “We were really pushing our luck with this one.”

Addelman was able to bring a lot of her TV experience to the film set, in particular her ability to improvise and make things work in the moment.

“You really learn every facet of producing content that people want to watch. So I took a lot of those lessons with me into making a movie.

“It was helpful, but I have to say it didn’t stop me from making a lot of mistakes,” she says, her smile audible.

Any mistakes Addelman made are not visible on screen. Her smart script and effortless dialogue thrive under her direction, resulting in a tight film with a clear vision.

“After I made that switch in my brain – this is my story, this is my writing … I know how to get this on the screen – it occurred to me that maybe this is the thing that women haven’t been doing for a long time. They haven’t been saying, ‘Oh, yeah. I am the one who should captain this ship. I am the one who should take my own work and my own ideas and direct them.’

“Now, there are so many female directors and there is this strong push and this amazing movement to get women behind the camera, which is incredible. In my own personal experience, it was that I had never really thought of myself that way until it was pointed out that I could do it. Now, of course, it’s all I want to do.”

While in Calgary for the world premiere of Paper Year, Addelman is also hosting “Inside The Writer’s Room” on Friday at the Globe Cinema. This master class is a chance for people to discover how ideas are developed, pitched, analyzed and critiqued in the world of network television. 

“One of the hardest things to accustom yourself to when you’re in a writer’s room is that everyone else has an opinion, too,” says Addelman.

“It’s a very collaborative process and the collaboration is the thing that makes it really good, but it can be an adjustment because writing is often solitary. You’re sitting there with the characters and the scenes in your head, then you bring it a group and suddenly people see it in different ways and they have different takes on the story and on plot points and character choices.

“To be a really excellent writer, in general, but definitely in a writer’s room, you have to know how to hear all those different opinions. It doesn’t mean you have to take them all, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them all. But to know how to digest them and hear the ones that are good so they can make your work better is a really valuable skill.”

This event is sponsored by Herland and Storyhive, and will be moderated by local producer and Herland Society member, Karen Pickles.

Paper Year screens Thursday, April 19 at 7:15 p.m. at the Globe Cinema as a part of this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. “Inside The Writer’s Room” takes place on Friday, April 20 at 10 a.m. at the Globe Cinema. For tickets and more information please click here.

Jane McCullough used to write about many things musical, artistic, cinematic and delicious with the publications VOX and Fast Forward. She is currently manages the cooking school at The Cookbook Co. Cooks.