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Hamptons Life

Oct 6, 2009 2:49 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Film shot in Montauk returns to East End for Film Festival

Oct 6, 2009 2:49 PM

Every year, when the Hamptons International Film Festival rolls into town, filmmakers and producers do their best to get their offerings to stand out from the dozens and dozens of other movies competing for audience and industry attention.

And every year, for the benefit of—and to appeal to—East End audiences, if not industry insiders, a few films get to capitalize on the gravitational pull of a solid link to the local community. For the 2009 installment of the festival, “Paper Man,” featuring Jeff Daniels, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Kieran Culkin and Lisa Kudrow, has a clear edge in the local connection category: exterior shooting for the film was done exclusively in Montauk just about a year ago.

“Paper Man,” written and directed by the wife-and-husband team of Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, tells the story of failed writer Richard Dunn, played by Mr. Daniels, who rents a cottage in Montauk in an effort to finish his latest novel and possibly save his troubled marriage. His mission is complicated by the ubiquitous presence of Captain Excellent, played by Mr. Reynolds, an imaginary friend who has been his shadow since childhood.

Of course, as with every film, the story 
of the making of “Paper Man” goes back 
a lot further than last year’s shooting 
schedule in Montauk.

Ms. Mulroney recounted in a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles last week that she and her husband, who is the brother of actor Dermot Mulroney, have been writing partners for 12 years now. In 2004, she said, they had taken a draft of their script for “Paper Man” to the Sundance Film Institute’s writing lab and, after working on it for a bit, they arrived at a conclusion.

“We thought, ‘We can do this,’” she said of the couple’s decision to try their hand at directing. “We figured if somebody was going to mess it up, we wanted it to be us.”

After the writing lab wrapped up, the Mulroneys turned around and took their script to the Sundance directors’ lab the same year. “That was 2004, and then we wound up making the film in 2008,” Ms. Mulroney said. “It was the classic indie movie experience.”

One of the biggest hurdles to clear in getting the movie made, beyond securing financing, was casting the lead and the supporting actors.

“I’m not just saying this because it sounds like the right thing to say,” Ms. Mulroney said, “but we really, really ended up with the cast we wanted. We found a financing partner who also loved Jeff Daniels, and once we got it all lined up, it happened very quickly.”

Once shooting started, exteriors in Montauk and interiors in Nyack, New York, Ms. Mulroney and her husband started to reap the rewards of the successful casting process, and she had high praise for all of the actors.

“Jeff is a writer, and so he really responds to the written word,” she said of Mr. Daniels, whose work on stage and in films she has admired for years. “He is just an absolute joy to work with.”

Ms. Mulroney also singled out Emma Stone, one of the Rising Stars of this year’s festival, as “a phenomenal young actress.” Acknowledging that Ms. Stone has been better known for her comedy work in such films as “Superbad” and “Zombieland,” Ms. Mulroney said that “we took her in a different direction, and she had to do a lot of heavy lifting in this film.” She rose to the occasion, the co-writer and co-director said, and “went toe to toe with Jeff.”

After casting, the next critical choice was tied to the real estate mantra: location, location, location.

The two writers’ story was originally set, at least on the page, in Cape Cod. But when the writer-directors started scouting on the Cape, they quickly discovered that nothing had the texture they were looking for. So they decided to start looking on Long Island and agreed to hold off on re-writes until after a new location had been picked.

“We really got to know the South Shore and the North Fork of Long Island better than I ever thought I would,” Ms. Mulroney said with a laugh. “And it’s all very beautiful and lovely villages. But then we were driving through Montauk, and it was beautiful but very real and relatable; not like a movie set, but a real place.”

She noted that, among other themes, the film deals with loneliness and isolation, not only for the lead character, but for others as well. “Being in Montauk in November, after the season, it was easy for Jeff to connect to those feelings,” Ms. Mulroney said, “and Montauk was a perfect fit for the screenplay.” Choosing Montauk, she said was a “no-brainer.”

“And the people could not have been nicer or more helpful,” she said. “We had such a great time in Montauk and can’t wait to get back for the festival.”

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