Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist
BEHIND THE SCENES
New York City at night is full of romance, adventure and a hint of the unpredictable. In Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a boy and girl embark on an evening of music that neither will ever forget.
For Andrew Miano and Kerry Kohansky, producers of this quirky romantic comedy, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist was a chance to relive a night where parents and school are far out of mind and the night holds endless possibilities. "Kerry and I read this book probably three years ago and we bought it because we just loved the story." says Miano, whose previous collaborations with Kohansky include The Golden Compass and American Dreamz. "We’d each had a night like it in high school or college. We thought a lot of people would be able to relate to that moment when you have a magical night with a person you might never see again."
Like the film’s main characters, Kohansky grew up in the suburbs, driving into the city in pursuit of the hottest new bands and boys. "When I read the book, it was with an incredible sense of nostalgia for being that age," she says. "When you’re a senior in high school, life revolves around being in love and being with your friends. Everything feels so serious and so real and so complex. Nothing is ever black and white. Nick and Norah brought me back to those years.
"Most people can tell stories of that one unforgettable night that they had," she continues. "It didn't matter who you were, it didn't matter what tomorrow was. It was all about that night and spending the hours together, maybe going to a club, or listening to music or whatever, and never knowing if you would ever see that person again. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is really about these memories that will last forever. I think people who see this movie will look back and say, ‘I get it.’"
Miano says he wanted to recreate the feeling he had when he first saw some of the iconic movies of the 1980s. "There are movies that I grew up with like the John Hughes movies or Say Anything where I walked out of the movie and I felt like I had actually lived through those two hours," says Miano. "You went along for the ride with these people and you were emotionally satisfied at the end. It made you happy because you cared enough about the characters to be glad when they got together.
"And that’s the ride we wanted to create," he continues. "We want audiences to walk out of the movie feeling that little tingle of magic because it could happen to them or it did happen to them. That’s the goal, to have people want to tell their friends about the great ride that they just went on."
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is based on the novel of the same name, written by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan. Cohn is well known for her realistic and insightful portraits of teen girls, while Levithan has been a pioneer in the genre of young adult literature. In their first collaboration, the authors conjured up a mysterious, magical New York night that brings together two reluctant romantics who may very well be destined for each other.
The novel provided the filmmakers with rich source material from which to build their movie. "The characters of Nick and Norah are so complex," says Kohansky. "And their voices come directly from the book. All the stuff was there. All we had to do was add some layers of conflict by playing up the fact that Norah’s friend Caroline gets lost.
"In the beginning, we took the narrative from the book and tried to use it as voiceover, but we ended up not using any of it," she says. "The voices of the characters were so strong in the book and the screenplay that we realized we didn't need it. You know, when Norah sees Nick at the club and decides he’s the guy she's going go up to and kiss, you know exactly what the two of them are thinking."
The producers approached Peter Sollett, a rising young director who had already been honored at the Cannes and Deauville film festivals. "There’s a short list of people you really want to work with and Pete was on ours," says Miano. "When we described the story to him, he thought it sounded awesome—New York, music, the whole thing. He called us right back and said he was in."
Kohansky, who attended NYU with Sollett, calls the decision to have him direct the film "a no-brainer." His previous feature, Raising Victor Vargas was a critical success and a favorite of both producers. "And it was about a boy and a girl from the Lower East Side meeting and falling for each other," she says. "We have these two bridge-and-tunnel kids going into the city and having this romp. We just felt that he knew the territory and the way he gets you to fall in love with the characters made him perfect for this project. Pete just did a phenomenal job with it. He is so into the music that he was able to make choices that were absolutely fitting."
Sollett was immediately attracted to the script because, he says, it was so much like the way he was spending his time in New York. "I was in between films" says the director. "I didn’t have to be up early in the morning. For the first time in my life I was really able taking advantage of how much nightlife New York City has to offer. I recognized a lot of places and experiences that I had been enjoying at the time."
But the script resonated with the director on a deeper level as well. "There's an aspect of the film that is about being 18 and falling in love," he says. "I immediately responded to that as well, because when I was in college, I met somebody I really liked a lot. At the time, I was a bridge-and-tunnel kid and she was living in Manhattan. Every night I'd go to see her and I'd stay with her until about two or three in the morning. And then I'd have to get out of Manhattan to go home. One of the themes in the script is making the most out of every hour of that late night fun time period."
Over the course of the evening, Nick and Norah cruise the streets of New York, first following the clues to the location of Where’s Fluffy’s performance, then trying to find Norah’s missing friend Caroline. "It’s a sort of magical journey through New York City," Miano says. "Over the course of one night these two kids are searching for their favorite band, and they also fall in love. But it’s like the night conspires to keep them apart. There are all these obstacles. The adventure really begins when the boys agree to take Caroline home."
"The trick to making the story work was simply to have characters the audience could relate to," says Sollett. "It's not very difficult to paint scenarios that audience members can imagine themselves being in. If even one of the characters in the scene feels a little bit like you, or they're in a situation that you can relate to, suddenly things start to get funny.
"For example," he says, "when Nick and Norah are suddenly alone in a small automobile and realize that they are very attracted to one another, it is a very relatable situation, sort of like a blind date.
"The film actually says a very simple thing," according to Sollett. "If you can find the courage to allow yourself to be seen as the person you really are, then you stand a chance of finding just how much you have in common with someone else.
"What Nick and Norah have in common is a dedication to the shield that they've built around themselves," continues the director. "During the night, they put lots of individual cracks into each other's facades and all these little cracks lead them toward a nontraditional love scene, in which they slowly allow themselves to drop the guard that they've been maintaining all night. And that emotional journey is the one that both Nick and Norah are on in the film."
CASTING NICK AND NORAH
Norah: "I refuse to be the goody bag at your pity-party, Nick."
Nick: You don’t have to yell. It’s not a train station, we’re in a tiny car."
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist boasts an ensemble of today’s hottest rising young actors plus a few very familiar faces. "We were lucky to get such an amazing cast," says Andrew Miano. "Not only are they enormously talented, they’re all kind of normal people. They’re not like the Hollywood version of anything."
Michael Cera, who scored two huge hits in a row last year with Superbad and Juno, plays Nick, the soulful young bass player whose encyclopedic knowledge of music captures Norah’s heart. "When we bought the book about four years ago, we had a whole different set of 18-year-olds to consider," says the producer. "I don’t remember who we had as a prototype back then, but Michael was going to play a small role. We’d known him from "Arrested Development," long before Superbad. Then the timing made it Michael’s moment."
"He is funny and he's charming, and you just fall in love with him in the film," says Kerry Kohansky. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, and you're not intimidated by him, but you fall for his charm and his wit."
Cera says that the script’s dialogue and the story were the drawing card for him. "And the structure. It had all the elements that a script needs and that grabbed me.
"I read the book to get an idea of the tone and asked Pete a lot of questions," the actor continues. "We rehearsed a bit and it all just kind came together when we got on set. It wasn’t so much improvising or finding jokes in a scene as it was figuring out the reality of what’s supposed to be going any given point."
"Michael is the perfect antidote to the person that Norah has been seeing," says Peter Sollett. "Her ex is this very skeevy musician who's been taking advantage of her and trying to use her to get to her father’s connections in the music business. Michael is the opposite of that kind of insincerity and manipulation, because he is very honest and true of heart, very charming and non-threatening to someone who's trying to get over a broken heart the way Norah is."
To play Norah, the filmmakers chose Kat Dennings, who played Catherine Keener’s daughter in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. "We worked with casting director Joseph Middleton," says Miano. "He’s known for bringing in great, talented young people. He cast Go; he cast American Pie. He knew Kat and he brought her in. She’s so beautiful and so down to earth, which I think comes off on screen.
"Michael needs someone who can give him a hard time for his character to be successful in the movie," continues the producer. "The character only works if the woman he is falling in love with is really tough on him, and Kat does that splendidly."
"The first time I saw the film, I looked at Pete and I said, ‘Kat reminds me of Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza,’" says Kohansky. "She's got this big beautiful smile, and when she shows it, you just warm up. Yet you feel kind of like you’re in her head."
The director calls Dennings "An amazing actress. She's an individual and she is not afraid to share her viewpoints and her absolutely unique personality. There aren’t a lot of young actors who have the courage to be themselves on camera. And she's absolutely beautiful. For me, when I was looking for somebody to renew Nick after his horrible breakup, someone as refreshing as Kat seemed perfect."
Although Dennings admits she has never had a night like the one in the movie, she says Norah is the closest to herself of any character she’s played. "Obviously I’m not exactly like the Norah in the book," says the actress. "You have to take some liberties adapting a book to film. For example, we’ve toned down the language because we’re trying to make it more accessible."
Norah’s secret for most of the movie is that she is the daughter of an enormously successful music producer. "She is terrified that people only like her because they can get her to give their CD to her dad or they think she can do favors for them," says Dennings. "With Nick, she’s very guarded. It’s not until the end of the film she lets him know who her dad is."
That revelation takes place in one of her favorite scenes of the movie, set in a legendary New York music studio. "Electric Ladyland? I almost passed out. David Bowie walked the same hall I did. Jimi Hendrix’s ruffled shirt is there. I played the white Steinway. I was so excited, I think I cried!"
Dennings bonded closely with the actress who plays her girlfriend in the movie. "Ari Graynor is my best friend, my BFF forever," she says. "She plays Caroline, Norah’s best friend. Caroline is always drunk, so Norah ends up being her mom in a weird way, always taking care of her."
Graynor, who has worked extensively in television and film, is the catalyst for much of the night’s action. It’s Caroline who encourages Norah to approach Nick, and it’s Caroline who solves the mystery of Where’s Fluffy. She is also the object of a citywide scavenger hunt after Nick’s band mates volunteer to take her home, but then lose track of her.
"I think everyone knows a Caroline from high school," Kohansky says. "Everyone knew that party girl who periodically goes missing or gets up in the middle of the bar and starts singing to the audience or some other outrageous behavior."
Although Graynor’s portrayal of a tipsy teenager on the town is often the comic relief in the film, the deeper emotional moments resonate strongly with her. "The movie brings up things that we all think," she says. "Norah says something to Nick about being lonely when you’re with someone and how that loneliness is different from being alone. I know that feeling. I remember reading that for the first time and thinking it was incredible that they’re letting these 18 year old kids have this conversation."
Working with Michael Cera was a highlight for the actress. "Michael is an absolute genius," she says. "I was a huge fan of his before this and then working with him was incredible. He is so quick and his timing is impeccable."
Dev and Thom, the gay members of their queercore band and Nick’s best friends, are played by Rafi Gavron and Aaron Yoo. "When Rafi and Aaron came in to audition, it was like they were old buddies," according to Miano. "For the band, that really worked. They play guys who probably had a romantic relationship with each other, but now they’re two best friends. They know each other so well, that they are constantly at each other and that dynamic was really fun and interesting."
Balancing the relationships between Thom, Dev and Nick in a realistic way was also important to the filmmakers. "I think what’s beautiful about this movie is it’s really honest about friendship and love, especially when it comes to gay-straight friendships," says Yoo. "There are only a couple moments in the film where it seems important to acknowledge that Dev and Thom are gay and Nick’s straight, which is a lot like real life. It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about."
"There are not many scripts that are as good as this one," says Gavron. "It’s so true in so many ways. It’s the first comedy I’ve done and I found myself laughing a lot, which was nice. Laughing is a healthy thing to do."
Yoo’s character, Thom, is the less flamboyant, more empathetic member of the team. "Dev is definitely the lead singer," he says. "He is the one who grabs all of the limelight. Nick is the kind of person who’s very supportive and doesn’t really take any space for himself. And I always like to think of Thom as the color in the painting. He’s very emotional. He’s very much about love and experience and the moment."
Jay Baruchel, who recently appeared in the summer comedy Tropic Thunder, plays Norah’s lowlife boyfriend, Tal. "It was so much fun playing such a crummy guy," he says. "You get a lot of freedom when you only have to care about yourself. Playing a poser was like my revenge. I’ve met plenty of posers in my life who messed things up for me so this way my way of avenging all that awkwardness.
"The script was about the coolest thing I’ve ever read in my life," he continues. "For me doing this movie was like sitting with the cool kids at lunch hour in the cafeteria. I knew going into it that everyone involved were incredible actors."
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is also chockfull of very funny cameo performances. "We were again very lucky when it came to the cameos," says Miano. "We have Seth Meyers from "Saturday Night Live." Eddie Kay Thomas from American Pie came in and played Jesus. John Cho, who is Harold in the Harold and Kumar movies, has worked on pretty much every movie we’ve made. And considering this is a movie about music, it was so cool to get Devendra Banhart who’s an amazing singer and performer."
Kat Dennings enthusiastically seconds that thought. "When Pete told me at the beginning of the shooting that Devendra Banhart was going to be in the movie, I was like, ‘Shut up!’ I couldn’t believe he was in it."
Director Peter Sollett credits his cast with bringing a wealth of youthful energy to the film. "We had an ensemble of wonderful, charismatic 18-to-20-year-old actors, who were happy for once to be shooting in the overnight hours, because a lot of them are natural night owls. Our actors knew they were part of something a little bit special, and I think they appreciated that. You can never get a production to be as spontaneous and as fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants as those evenings are, but you do what you can to try to make them feel like they're doing things for the first time."
According to Ari Graynor, "Peter gives you know enough guidance that you know where you’re going and he reins you in, if need be. I’ve been so incredibly impressed and thankful for the way he just let us go and the way he listened to all of our ideas. He’s also just the greatest guy ever and he put together this incredible group of people."
The actors say they quickly formed an unusually close bond. "Everyone in the cast was a lot of fun to work with," says Cera. "We ate lunch together, hung out in the trailer and played video games."
"We’re all such excellent amigos at this point," says Dennings. "Just being together immediately gets me back into the mode of the movie."
Like most of the actors, Gavron had never worked with a cast so close in age. "I can’t tell you why the chemistry was so good, but I can tell you that we got along outside of work as well," he says. "On the set, we spent most of our time in Michael’s trailer playing the Tiger Woods golf game on the PlayStation 3. Usually on a film, there’s some tension somewhere, but there was none. We loved each other and it was always a hilariously good time."
THE ULTIMATE PLAYLIST
Caroline: "I found Jesus."
Caroline: "Jesus! He’s much taller in person."
Set in some of New York’s most popular nightclubs, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist features music by Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, Bishop Allen, Devendra Banhart, The Real Tuesday Weld, Shout Out Louds, and We are Scientists. Andrew Miano says when they put together the soundtrack, they looked for "the best music you haven’t heard before."
"Linda Cohen, our music supervisor, had a very difficult job," says the producer. "She had to come up with a lot of ideas for Pete and myself and a couple other people like Myron Kerstein, the editor, who are all music freaks. But it was also one of the most fun aspects of the movie. As far as getting the bands for the movie, they were really awesome up-and-coming New York based bands that Pete was a fan of."
Sollett says he was looking for two things in the songs "In a way, we're handing over a playlist that expresses how we feel to everyone who sees the movie. It was important that we find great pieces of music that weren’t familiar to most people. And on another level we wanted to find songs that were true to how the characters are feeling in the scenes."
Nick’s playlists are carefully constructed creations that give the listener clues into his inner life. They also are the reason Norah falls in love with him without ever meeting him. Making a playlist, according to Sollett, can be a superficial exercise or a way to reveal oneself through the words and music of others. "You can just be generally sharing music with someone. But then there's a more pointed way of doing it. The song selection and sequencing are telling a story. For lots of people, myself included, when it's difficult to express yourself verbally, you can do it by putting together a collection of songs and sharing it with someone."
The cast has their own experience with playlists. Kat Dennings even admits to making a special Halloween playlist for her boyfriend. "I recorded some Halloween songs with Garage Band for him," she says. "I made the instruments with my voice, I did everything. I remade "Monster Mash" for him with his name in it."
Rafi Gavron says his personal playlist would consist of Bob Marley, Al Green, Otis Redding, Marvin Gay, Eryka Badu, Q Tip and Naz. "I love all the stuff before ’98 when hip hop died. I’m all over the board. If it’s a good song, I listen to it."
Actor Jay Baruchel is looking for a girl who loves My Bloody Valentine. "That would be as if the clouds parted and the face of God shined down on me," he says. "If I ever find a girl with a playlist that has My Bloody Valentine, New Order, Joy Division and Godspeed You Black Emperor, I will try my best to marry her."
And, says Kerry Kohansky, that is the feeling at the heart of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. "It’s about music—the effect it has on people, the bond it creates, the memories it stirs up. Nick and Norah are musical soul mates. Their love of music is what brings them together. Music is what makes them fall in love."
The opening scene of the film features a live performance of "Screw the Man," The Jerk Offs’ signature tune. "In terms of the actors as musicians, I got lucky," says Sollett. "Most of them actually are musicians to some degree. Michael is an accomplished guitarist. He plays very well, and sings with a very, very sweet voice."
While Cera had played guitar before, he had to learn to adapt to the bass for the movie. "It was scary at first," he says. "We only did a few days of shooting in front of people where we were playing music, but it was the first scene we shot. In the end, it was kind of fun being up there."
Rafi Gavron had never sung before, but according to Sollett, he was a natural. "As an in-studio musical artist and on stage, he was fantastic," says the director. "Perhaps he was living out some rock and roll fantasy, or maybe he has some closeted past as a musician, I don’t know."
Gavron remembers that first day as being incredibly chaotic. "I was so scared at first. I was thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I’m on stage screaming into the microphone in front of 100 extras who were brilliant. I got the energy from them. They really just played it out and had so much fun with it that I felt comfortable on stage. I found myself doing all these very camp moves on stage with a microphone and ripping my shirt off. I had a bunch of lovely gay guys in the front of the audience who were so encouraging. I never knew I could have that much fun."
Aaron Yoo grew up playing music, but had never attempted the guitar before. "I took some lessons," he says. "I was practicing so much that first week that I was ripping the skin off of my fingers, because I didn’t really know how to strum properly. I spent hours just running through these riffs, then the challenge was translating that into an actual performance in a real club.
He says they all took the performance very seriously. "We all had our different takes on it. I have some friends in bands that I stole little pieces from. It was pretty intense for our first day of shooting. But it was a great way to get it started."
The trio’s co-stars have nothing but praise for their performance skills. "They’re really a good band," says Dennings. "And by the end of the night, the extras were all singing the song and everybody loved it. I think it should be on the radio now."
The song, "Screw the Man’" was referred to in the book, but written especially for the movie. "We needed to have the song to open the movie," says Miano. "The minute we got Rafi into the studio to record it, we knew we had it."
"‘Screw the Man’ is an awesome song," says Ari Graynor. "No one could get it out of their head, it’s really that catchy."
Atlantic Records will release the "Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" in stores and online on September 23rd, 2008.
DRIVING THROUGH THE NEW YORK NIGHT
Tris: "It wasn’t hard to find the only Yugo in the city."
Nick: "I think it’s the only Yugo in the country."
The locations for Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist are a travelogue of New York City’s high and low life, from famed downtown punk club Crash Mansion to Grace Church, Electric Ladyland Studio to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Veselka coffee shop in the East Village and that venerable purveyor of late night hot dogs, Gray’s Papaya. Getting the settings right was essential to the filmmakers, even though it might have been less expensive and logistically problematic to shoot in, say, Toronto and try and make it look like New York.
Producer Andrew Miano was adamant that the film be shot in Manhattan. "First, as a company, we try to keep films here, as opposed to going out of the country," says Miano. "More importantly, the city has a pulse of its own, whether it’s seeing the Empire State Building in the background or navigating the traffic or other things like that you can’t get anywhere else."
Even so, every night presented a different challenge, according to Kerry Kohansky. "When you're dealing with a finite budget, and a finite amount of time each night, you have one chance to make the shot. But New York has this frenetic energy that was so fitting for this film. That’s what Nick and Norah’s night is all about.
"We'd be shooting down on the Lower East Side at four in the morning," she goes on. "People would be coming out of the bars or just walking around. Even though we hired extras, we didn't even really need to, because there was just all this crazy energy that fueled our shoot. When we were shooting and wrapping at six in the morning, it felt like the night had just ended. And that is kind of the way you feel when you're out and about in the night in New York City."
Ari Graynor found the experience of shooting on the city’s streets exhilarating. "New York is so special," the actress says. "It’s my favorite city in the world and it has an energy like nowhere else and the fact that we’re getting to be here and to showcase that and be a part of it is really incredible."
"I don’t think it would have been as much fun anywhere else, because in another city everything would be shut down," says Michael Cera. "In New York, other people are still awake when all of this is going on."
The city lent its special "glow" to the film, even in the cinematography. "A lot of the film is handheld," says Peter Sollett. "Almost all of it is shot with long lenses, a cinema veritè feeling. But with the long lenses at night especially, you get a very shallow depth of field and lights start to feel very diffused. Things begin to look very romantic, with soft warm feeling.
"There’s a scene where Nick is getting a phone call. He hangs up the phone and he looks at Norah who's standing on the corner, trying to hail a cab. The shot looked sort of abstract and colorful. It seems like there are a lot of lights floating around Norah's head. And those are actually just normal New York City traffic lights and street lamps, but with those lenses, everything starts to look very glorious."
Nick and Norah make their way around New York in Nick’s 1980’s Yugo, a bright yellow contraption of questionable reliability.
"The Yugo is a rare Yugoslavian budget automobile from the late ‘80s," says Sollett. "They don't make them anymore and it's very, very difficult to shoot in something that tight. The crew was on a little bit of a learning curve.
"For the driving scenes, we usually dragged the Yugo onto a flatbed truck, and surrounded it with cameras, but there were times when we had to get cameras in the car. In the scene Caroline locks herself into the car and we wanted to shoot from her point of view. It was quite a feat.
"It's a very, very tiny car," he continues. "Since Michael and Kat were actually just getting to know each other, many situations that they were experiencing in these close quarters mirrored what the characters were going through. They were thrust into this high-pressure situation in this little car where they needed to relate to one another, and things were moving a little bit too quickly for things to be comfortable. So in a lot of ways, the acting challenge was part and parcel of the characters' challenge."