You are ostensibly in charge of this show, but there are moments in the series where Paul seems to overrule you in real time and sort of reshapes the narrative to fit his whim. Do you remember what you were thinking in those moments?
It was an interesting tension, because the show is me telling the story of Paul telling his story. But in order to do it the way I wanted to, I needed him to be on board the entire time, and because, really, what to me was most interesting about this were his choices and telling his story, how he wanted to tell the story, what was important to him, what were interesting details to him, and so on. So part of that involved letting him steer as much as what was possible and really indulging any idea he had, because sometimes it would be really interesting or revealing or funny. The whole idea, really, was to kind of take a camera inside his brain. So that involved just kind of giving him the keys in a lot of ways.
At the same time, this is not a high budget show. We shot the entire thing in 15 days, and we had over a hundred scenes to shoot. So there was a time crunch. There was the mechanics of moving a 80-person crew. So trying to do that and follow his whims where he wanted to do these ideas that would come into his head, there were definitely times — and then you can see it, there are scenes in it that to me were very interesting and funny on paper in terms of what it would explore or reveal about him, and then shooting it on set was brutal. It was really difficult. And I tried to be honest about that in the show and tried to include all of that. Like the scene with the doctor, or there’s other scenes where reading it was very interesting and funny and like, “Oh yeah, we’ve got to shoot that,” the scene in the park with the girls. And then while we were there, it was not easy. [laughs] So all that is real.
The idea of shooting this in 15 days, what does that look like?
The 15 days was this summer in May and early June. We shot just three weeks of those dramatized scenes. We had also shot four days of scenes in 2017, and that’s a lot of the first episode is this pilot. Then before that, in 2012, I just went to his house with three friends and we just interviewed him. Then I got this company, Caviar, involved. They’re a commercial company who were starting a film production wing, and they’ve done very well since then. They paid for a crew to go film him in Florida. That kind of main interview was in 2014. After that, we flew him out to L.A. to do auditions, and there’s a lot of that in the show. And then we did that pilot, and then the pilot didn’t go. Sometimes I would go to him. There’s a scene in the fourth episode where he’s working for an auto insurance company, and that’s just me and him. I just went to Florida by myself. I had a camera. I did sound. There’s zero people.
So sometimes we’d have a crew of 80 people. Sometimes it would be just me. And then the time within that, obviously I was also working on other things. I did the “Borat” movie, I did TV shows here and there. But all the while, getting the money to do something like this, convincing people to risk money, risk their jobs on a show like this, that’s what took 10 years, basically.
It was going to be a movie and we’d say, “Well, it’s a documentary, ultimately, but it will cost a little more because of all these reenacted scenes. It’ll be more like an independent film, like a narrative film.” And they’d say, “Well, who’s starring in it?” And I would say, “Well, Paul is starring in it.” It’s like, click. [Mimes hanging up a phone] So it just took years. And then it’s like, “Well, it’s so big now. This feels more like a series. This is 10 years. This is the rise of streaming and everything. Okay, it’ll be a series.” And still, the format was so unusual. It just took many years of steps of convincing people to let me do it, basically.