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Lovers' Relationship Is Online Only In 'Hank And Asha'


There's a lot of talk these days about technology and the possible negative effects on human relationships. But what about a relationship that is lived out entirely in the technological domain, from start to finish? The romantic movie "Hank and Asha," which came out this past weekend in New York, is based on this whole idea. A man and a woman live out the full circle of their relationship through video messages - without meeting even once, or even interacting. Here's a clip of Asha, who's an Indian woman studying film in Prague. She's sent a video message to Hank, a filmmaker in Brooklyn.


MAHIRA KAKKAR: (As Asha) I've been thinking a lot about how we are connected, and not in terms of technology but in terms of meaningful impact. A lifelong connection between two people or a connection that lasts only for a moment, just one dance on the dance floor; which has more beauty in it?

MARTIN: To help us answer that question, we have brought in James Duff and Julia Morrison, a husband-wife duo who co-wrote and co-produced the movie "Hank and Asha." Welcome to the program.

JAMES DUFF: Thank you, Rachel.

JULIA MORRISON: Great to be here.

DUFF: Yeah.

MARTIN: So how did this come about? James, I understand you lived in Prague yourself for a time.

DUFF: Yes, actually, Julie and I were both teaching at a film school in Prague.


DUFF: And we thought about a time in our lives when we actually wrote letters, and how you would take the time to really create who you wanted yourself to be, send it off, and the anticipation of getting the letter back. And you could kind of fantasize who you wanted that person to be. And so we thought, well, let's update it. And a friend of ours at the time told us that he courted his now-wife by making little video films for her.

MARTIN: Really, this way? He communicated this way?

DUFF: Yeah, exactly. He let us watch them. And they were quite fascinating because what we found was that he is talking to her by addressing the camera but as a viewer, you feel like he's talking to you. And so we thought, what a cool way to make a movie, by putting the viewer in the middle of the relationship so they could grow with these two people.

MARTIN: But Julia, what's also interesting is, I kept expecting that the two of them were going to start up some online chat, you know, through Skype. But that was a conscious choice that you two made as the creators of the film but that the characters make, too. They don't want to do that.

MORRISON: Well, I think there's a safety to leaving some distance. It's kind of liberating, in a way, because you have more control. You can edit what you say. You can present your best self. And it really then heightens this giddy sense of this connection because there is that distance. And you can get caught up in the fun of it.

MARTIN: We noticed a difference between the video messages that Hank and Asha made each other. Hank's messages are kind of clumsily shot at times. They kind of look like home videos shot with a handhold. Let's listen to a clip.


ANDREW PASTIDES: (As Hank) Hello. What's your name? This is really weird talking to a camera. How is that? Come on.

MARTIN: So the camera falls to the side, picks up a weird kind of frame of a wall or something. But many of Asha's messages back to him are these beautifully crafted videos that would have been much harder for her to shoot on her own. James, I'll ask you this, since you also served as the film's director. Did you think about this? Clearly, you did. This was intentional to make Asha's these different kind of productions.

DUFF: Yeah, and thank you for picking up on that because it was very intentional. Asha is a film student in Prague and when she contacts Hank, she wants to kind of impress him with her filmmaking skills. So they are well-composed, well-thought out. Then with Hank, Hank is kind of discombobulated in New York and kind of unsure about everything, so he just kind of throws some things together at first. Like you said, he drops the camera. But as the movie goes on, his shots do become a little bit more well-thought out and composed as he starts to kind of grow into the relationship. So we wanted to kind of subconsciously, with the audience, see the relationship grow through the visuals.

MARTIN: It seems that it might have been difficult to create some kind of chemistry between two characters who are never in the same place at the same time, are never in the same shot at the same time. How did you overcome that?

DUFF: Well, we shot all of Mahira, who plays Asha, consecutively in Prague. And she really didn't have a lot to work with so basically, a lot of the chemistry comes from the editing. We would do each scene a bunch of different ways, to give us options and a lot of material to work with. It wasn't tightly scripted. There was - we didn't really write the dialogue because we wanted to create authentic, genuine performances, and we did not want it to seem rehearsed. And because it is so awkward talking to a camera, we wanted that to come out.

MARTIN: Because they are in conversation with one another. They are getting to know each other over time through these video messages. It's just so different from how we know conversation to be now. We're stepping all over each other these days, when we have a conversation. It's so fast.

MORRISON: Well, I think there's also something to the effort of it; that we're connected in so many ways now, through social media, that is fast and fun - and can be great. But there's a different thing that happens when you take the time. So there's this sort of investment that heightens that kind of communication.

MARTIN: And lastly, I wonder what it was like to make a movie about a budding, new relationship as a couple who has been married. Any lessons that you took away for your own relationship?

DUFF: Well, a couple things. We are still married, which is good.

MARTIN: (Laughter) I didn't mean to say past tense. For a couple that is married.

DUFF: We are still married. And also, we have a thing, you know, we're married and we're going through this together, so we have a time of day where we say office is closed. And that means we can't talk about it because you know, you have to have a marriage outside of this very intense work. And you know, we got married, actually, right before we cast the movie and shot it. So all of this is kind of...

MARTIN: Oh, is that right?

DUFF: Yeah, we were teaching in Prague our first year and got - came back for the summer, got married, cast it, went back and shot the movie. So...

MARTIN: You were in the newlywed bliss.

DUFF: Yeah, we are.

MARTIN: James Duff and Julia Morrison - they are the co-writers and co-producers of the movie "Hank and Asha," which opened in New York this past weekend and will be released in other cities later in the month. Thanks, James and Julia. It was great to talk with you.

DUFF: Great. Thank you so much for having us. It was a lot of fun.

MORRISON: We really enjoyed this. Thank you.

MARTIN: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.