NEW YORK (AP) -- Paul Haggis says that on the face of it, his new film, "Third Person," looks like three love stories that take place in three cities -- Rome, Paris and New York -- "where the characters could never meet."
But when strange, incongruent things start to occur, the audience will realize that "it just pretends to be three love stories and then it's a puzzle."
Haggis weaves the stories together like he did with his 2004 film, "Crash," which won Oscars for best picture and original screenplay. But instead of examining prejudice, "Third Person," which he wrote and directed, explores how and why people fall in love -- and the passion, trust and betrayal that can follow.
The all-star cast includes Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody and James Franco. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
Neeson said Haggis' storytelling style attracted him to the role.
"Paul's very, very gifted at doing these multistrata stories," he said, "and they're very, very clever."
As for intertwining the stories, Haggis said, "You put them together. You pull them apart" several times before showing it to friends and in limited screenings and then starting all over again. "It was deconstructed and constructed dozens and dozens of times."
Haggis said piecing the film together with editor Jo Francis required "a lot of experimentation." He said some things were shot deliberately.
"Olivia comes around once to pick up a shoe, I know that I was going to have Mila Kunis picking up the shoe someplace else," he said.
Haggis said that in other cases, shots open to transitions, like people walking in and out of doorways.
Sound was also used to connect scenes. A musical refrain continues from one scene to another with a change in style and tempo, and through much of the film, there is the sound of water, a clue to the story's underlying mystery.
Neeson said there were some technical movements that Haggis asked of his actors to help in editing, such as "a certain placement of a piece of paper and pen that was critical" to connecting the scenes.
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