Thursday, March 25, 2010
My week on the Marne River
My week on the Marne River came a few months after I shot ‘Montmartre’ using Parisian actors who were friends or friends of friends. It had been a wonderful way for me to inaugurate a career as a writer-director. Paris had given us a cool but dry October in which to film. I shot in and around the art galleries, on the Place du Tertre and along alleyways that led nowhere yet were gateways to the imagination.
At the first screening of ‘Montmartre’, I made the acquaintance of a man who had enjoyed success in the insurance business and was looking to make a career change. My film had intrigued him. It didn’t take long to establish that we shared a passion for boating. He kept a sloop moored at Toulon; mine was a little further away at the Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles. Over dinner, we traded a sufficient number of sailing stories to establish our bona fides and the result was an invitation to spend time aboard his boat for a week. There we could discuss ways in which he might make a move into the entertainment industry. It wasn’t until a few days before our departure that I discovered our destination wasn’t Toulon, but Meaux.
While he did have a forty-two foot sailboat on the Mediterranean, he kept a forty foot cabin cruiser on the Marne River near Meaux, which would be our destination. So it was that we packed up and, with our girlfriends, drove off to an area famous for its mustard. The setting was an unspoiled harbor in a woodsy area next to a small inn. I tend to see settings in the context of movie locations, and this one couldn’t have been more picturesque. I don’t remember there being more than a dozen boats and we were the only people on the scene that day. After we brought aboard our provisions, my friend started the engine and we slipped out of the small harbor onto the Marne. We cruised along the river enjoying the late afternoon light looking for a place to anchor for the evening. We found it. There was a bend in the river that was wide enough to keep us well clear of any boat traffic and their wakes.
We set about preparing our first meal on board, which was probably filet mignon with fresh vegetables and frites, though it could have been macaroni out of a box and we would have savored it given the circumstances. The wine was a Bordeaux with outstanding credentials and we ate a meal that was memorable for its companionship. We were two couples who had only recently met, but were completely at ease with one another in the manner of old friends. After dinner, we smoked cigars (mine was a Davidoff Dom Perignon), listened to a tape of Miles Davis and hardly talked at all. I studied the stars in the sky and wondered to myself how life could get any better than it was that evening on the boat.
The next morning after our petit déjeuner, we swam in the river and sunbathed until we grew restless. My friend then steered the boat along the river until we came to a village where we docked and went off on foot to explore. We searched through the antique shops and bought from the boulangerie, charcuterie, and patisserie not to mention the local wine merchant before returning to the boat for lunch. I backed the boat away from the dock and motored down river towards a suitable spot to enjoy our meal. My friend and his girlfriend were eager to hear about my life in southern California. They were especially curious to know why I would leave behind two Maseratis, a sailboat and all that was Hollywood to come to Paris to start a filmmaking career. I explained that I had been seduced by French cinema and the style of life it depicted. I told them I felt more at home in Paris than I did in Los Angeles where I was born.
They wanted to hear the details of the time I spent on the sets of American television series like ‘Mission: Impossible’ or the movies I’d worked on like ‘Winning’. They hungered for Hollywood in the same way I needed Paris. We agreed that spending half our time in France and the other half in California might be the ideal. Having arrived at this consensus, we washed the dishes and went swimming again before worshiping the sun once more. It wasn’t until late afternoon that we got around to the subject of business. What could we do here that could be sold in America, my friend wanted to know. Was there something that could satisfy my desire to shoot in France and his to be involved with Hollywood? The answer didn’t come that day.
In fact, it would be weeks before I came up with the idea of shooting a television pilot using a French actor speaking English that would be equal parts travelogue, cooking and comedy. It wasn’t until July that we engaged Philippe Léotard, who didn’t speak English at all but mastered the dialogue phonetically. Rolex provided a yellow gold Day-Date, Renault an automobile and Alain Bernardin one of his dancers from the Crazy Horse Saloon. La Mère Catherine on the Place du Tertre provided the location. It would not be the last time I was to shoot there. ‘The French Chef’, as the pilot was titled, became a calling card that opened doors to the major production companies of Hollywood for my friend and me. His dream of becoming a Hollywood producer would be realized.
None of this was known to us that afternoon as we enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the river and easy rapport of our new friendship. The next day we were joined by another couple. My friend became circumspect in their presence not wanting to speak of his aspirations regarding Hollywood. It didn’t matter. The river had already worked its magic.