When I was living in Paris, I shot my TV pilot The French Chef
starring French movie star Philippe Léotard. We shot for two or three
days with backdrops that included the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de
Triomphe and La Place du Tertre with interiors at La Mère Catherine and
inside a professional chef's kitchen . When it came time to do post
production, I engaged a company that was recommended to me by my friend
Jean Collomb who was the lighting director for Claude Lelouch on many of
his films including A Man and A Woman and And Now My Love.
The editing and post sound recording and mixing went smoothly and we
got a good product. We paid our bill and left after about a week.
few days later, the phone rang. The owner of the post production
facility was calling wanting to know if I would be interested in
shooting a publicity film for one of their clients. I have to admit that
the idea didn't thrill me as I hadn't come to France to make PR films,
commercials or anything other than projects I originated. Not wanting to
be rude by saying no immediately and feeling grateful that he had
thought to call me, I asked who was his client. "J. Walter Thompson," he
J. Walter Thompson, for those who don't know, is said to
be the fourth largest advertising agency in the world with offices in 90
countries. I was impressed but I didn't think I had a chance of being
hired by them; I was inexperienced having only made Montmartre and The French Chef at this point. I said as much to the gentleman on the phone. "That's not a problem," he replied. "They already want you."
can imagine that this caught me by surprise. How is it that J. Walter
Thompson even knows that I exist much less 'already wants me'? He
hesitated before telling me, "They came by and I showed them what you
did with The French Chef." Really? Apparently, they liked it a
lot and wanted me for this job. Would I be available for a meeting at J.
Walter Thompson to discuss the project and meet with a representative
from their client Tropicana Orange Juice? The 'no' that had been
imminent suddenly became a resounding 'yes'.
The meeting that
took place in one of the JWT conference rooms was interesting. It seemed
as though my engagement on the project was a foregone conclusion. The
people from Tropicana wanted only to discuss the project and not my
credentials. We spoke of their intent for the film and what they needed
it to convey. We talked briefly of scheduling. It was clear they wanted
me to write the script. Is it always this easy?, I wondered.
next day, I received confirmation of all that had been decided in the
meeting along with an announcement of the fee I would be receiving. I
was overwhelmed. We would start shooting in about eight weeks weeks.
With The French Chef
ready to present to TV buyers in the States, it was time to make the
trip to Los Angeles to try and sell the series. My partner and I, along
with our girlfriends, got on a plane and flew into LAX with appointments
all over town arranged by my manager who was a former girlfriend. Oddly
enough, my first meeting was not about The French Chef. It was
with Al Burton who was Norman Lear's director of development. What did
he want? He wanted to know how I managed to get the US cable TV rights
to the Crazy Horse Saloon (in Paris) after he had been negotiating with
the owner Alain Bernardin for months. The best answer I could give him
was that I was there on the spot, spoke French and was wearing a gold
Rolex. Al shook his head in disbelief but I understood the dynamics even
if he did not.
We made the rounds of Hollywood with The French Chef
as our calling card. It was universally well received. The problem was
that cable TV was in its infancy and the proliferation of channels,
including food channels, had yet to manifest. Cable was still showing
movies and short subjects. No one knew what to do with The French Chef.
This didn't stop me from getting an offer from an investor to make a
film. Off we went to the desert to El Mirage which would feature in a
number of my future films and shot for about ten days. As I was editing
the film, the investor liked what we had done and wanted to do another
film right away. However, the time was drawing near to make the
Tropicana film and here I was in Los Angeles, not Paris.
one morning, I made a phone call to Paris and spoke with my contact at
J. Walter Thompson. "I'm in Los Angeles finishing a feature film and
they are giving me money to make a second one. Would you like to have
another director do your film?" No, they would not, the client wants
you. I sensed there was no room for negotiation. I tried another tack.
"The problem is that when I made the arrangements with you, I was in
Paris and now..." Before I could finish my sentence, he said "Don't
worry about that, we'll send you a round trip ticket." Before the end of
the week, I was on an Air France flight to Paris.
A day or so later, and before I flew back to Paris, I heard the phone ringing at about six in the morning. I might go
to bed at six but rarely did I get up at that hour. Something compelled
me to answer the phone. It was J. Walter Thompson in Paris. It had occurred to them that they had not received a script for the Tropicana
film. This would have been easy to explain as I had yet to write it but I
held my tongue. We were only days away from shooting the film. I asked
if he wanted me to send it to them. "No," he replied. "Just read it to
us over the phone and my secretary will take it down." Can you imagine?
at six in the morning, without benefit of what I would call a full
night's sleep or even a cup of coffee, I started 'reading' the script
to them over the phone off the top of my head, "Interior_bottle of
Tropicana Orange Juice_day..." I went on like that for almost half an
hour giving them an improvised script of the film I would make for them
though I had made no preparations whatsoever prior to the phone call
that morning. He quite liked it. In fact, when I arrived in Paris, the
word was that everyone at JWT and Tropicana like the script. I liked
that they liked it!
I was very glad to have had the chance to
make that film. It gave me the opportunity to play with multiple sound
tracks, having as many as five or six going at any one time. I was also
able to give some voice-over work to an actor friend, Rick Grassi, who
happened to be living in Paris at the time. One of the scenes in the
film showed a crew placing a Tropicana poster into the display window of
a bus shelter/kiosk. I was given the poster which I kept along with all
my other memorabilia from France not to mention masters of my films and
television shows--until they were all 'lost at sea'. A misunderstanding
wherein I thought "I'll put it all in storage" meant "I'll put it all
Since doing the Tropicana film, I've never declined a
project without good cause because each presents its own unique
opportunity to learn about a craft that I love whether it is the journal
of a long-haul trucker, a show about my friends driving their
incredible Ferraris on incredible roads or shooting documentaries on
subjects that are nostalgic or informative.
How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits)
Click to buy on Amazon
Click to view on Amazon
Examples of Responsive Reactions
Click photo to see example clips from Stephen's movies
Action/ReAction at Stella Adler
Point of Departure
A Series of ONE...
Stephen and Dragonuk
Stephen Mitchell webinar for Stage 32
Ferrari GTO 3987 at speed by Yan denes
Ray D. Shosay's Journal
Dispatches from a (junior) suite in Paris
Ray D. Shosay's Journal (excerpt)
"Saturday, January 27, 2007
They say you can fool some of the people all of the time. Accordingly, I think we should concentrate on this group initially. We can move on to the people you can only fool some of the time at a later date if we deem it necessary. I hope to hear back from my agent about this as soon as he's out of rehab, as I don't think my messages have been getting through."
Ignorance is Bliss by Stephen Mitchell
Kindle or Paperback versions
Exerpt from Ignorance is Bliss
"Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Martha shift in her seat. She leaned forward, as though something was about to be decided. This caused her breasts to push up against the neckline of her dress in a way that couldn't be fully appreciated out of the corner of one’s eye. So, Martin turned his head to look directly into the abyss of her cleavage. He was vaguely aware that Murray was talking again."
Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)
Click on poster to buy the poster and DVD
Ferrari GTO 3987
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!
Click photo to watch on Amazon Direct Video
“You ought to meet Steve. The two of you have the same kind of Ferrari.”
Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso
One evening, I was enjoying a John le Carré novel and a glass of Bordeaux...
L'art de l'automobile
My first Lusso prior to restoration
It was only after Sinatra was gone...
Once upon a time...
Meeting Enzo Ferrari
I came across this on a late night stroll in Paris near the Louvre.
I bought Bentleys in England and Ferraris & Maseratis in Italy to re-sell in Los Angeles as a teenager. I met Enzo Ferrari, Juan Fangio and Steve McQueen. I 'grew up' on the set of Mission: Impossible and other episodic TV series of the era. For a few years, I owned a Ferrari GTO that is owned by Ralph Lauren today and valued at approximately $52M. I began my film career by writing, producing and directing Montmartre in Paris in French. I founded and ran a repertory company for film & TV for 20 years in Los Angeles. I created a TV series which had fans that included Marlon Brando. I authored the first new acting technique--Action/ReAction--that was not based on Stanislavski's Method. I am currently writing my third novel and shooting my spy thriller Exigence. If you can't make movies, live your life as though you were in one...