GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The film I made for Tropicana

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.

A 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 said.

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."

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.

The 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.

Early 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?

So 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 in storage".

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.

There is nothing like shooting a film.

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