GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Montmartre: Making my first film in France

I made my first film in France. I had originally gone to Paris to see the city and sample the life there and gauge the chances of getting my start in filmmaking. I wasn't expecting to stay beyond two weeks but when it came time to board the plane for my return to Los Angeles, I decided I wasn't going. Out of money but with plenty of confidence, I cashed in the round-trip portion of my airline ticket and set about acclimatizing myself to Paris. Within about two months, I was fluent enough in French to have business meetings without an interpreter.

I began meeting new friends, most of whom were actors or filmmakers, and began enjoying long dinners and stimulating discussions lasting until the small hours of the morning. Dinner took place at a different friend's apartment each night and I worked my own apartment into the rotation. It was a great way to assimilate into French life--albeit more bohemian than bourgeois--and to become immersed in a filmmaking culture.

One of my first endeavors was driving the new line-up of Citroëns for a film that a friend of mine was making at Citroën's private test track in the middle of a forest. We were there for several days, had enormous amounts of fun and got paid in the bargain! Amazingly, no Citroëns were damaged in the making of the film.

I was pleased to be able to meet Jean-Marie Lavalou and Alain Masseron, the two gentlemen who invented the Louma, the first remote-controlled camera crane. Roman Polanski had used it in Le Locataire (The Tenant) and the inventors demonstrated it to us in a Parisian courtyard where a group of filmmakers had gathered for the occasion.

I was also privileged to have met some French movie stars along the way. Lino Ventura, Françoise Fabian, Marcel Bozzuffi, André Dussollier, Philippe Léotard, Charles Gérard and Jean Mermet. The common denominator was that they all had worked with Claude Lelouch and were actors whose work I came to know before leaving Los Angeles for Paris. It was the equivalent of an aspiring French filmmaker coming to Hollywood and being invited to the homes of Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Clint Eastwood.

At one point, I wrote a screenplay creating roles for each of my friends who were actors and some who were not. It was not so much with the idea to 'make a film' as it was to have some creative fun with friends--very informal. I had loved Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run and conceived this film as a faux documentary about a painter who plies his trade on La Place du Tertre in Monmartre. After my first investor spent the money earmarked for the film on a Rolex watch (and other costly items) I found someone, or rather he found me, to fund the film. When I went to his office, I waited as he read the script. When he had finished it, he exclaimed "C'est terrible !" and left. His assistant shook my hand. "Looks like we're gong to make a film with you." But he said it's terrible," I countered. He laughed. "In French when we say it's terrible, it means it's good!"

So, Montmartre became my first film. We had fun and the film made people laugh. It was, obviously, shot in French so my first film was a French film and that made me very happy. All that remains of it today is the collection of clips that I salvaged which can be seen on YouTube. It was fun and irreverent and got laughs in all the right places except that a French policeman who was in charge of granting shooting permits didn't find it funny that I was depicting gypsies in Montmartre pick-pocketing the tourists. He effectively denied permission for us to shoot as punishment but using the famous French "Système D", the 'D' referring to se débrouiller and se démerder depending on your upbringing. We threw away his appended restrictions and proceeded unimpeded for the duration of the shoot in the best French tradition.

If I had it to do all over again, I would do it all over again. In fact...

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