Written by James Peak on Sep 28, 2010. Posted in Interviews

Location Manager talks Woody Allen and Scorsese

Are there two directors stylistically more different than Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese? Antonin Depardieu knows exactly how their shooting styles differ, as he has worked with them both in 2010, the year that seems to be kickstarting Paris’ return to global form as a filmmaking capital.

Parisian Location Manager Antonin Depardieu has not slept a lot recently. A hugely experienced freelancer who has been based in Paris for the last 20 years, he cannot remember a time that has been so busy. He started off working on arthouse movies helmed by legendary French film directors like Alain Corneau and Etienne Chatiliez, and now he is the go-to guy for what Hollywood needs from Paris. 2010 has so far seen him lending his local expertise to two iconic Americans in Paris.

When I speak to Antonin in early September, he is utterly exhausted from his recent experiences, but bursting with anecdotes from both productions:

“I spent much of the first part of the year scouting for Martin Scorsese for his 1930s period blockbuster The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and have just last week finished a seven-week shoot with Woody Allen, who this summer shot Midnight in Paris. The two shoots could not have been more different!”

Scorsese’s shoot, a mega-budget historical adaptation of the bestselling children’s book by Brian Selznick, was on a plus grand scale, as Antonin explains:

“It is a 3D shoot as well as a period piece and the amount of equipment required was quite unbelievable, as well as the number of extras required.“

Scorsese’s reputation as an exacting Director precedes him and Antonin found that he had to work with an amazing level of precision and sourcework.

“Challenging? Wow! Yes, the first thing to say is that Scorsese is a true cinephile. He is immensely knowledgeable. This being a period film, he wanted to know exactly how realistic the sets are. He demands an incredible level of historical detail on his sets, and he gets it. For instance, in the 1930s a district like Montmartre would have felt entirely different from a district like Montparnasse. We really had to do our homework on architectural details, transport systems and costumes."

Antonin explains that the Director himself examined every aspect of set design to an incredible degree:

“If you don’t have an accurate answer to his questions he is not a happy man! That is how he keeps his films such high quality. It was a high-pressure shoot, but it will be worth it when we see it on screen.”

For his second important Director of 2010, Woody Allen chose to travel more simply.

“For Midnight in Paris we shot everything in the city, except two days outside town. One day we were recceing Monet’s garden, which is about 100km from Paris. We were half a dozen people at most. In typically low-key fashion, Woody had not asked for the gardens to close. As he was getting a feel for the place I heard a tourist murmuring to his wife, 'Hey, doesn’t that guy look a bit like Woody Allen!'.”

Antonin reports that Midnight in Paris was a very low-key and relaxed shoot from start to finish. The production was agile enough to visit 40 locations in 34 days. They would flit between Paris’ greatest artistic and cultural treasures, sometimes shooting in two or three places per day. Although I am not at liberty to let you know where those locations are, Antonin explains that the Parisian authorities, the police and civil administration made it very easy for Woody to film.

“Woody Allen is incredibly highly regarded - an auteur in the French tradition you might say. Paris bent over backwards to accommodate him. Since the new tax incentives will do that nowadays. He has wanted to make this film for the last four years and suddenly the incentives made it possible.”

The new incentives from Film France, which total a 20% rebate for all films which spend at least five days shooting, have made France a feature film production hub again after a few relatively quiet years.

Antonin remembers one of the most memorable days on the set of Midnight in Paris was when Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (who has a part in the film) was visited by her husband:

“Carla’s husband, the President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, came to see her perform. He came secretly at about 1am to see her for some night shoot scenes. Of course he could not publically be on set, so we rigged him a little room about 25m away from the action. He sat for two and a half hours watching his wife perform and did not leave until we wrapped at 3.30am. It was touching! He must really love his wife to stay up so late. I am no fan politically of the man, but I like him much more now I see how much he adores his wife.”

Widely reported rumours about Sarkozy’s face-off with star Owen Wilson about an on-screen kiss are also completely unfounded:

“Not true! There was no kiss! It’s nonsense to say there was any stress about it at all.”

Antonin has clearly had a fantastically busy and exciting summer. He is buoyant about France’s chances of landing big-budget Hollywood projects in the future:

“I can see a time coming soon when we will attract a blockbuster Hollywood film for it to be shot entirely in France! Recently, we have been getting projects where 30% or 70% of the film shoots with us and the rest is done somewhere cheaper like Hungary or Germany, which has happened recently with Inglourious Basterds and Stephen Frears’ Cheri. The new incentives mean it makes sense to base films here in their entirety, not just to shoot pinnacle scenes.”

Antonin, for the record, also had Clint Eastwood recceing in early 2009 to The Alps and Ski-town Chamonix and Paris, for his project Hereafter, and also Ellen Perry for her road movie Will. He is currently having a well-earned rest until the next call from Hollywood comes in, which given all France has to offer, and the new 20% incentives, shouldn’t be too long now.

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