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Delpy discussion: “2 Days in Paris” isn’t what you may be thinking.
Although in these celebrity crazed days it may sound like something shocking about Paris Hilton, it’s actually a delightful new romantic comedy drama set in that other Paris in France that should do wonders for Julie Delpy’s filmmaking career. Delpy, who’s a native of Paris, was Oscar nominated in 2005 for co-writing “Before Sunset” and has starred in such films as “Before Sunset,” “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Before Sunrise.” She wrote, co-produced, directed, edited and did the music for “Paris” and, on top of that, also co-stars in it opposite Adam Goldberg. Indeed, wearing all those hats just might put Delpy in several Oscar and Golden Globes races later this year.
Produced by Christopher Mazodier, Delpy and Thierry Potok, the R rated “Paris” was executive produced by Nikolaus Lohmann and Tilo Seiffert. Also starring are Daniel Bruhl, Aleksia Landeau, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy. The Samuel Goldwyn Films and Red Envelope Entertainment film opens Aug. 10 in New York and Los Angeles. It expands Aug. 24 and 31 into other top markets across the country and will go on from there, driven by what should be good reviews and favorable word of mouth.
The film’s story revolves around a New York couple — Marion, a French photographer (Delpy), and Jack, an American interior designer (Goldberg) — who try to rekindle their relationship through a European vacation. After problems in Venice where the food didn’t agree with Jack, they have high hopes things will improve during their last two vacation days in Paris staying with Marion’s overbearing non-English speaking parents. But there, too, they encounter problems — including the fact that Marion keeps running into her former lovers all around town, leaving Jack to conclude she’s a serial slut. And, oh yes, there’s also the small matter of Jack being unhappy with French condoms, which he complains are too small when Marion insists that he use one.
It’s a fun movie that’s strictly for adults, who really are in for a treat. Having greatly enjoyed my early look at “Paris,” I was glad to be able to focus recently on it with Delpy, who explained it was a project she had wanted to do for a long time.
“I’d been trying for a few years to make movies that I’ve written — different screenplays, thrillers,” Delpy told me. “I’ve been trying to get the rights for a Japanese war movie for about six years (and I’ve) been writing spec scripts and all that. One day a friend of mine told me, ‘Why don’t you try to write something that’s in a way similar to something you’ve been quite successful with’ — at least successful in a recognition way (like her Oscar nom for co-writing ‘Before Sunset’). I said OK. And I had this idea actually before ‘Before Sunset’ about doing a movie about a couple in Paris and in a way that’s why I based ‘Before Sunset’ in Paris.
“I kind of tricked people into giving me money thinking it was going to be a sweet romantic film when, in fact, I quickly turned it into — I don’t know, I think the film has a sweetness to it, but it’s more of a comedy and less of a romantic film. To me it’s more focusing on the comedy and kind of the harshness (of the couple’s relationship). It’s very real (the way) people talk to each other, unfortunately, in a break-up and say terrible things to one another. I just wanted to do that, but with humor.”
Where the money came from and what it cost to make the picture is a little complicated. “Part of it (was from) Germany, which was the main money,” she explained. “And then part of it (came from) an international sales company in France, who put in like 200,000 (Euros) in advance and then we were able to make the money with (that plus) the 300,000 of the Germans. And then we couldn’t finish the film because we had no more money. So then we found another company that at the last minute gave us extra money to finish the film. In Germany it was a company named 3L and in France it was a company named Rezo. In the end, the official budget was 1.3 (million Euros, which at $1.33 per Euro would be about $1.7 million), but in fact we spent about 500,000 (Euros or about $665,000 because of deferred salaries).
“We had an extra hundred thousand (Euros) to finish the film. Basically, we made the film for 600,000 to 650,000 (Euros or roughly between $800,000 and $865,000). But it doesn’t count the fact that now we have to pay everybody. It was a French movie so it was French minimal wage. Now we have to pay them what their quote was so everyone’s going to be paid now.” However you calculate the film’s cost, what Delpy did looks great on the screen and looks like it cost more than it did.
Looking back at how she put the project together, Delpy told me, “I actually raised the money before finishing the screenplay. I had written part of the screenplay and then I raised the money afterwards because I’m tired of writing films on spec and never ever getting the money for it. I’ve written five or six scripts and I can’t get money for it. So for me it was like, You know what? This time I’m going to try to see if people are even interested in this first with a pitch and a bunch of scenes written and then if it goes I’ll write the whole thing. I actually called Adam about this project in 2001 and I said, ‘Do you want to shoot this film over New Year’s in Paris (involving) two days about a couple falling apart?’ He was like, ‘Great. Let’s do it.’ And then I shot ‘Before Sunset.’
“It’s hard when you’ve been trying for 20 years to make movies. I wrote my first screenplay when I was 17 and it never happened. And then I wrote another one and another one and another one. So I was kind of giving out. I said, you know, it’s better if I write for someone else like Richard Linklater (who directed ‘Sunset’) so at least you get the film made. I had kind of given up on writing for a short time. And then one day about two years ago I was like, ‘I still want to do this little funny film, you know’ and I called Adam and (asked), ‘Would you be in it?’ At first, I was going to do it for like $20,000 and shoot guerilla (style) in the streets of France with one tiny digital camera. And then as I pitched that story to a producer I met for another film he was like, ‘Why don’t you try to make it as a real film?’ So basically that’s how it happened.”
Delpy had a few meetings with Goldberg, she added, “because I wanted him to really inspire me — not on him (personally) because they’re very different people, Jack and him. But I wanted him to be involved a little more than usual. I knew him and I wanted him to do the part. I had meetings with, believe it or not, my parents (Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy) about the characters (they play in the film, who are Delpy’s character’s parents). I had many meetings with Alexia Landeau to play my sister because that’s a realm I don’t know very well because I don’t have a sister. I don’t know what kind of dynamic that is so I spent a lot of time talking with her.
“And then I started writing the screenplay. I wrote a few scenes here and there and then I sent some to Adam and got my parents to read their scenes. They liked it and they felt comfortable doing it. I always feel it’s nice for the actors to totally feel comfortable with anything you write. And I had this luxury to have all the actors involved while I was writing it. It was nice to be able to write for Adam, for Alexia, for my parents so I wrote it with them in mind. It’s much easier to hear their voice doing it. It’s like you hear them doing it and you know them well enough that you know they’re going to be capable of saying certain lines, which are going to be even funnier because it’s them saying it.”
In the case of her character Marion’s on-screen father, she noted, that “on the page (he) sounded so nasty because he says such horrible things all the time. But I know my Dad so well that (I realized) he would bring this quality that’s kind of cute because he’s kind of fat and he looks like Santa Claus. And even if he says horrible things I think he’s still kind of not totally horrible. I had this luxury to know that certain lines even if they sounded harsh would come up funny.”
Delpy was fortunate to have real-life parents who’ve been actors in France for many years: “They’ve been working for 40 years. They’re not stars, but they’re famous theater actors in France. They’re like constantly working. I was lucky to get them. My Dad was doing a play. My Mom was shooting a movie. They were both busy while shooting my film so they had very little time like when to change the schedule. My Dad was rehearsing three plays at once. They’re extremely busy actors.”
It was the first time Delpy had directed her parents in a film and it went very well. “Actually, they played the game,” she said. “It’s kind of sweet. The minute we were on set they became actors. They were not my parents. I mean, at times (they were), obviously, and I was their daughter, at times. Like I was really concerned that they were well taken care of. You know, they’re older people. It’s a small shoot. There’s no real luxury. So basically I wanted to make sure they were well taken care of, but outside of that we played the game of like I was the director and they were the actors. They were a lot of fun to work with, actually.”
Asked how Julie the director handles working with Julie the writer, she replied, “On the set I kind of would let go of the writer side of me and not be precious about my writing. For example, I have a scene with Alexia playing my sister on the couch at the end (of the film) where it was a very long scene explaining a lot of political stuff and a lot of things about relationships. When we got there and I saw that it didn’t feel natural for her to say all those things — (and didn’t feel natural) to me, actually — I cut it all out. I said to her, ‘Just say what feels more natural to you.’ I made her do the scene over and over and over until there were bits and pieces that seemed more natural and then in the editing room I cut 90 percent of it and kept what seemed to me more real. For me, it’s like suddenly I’m on the set and the writing doesn’t seem very good. It happens to everybody.
“Then the director takes over and not the writer with an ego of a writer saying, ‘Oh, my God, it’s my writing. You can’t touch it.’ I kind of throw it out. I kind of disconnect myself from the writer and be like, ‘OK, forget it.’ If it’s not good, it’s not good. It’s about the movie. It’s the same thing as an actress. When I was in the editing room and I realized, ‘OK, this is my big scene, but you know what? It doesn’t work in the film.’ Who cares if it’s a great scene for me as an actress or if I look good in it? If it doesn’t work, it’s out. So to go from one thing to the other you have to kind of put aside some kind of ego, If an actor comes up to you and says, ‘Listen, I don’t feel that line at all,’ well some lines I feel that you need to fight for because (with) some lines you have to know what you want.
“For example, I had a line in the scene with the mother and Adam when Adam has to say the mother’s a slut, too. Adam didn’t like that line. He thought it was too harsh and too offensive to women. And I was like, ‘But it’s Jack. It’s Jack’s character.’ And I insisted. I let him do all the versions of what he thought was more proper and then I kept what I thought was right, which was the original line. Sometimes Adam adlibbed a few lines and my Dad adlibbed a few lines and I changed a few lines, as well. I mean, me as an actress. I was like, ‘These lines that the writer wrote are not for me.’ I realized on the set that the line I had written for myself I didn’t like. So I changed it on the spot. You actors, actors do that on movies and I think it’s always good when they do that because some times you have to know the limit like what’s right, what’s wrong. What’s great is that you can do different takes. You can take a take (that) the actor comes up with or what you come up with or you can stick to the original depending on what works best. That’s when you need to really throw the writer away.”
When a filmmaker is not only the director, but the writer and the actress and the editor and the composer, as Delpy is on “Paris,” she pointed out, “That’s when you need to compartmentalize your creative process – meaning, the writer is one side of me that has faults. I’m not a perfect writer. You know what I mean? Sometimes writers have written something and you need to do it exactly the same way because that’s what they think is brilliant and they’re like that for the entire film. Sometimes you need to be strong on things you’ve written because you have the big picture in your head and you know what’s going to be funny. Even if people don’t agree with you on set you know it’s the right thing.
“But sometimes if you hear that someone’s coming out with something better or something more natural in their mouth — like if they need to change a verb that doesn’t seem right to them — you’re not going to fight for it (unless) you’re an obsessive, ego maniac writer. Otherwise, you need to adapt and your movie is alive until the very end, until the mix. I added a lot of things sound-wise in the mix that makes people laugh throughout the film. I think a film is alive all the way throughout the process and that’s what’s so much fun about it. You’re writing the comedy all the way to the very end of the mix. For me, I just need to let go of the writer in me when I’m directing.”
Is it as difficult as it seems to star in a film that you’re directing? “I would say it’s easier to direct myself than to direct a very difficult actor,” Delpy observed. “It’s not easy. It’s a joke when I say that. But the truth is you need to find one or two people on the film that you trust — either the first a.d. or the DOP — to ask them, ‘What did you think?’ Not that you need to rely on them entirely. As an actor you can feel when you’ve done an OK scene. When something feels real, feels right, you can sense it. I’ve been doing it for so many years I know that when I’m the least aware of what I’ve done it’s usually when it’s the best. So when suddenly I don’t remember what I’ve done, it’s usually the good take. I usually watch the monitor and I can tell if it’s a good take or not. I have pretty good judgment when I know when people are good or not and so I can tell the same for myself when I’m good or bad.
“It’s not easy and in a way maybe that’s why I put a lot of the funny stuff more on Adam, in a way to protect myself in case I was totally not capable of handling my own self. I’m more of the straight man and he’s more of the funny guy. And he’s more of the central character in a way even though they’re both quite central. I made it that way consciously because I knew that in case I totally can’t handle directing myself at least he’ll be good. Because he’s the central character at least the central part of the film will be good. But then as I was on the set it quickly was clear to me that when the DOP told me it wasn’t bad, it usually wasn’t bad, and when the first a.d. liked it (it was OK). I mean, you need to sense it. It’s pretty obvious, you know.”
Staying on that thought, she added, “I knew when the take was OK and then I would watch it and if I felt that I had enough to edit it I would stop. If I felt I could get something a little better, I would do one more. The only danger is to be very insecure as an actor and to do too many takes on yourself because you feel it’s never good enough. That’s the only danger. I only had that problem on the very first day. I couldn’t tell the first day. And then after the first day, I was fine. I put aside my insecurity as an actress, which is a natural thing, and then kind of just judged my performance as a director.”
Although Delpy likes to rehearse she wasn’t able to do it while making “Paris.” “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to rehearse,” she noted. “I was lucky that I got a little time with Adam before I left for France (for the shoot). We could discuss a little bit what I thought of the character, what I wanted it to be. But it was even before I wrote the entire finished script. So when we got on set, unfortunately he was busy on another film (Tony Scott’s sci-fi thriller ‘Deja Vu’). I mean, good for him, but bad for me. Basically, he arrived 12 hours before the day of shooting. We had already pushed the film one week, which made us lose part of the money. On such a small budget, pushing a week can be lethal. Last minute, he was stuck on that other film. It was supposed to be over by May and then they extended the shoot for a month.
“We couldn’t start on time. We were waiting for him. And then some more madness happened like he was more stuck and then he could only leave Saturday to arrive on Sunday and we were shooting on Monday. So that was very stressful. We couldn’t push another week. We would have lost the financing for the film. If he had arrived one day later we would have (lost it). I don’t think I slept that week prior to starting the movie. I don’t think I slept a minute and I don’t think anyone around me slept a minute. That’s the kind of thing that’s very stressful and that’s the price to pay when you have a tiny movie. You don’t have the luxury to tell people, ‘Listen, you said yes to my film you have to be there on time.’ So we had no rehearsal and it was very stressful. I mean, it was not Adam’s fault, obviously, but it was very stressful to be this little fish that has no power to say to the actor and even less to his agent, ‘Listen, he said yes to a movie, he has to arrive on time.’ We had no power to say that.”
Looking back on that period, she added, “It was the worst thing ever. It actually brought so much set to the set that someone almost died. It became like a real drama because of it. I only wish that (in the future) I have the luxury to say to an actor, ‘OK, you’re locked. And you have to rehearse and you have to arrive on time on set and things like that.’ It’s always (about) people’s availability. I know that. But to that extent, that was a little stressful those few days, I can tell you that.”
Shooting took place over a period of just 20 days. “It was very stressful, but not as stressful as not knowing if the film would happen,” she noted. “It was stressful because sometimes we didn’t have time (to shoot everything she wanted to do). In the party scene, for example, I would love to have had more close-ups and more coverage. I had so little coverage. I knew it was the only way. We would have not been able to shoot everything if I had covered more. Sometimes you have to limit yourself. It’s really tough. I knew I was going to suffer in the editing room, which I did for that scene. Everything was tricked (to make it look like she had the coverage). It’s amazing what you can do in the editing room afterwards. I didn’t want to do the constant jump cut thing because that’s kind of the cheap way to fix things. So I did (something) that seemed like coverage, but it isn’t.
“The only moments where there’s jump cuts is at the end (where) actually I don’t need jump cuts because I could have done (it) in other ways, but I did it (using jump cuts) as a choice. I didn’t want to be limited and do jump cuts because I had no choice. I kind of hate that. I didn’t want to do it as a forced thing. But the party scene was very, very tricky.”
Filmmaker flashbacks: From Aug. 21, 1989’s column: “When the boxoffice dust settles today, Universal’s ‘Uncle Buck,’ which opened Wednesday to a very promising $1.6 million … should be one of the weekend’s top grossing films. ‘Buck,’ which was written and directed by John Hughes and stars John Candy, widened its run Friday to approximately 1,800 screens.
“Coupled with Universal and Imagine Entertainment’s ‘Parenthood,’ which has topped the boxoffice since opening two weekends ago and has already grossed more than $35 million, ‘Buck’s’ big opening bucks are understandably a source of considerable satisfaction to the studio.
“‘We’re very excited. Taking the two films, it’s obvious there is a large audience out there for family entertainment and right now we’re capturing the major share of that,’ Si Kornblit, Universal’s executive vice president of worldwide marketing, told me Friday.
“Through the early and mid-summer period, Universal had no new product in the marketplace, although it was still doing good business with its spring hit ‘Field of Dreams.’ ‘With the timetable we had for our upcoming films, this was the right scheduling,’ observes Kornblit. ‘We were not going to go in with these pictures early in the summer in the face of the sequels and major events like ‘Batman.’ So it was a conscious decision to come in later in the summer with movies we knew would play well and that audiences would love.’
“What was the marketing plan behind ‘Buck?’ ‘It was a two-pronged strategy in terms of the audience we were after,’ replies Kornblit. ‘Obviously, it was a family audience we were looking at and a young audience. We tapped into both of them. We knew we had very strong materials. Our trailer and TV commercials were created by David Sameth, our senior vp of marketing/creative advertising. What we wanted to do was give the trailer a chance to work, which is why we moved our date(from late July to mid-August)…
“All of the advertising materials for ‘Buck’ were created in-house rather than by an outside agency. ‘Control is a part of it,’ explains Kornblit. ‘We set our own strategy and direction and it doesn’t need to then be translated by another person. So it’s easier to stay on target. We try to do as much work in-house as possible. At times, you’re so buy you can’t do it all. And there are times when certain filmmakers have an interest in working with certain creative resources, so we do that, too.'”
Update: “Uncle Buck” opened Aug. 18, 1989 to $8.8 million at 1,804 theaters ($4,875 per theater). It went on to gross $66.8 million domestically, making it the year’s 18th biggest movie.
Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.
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