The current wave of French directors making Hollywood films seems to have taken Jean-Luc Godard’s advice (“All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl”), amped it up with a healthy dash of special effects or 3D and taken it to the bank.
Louis Leterrier, director of The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans, will in January be making Summit’s movie about magicians who rob banks during performances Now You See Me, with Star Trek writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci producing. Fred Cavayé, director of the original French version of the Russell Crowe-thriller The Next Three Days, is in talks with studios to remake his latest, Point Blank.
“I grew up watching American movies, so my lexicon is American directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas,” Leterrier said. “These movies seeped into my artistic DNA. At the same time, because Paris is the capital of world cinema, I was also watching French films, German cinema or kung fu movies from Hong Kong. What makes me and other French directors different from Americans is that we were feeding ourselves from other cultures.”
The communication revolution and modern travel realities are making it easier for French helmers to cross over to Hollywood. Today an agent in Beverly Hills can watch something online and make contact pretty within hours. “There’s a fluid traffic in information,” says Ron Halpern, executive vice-president of international production at Studio Canal. “The world has gotten smaller. The speed of communication means that foreign directors are on people’s radars much quicker. And when a studio is looking for something fresh and interesting, a foreign eye can often bring something.”
Luc Besson, the French writer/director who came to prominence in the 1980s with films like La Femme Nikita and Subway, has presided over this new movement through his EuropaCorp production company. Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D) got his first break directing High Tension (2003) for EuropaCorp. Morel, Leterrier and Olivier Megaton all broke in on the company’s Transporter film franchise. Morel was cinematographer on the first Transporter (2002) before making his directorial debut on District B13 (2004), a EuropaCorp thriller written by Besson, and then reverting back to being a cameraman on Transporter 2 (2005). But it was Taken (2008) that punched Morel into Hollywood’s consciousness. Leterrier directed the first two Transporter movies before Marvel offered him The Incredible Hulk (2008), followed by Clash of the Titans. Morel has said that the Transporter films were like workshops for him and his colleagues. EuropaCorp has had to scramble a bit as several of its top directors have been poached for Hollywood films. But as ex-CEO Pierre-Ange Le Pogam observed, U.S. agents snapping up his directors allowed the company to develop even more new talent. Leterrier says: “Luc Besson did things like a French version of Roger Corman. When I started at EuropaCorp, I was making Luc his tea. He really respects passion, and he could see the passion in me. Luc has tried to re-inject the industry as much as he can, and extend the reach of French cinema.”
France’s prolific production biz contributes to its profile as a launching pad for directorial talent as well. The French made 261 films last year, more than any other European country, most aimed at the domestic market. Between 10 and 15 movies are released each week, but only one or two will travel outside France. The rest are mostly financed by broadcasters such as TF1, M6 and Canal Plus and are designed for primetime TV viewing as well. French audiences often wrinkle their noses at such made-for-export productions as Morel’s From Paris With Love, which starred John Travolta.
Most of the big names in this new generation are still in their mid-to-late 30s. Aja is 32, Leterrier is 37 and Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) is 38. A notable exception is Jacques Audiard, the 59-year-old director of last year’s French Oscar nominee A Prophet, a documentary-like exploration of what it’s like for a young Arab in a French prison.
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Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) will next direct Rivals, which he has co-written with director James Gray (We Own the Night) for Studio Canal. Rivals takes its inspiration from 2008 French criminal drama Les Liens du Sang but has relocated the action to 1970s Philadelphia. Canet’s Little White Lies, co-produced by EuropaCorp and starring his wife Marion Cotillard, has yet to be released in the U.S.
Fred Cavayé is in negotiations with various studios to remake Point Blank, his adrenalin-pumped Paris-set action thriller which Magnolia released last month. Paul Haggis remade Cavayé’s debut feature Pour Elle (2008), about a man trying to spring his wife from prison, as The Next Three Days. Point Blank –- the English title is a nod to the 1967 John Boorman movie -– follows a male hospital nurse who has to smuggle a gangster across Paris if he wants to keep his kidnapped wife alive.
Pascal Chaumeil is directing Diane Kruger opposite French star Dany Boon in Fly Me to the Moon, which starts filming this fall. The romantic comedy — about a woman determined to break her family curse of all first marriages ending in divorce -– reunites Chaumeil with his Heartbreaker writer Laurent Zeitoun. After that he plans to shoot an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down for Brit producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey (An Education) and Film4 in spring 2012. Next up will be vivvre c’est mieux que mourir (Living Is Better Than Dying), with Heartbreaker star Romain Duris. This time around Duris will play a likeable dreamer who takes refuge in a hotel from the police; once there he buys himself time by pitching an over-the-top blockbuster to a Hollywood producer. Heartbreaker, starring Duris and Vanessa Paradis, was one of the highest-grossing French films of 2010. Working Title is planning an English-language remake.
Christophe Gans (Silent Hill, Brotherhood of the Wolf) is developing a 3D version of classic French crime series Fantomas, starring Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno. Paris-based La Petite Reine (Public Enemy No 1) is producing this $70 million production. Created in 1911 by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, the masked arch-criminal Fantomas is one of France’s most popular fictional characters.
Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3) starts shooting Taken 2 with Liam Neeson in November. The script is by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and co-stars Maggie Grace reprising her role as Neeson’s daughter. Kamen and Besson also wrote Megaton’s latest EuropaCorp movie Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana as a vengeful assassin, which Sony Pictures releases in the U.S. on August 26.
Pierre Morel (Taken, From Paris With Love) spent 2 years developing Dune for Paramount. After leaving the project, Morel danced with several other projects including E.D.F at Warner Bros. for producers Sam Raimi and QED’s Bill Block. He passed on various tentpoles including Die Hard 5, Wolverine and the sequel to Taken. Now Morel is circling a spy thriller being developed by fellow French director Louis Leterrier and Ben Smith at Universal-based Captivate Entertainment, with an eye to a 2012 start date. Meanwhile, Morel has branched out into producing with his new Elastic Collision banner which specialises in action movies and thrillers out of Europe. Elastic Collision’s first credit will be Overdrive, which Morel is producing with writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (Wanted, 3:10 To Yuma). Colombian-born Antonio Negret (Transit) is the director. The film begins shooting in Marseilles in October and is currently being re-cast. Morel’s manager Renee Tab is executive producing. Morel and Tab also have an international heist series in development with MRC, as well as an epic series based on the rise of William the Conqueror which they are producing with Ben Silverman and Starz.
Jérôme Salle, writer/director of Anthony Zimmer (2005) — which Studio Canal remade as The Tourist -– has been linked to a biopic of Jacques Cousteau, the French submariner and explorer who captured people’s imaginations in the 1950s.