When did you discover movies?
I was very young. Six, seven, eight. But I really fell in love when I was eleven. At the age of twelve or thirteen I'd cut stills from films which I found in children's magazines and put them in a small scrapbook. I'd underline not only the name of the actors but also the name of the directors. The first director I underlined was John Ford, the director of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Fort Apache. I saw them both in the same month and realized there were similarities between them and l that the similarities were due to the fact that they were directed by the same man. The second was William Wellman and the third was Henry Hathaway. At the age of fifteen I was already writing screenplays, very imitative of American films, mostly westerns. They were very silly but by this point I knew I wanted to be a film director. I was also seeing a lot of films. Not as much as I wanted because I was at boarding school and could only see films on Sunday. I gradually became involved in the choice of the film in the school. I'd see films because of their stars. I saw all the films of Gary Cooper, even the old films. I saw Springfield Rifle which made a big impression, Distant Drums, Mr. Deeds and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer which was a big shock. And John Wayne, of course. I think I saw Wake of the Red Witch three times in the same week. Sometimes I had to lie to my parents. I'd say that I was going to the museum when I was actually going to see films. I was not like my pals at school who only saw new films. I'd go to small cinemas to see old films like Thieves Highway by Jules Dassin.
You've mentioned a lot of American directors and movies. Were French movies as important to you?
They became important when I left boarding school and I discovered La Grande Illusion and the films written by Jacques Prévert. When I became a real film buff in my twenties, I tried to see all kind of films at the cinémathèque. That's how I met a number of people who are still my friends. We created a film club called Nickelodeon. We met practically every day and saw a lot of different films. When we created the film club we decided to concentrate on American films because a lot of them were more difficult to see than French films, especially in the original subtitled versions. At the time we didn't know that there was a problem with the French films of the thirties and forties. In the art cinemas we were seeing plenty of French films by Feyder, Cocteau, Carné, Grémillon. But the films of Stanley Donen, John Ford, westerns, musicals, were not shown except at the Studio Parnasse which was a very important cinema for a lot of us. So we concentrated on American films. But we saw all kinds of film. We saw Japanese films -- I remember the big shock I had when I discovered Mizoguchi. We saw films from the eastern bloc, Boris Barnet, Donskoi...
How did your parents react to your passion for the cinema?
My parents were very upset that I wanted to be in films. They wanted me to go to law school. That was put in my biography and I've had many questions about the influence of law school on my films which proves that the biographical approach is very bad since I only went to a law class once. I went the first day and I got so bored that I only showed up at the end of the year for the exam and handed in a blank piece of paper because I'd never been to the class. We were forced to stay at least an hour and a half even if we were not doing anything and I was very worried because I was missing an Allan Dwan film that was on in the 20th arrondissement. So it always amuses me when I read in articles that my law studies were a big influence on films of mine like Le Juge et L'Assassin and L.627! Anyway, my parents said if I didn't follow their advice and go to law school and if I stayed in their place, I'd have to pay rent. So very early on I had to earn a living. I went to many, many newspapers like Télérama and wrote small essays on films like The Searchers, or Distant Drums. I wrote about ten or fifteen articles. But it was difficult. A lot of the time I was not eating much. I was saving my money to go to see films. There were plenty of cinemas at that time that were cheap, especially when you went before noon. This lasted two or three years when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty. I then started doing interviews for a monthly magazine. The first of these were with Claude Sautet and Alberto Lattuada. Finally Jean-Pierre Melville and Claude Sautet went to see my parents and told them to let me do film. So they were my two godfathers in the cinema. Then Melville decided to take me on as a kind of fourth or fifth assistant. I was quickly promoted because Melville always hated a few people on the set. So he started to hate the first AD, even before the shoot, and the poor man was forbidden to go to the set. The second AD, Volker Schlöndorff, became the real first AD and as I was the assistant to Schlöndorff, my responsibilities grew bigger. It was a pretty terrible experience for me because Melville was a dictator on the set and loved to humiliate people and I was very shy.
Was he encouraging of your aspirations?
In the sense that he was paying me a little bit of money he was helping. But on the set it was a frightening experience because I saw him humiliate people like his art director several times in front of the whole group. I was always thinking, do we have to suffer so much when we make films? And when I became a director I reacted very strongly against that experience. But sometimes he could be wonderful. When he wanted to charm someone, he was irresistible; he could tell you stories about the French underworld, the Resistance, about his love of American films. So he played a very important part in my life.
When you went to him, did he know you wanted to become a director?
Yes. But at that time he thought that no one could make it. He thought that there were only two directors in France, Clouzot and himself. After Léon Morin, Prêtre, which, by the way is a very beautiful film and which is a part of Melville I like the best, better than some of his thrillers, which I find more abstract and mechanical, he said to me you are a very bad assistant. You'll never succeed in that job but you might succeed as a press agent. And he said that to the producer of the film, Georges de Beauregard. And that was a wise thing to say. I would have been a terrible assistant director. I probably wouldn't have got any work and might have given up.
Do you think the two things you did prior to directing -- working as an assistant and a critic -- helped when it came to directing? Can you learn from watching or only from doing?
I think you can learn by seeing films. The same way you learn by reading books Not how to write but how to appreciate certain things. The French writer, Paul Leautaud, who also worked as a critic, was once asked if the fact that he had to read and write about a lot of books conflicted with his creative talent. He said he didn't think looking at or admiring beautiful women was in conflict with making love. And this is true! But I never considered myself a critic. It was always a temporary stage for me, a way to learn. Learning by seeing all kinds of films and learning by having to write about films. Truffaut thought that when you write screenplays, summarizing the plot was a very good exercise. As a press agent I had to learn to do a small résumé of the action to find out what the backbone of the film was. Nowadays when I'm writing a screenplay and I've done one, two, three drafts, either I or the writers I'm working with will do a small résumé of the action, to see if we have a story that we can tell in five or six sentences and if it makes sense. So I learned many things by being a press agent because when you're a press agent you have all the advantages of being an assistant without the problems. I was able to watch, to study all the different stages of film-making. With the producer Georges de Beauregard I'd start when the film was being written so I was reading the screenplay of Le Doulos or Platoon 317, or Pierrot le Fou. I'd then go on the set and watch the director working. I'd sometimes see the rushes. I'd go to the edit and see the relationship with the distributor and with the exhibitors. I was learning and I met wonderful people. I had the privilege of being there with Jean-Luc Godard, with Claude Chabrol. And a lot of them are still my friends. I even learned my trade. On Platoon 317, for example, Pierre Schoendoerffer let me do the trailer. I wrote the text and chose the shots with the editor.
Did you at any time try to make a short?
Yes, I did. When I was working for Georges de Beauregard. And then after leaving him to work with Pierre Rissient. He wanted to make portmanteau films, a series of short films, and give a chance to some new directors, so I used that opportunity and worked on two films, Les Baisers and La Chance et L'Amour as writer-director.
How did they turn out?
They got good reviews but I think they're both very bad. They were very imitative of the American cinema. I think they were competently done but were very childish and lacked any personality. But I learned because I worked with people like Raoul Coutard and on the second film with the composer, Antoine Duhamel. The most important thing I learned was that I was not ready. It was stupid to do a film if I was going to do empty adaptations of thrillers without any style or individuality. So I decided -- and my wife was instrumental in this -- to learn more about life and to do a feature when I was ready, not technically but emotionally in my heart and in my head as a human being. I decided to wait, to go on studying films, but to live and to be curious about life and politics.
What was the gap between the short and your first feature?
Nine or ten years. I did the shorts in 1964. Then when I thought I was ready I wrote two screenplays. One was an adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson story called The Beach of Falesa which I wanted to do with James Mason and Jacques Brel, both of whom accepted. But I was tricked by the producer who took the script and hired another director. I then withdrew and could never find the finance.
Let's talk about The Watchmaker of Saint-Paul. How did you come across the story? What attracted you to it?
After failing on The Beach of Falesa I was trying to find another story and discovered two subjects at the same time. The first was about two people called Bony and Laffont who belonged to the French Gestapo. Bony had been a cop and Laffont was a gangster. They united and created a group which tortured and killed many people during the Occupation. At the same time, I was a great fan of Georges Simenon. I'd read a lot of his books and had worked as the publicist on two adaptations of his work, Le Chat and La Veuve Couderc, two beautiful films directed by Granier-Deferre. I remember thinking at that time that Simenon had provided the French cinema with a lot of interesting films. When I read The Watchmaker of Everton, as it was originally called, I was deeply moved. I remember thinking it would be good if I could transpose it to my birthplace, Lyons. I wrote a thirty-four-page adaptation then thought to myself that although I'd written two screenplays on my own I'd found it very difficult. Sometimes I could stare at a blank page for hours and not write. So I thought that for my first film it would be better to work with somebody on the script. And based on my knowledge as a press agent I quickly realized that the screenwriters who were fashionable and were working with the directors of the seventies were often working on three or four films at the same time and were both too busy and difficult to contact because they were so successful. So I thought to myself, well, I'm dealing with a subject which is based on a relationship between a father and a son. It would be good if I was working with people belonging to an older generation. I was fascinated by the enthusiasm of the blacklist writers I'd met, by the fact that they were so happy to work again, and that they were still very young in their attitude. So I decided to approach some screenwriters who'd been neglected. Firstly, they'd give me more time because they wouldn't be doing three or four films at the same time. Secondly, as they were out of fashion they'd be eager to prove how good they were. I decided to see a lot of the films of the forties and fifties and study how they were written and two names came out. First Aurenche and Bost. And then Maurice Aubergé who had written La Vérite Sur Bébé Dong and Becker's Falbalas. By watching those films I realized that some of the criticisms that had been levelled at them should have been made of the directors not the writers. Aurenche and Bost, for instance, were writing screenplays which were not only written with a real freedom, but I liked what they had to say politically. In Douce there is a scene where a wealthy woman, Marguerite Moreno, goes to see a poor family. At the end of the scene she says 'patience and resignation' and Roger Pigaut who plays the servant says 'impatience and revolt'. To write that in 1942 during the Occupation! I became very respectful towards them because they were taking a very strong position. You have to be brave to put a line like that in a script when the Germans are out there and the words 'impatience' and 'revolt' have a tangible meaning. I was right because the scene was censored by Vichy. Secondly, I thought their dialogue was rich but not overdone. Truffaut had made an attack on them which was preventing them from working but which was totally unfair and totally wrong. In my opinion, his attack should have been on the directors. In Les Orgueilleux, for example, he criticized a particular line. I thought if you gave that line to Alfred Hitchcock he could make the scene work. Why didn't the scene work? Because this line is underlined by the direction, by making a special shot for it. If it had been done in a master shot then the line would not have become so self-conscious. And the line itself was quite inventive. It's when Michele Morgan is sending a telegram and she doesn't have enough money so she says, 'leave out "tenderness" and "love"'. If it had been directed with a greater fluidity it would have been far more effective. So it was the director who was at fault.
How did you make contact with them?
I had a contact from the agent of Aurenche and Bost. They arranged a meeting so I had lunch with Aurenche. He was enthusiastic about working with me, although he and Bost quickly said, don't do the French Gestapo story. We don't want to do a film about horrible people they said, because even though we're making them horrible, it will be very difficult for the audience not to see them a little bit as heroes and there is a moral issue here. Bost was totally opposed to it. He said, no, we must not touch this subject. But they agreed to work with me on The Watchmaker of Everton without being paid. During this time I'd written to Georges Simenon to ask for a free option and he'd said no. I wrote back. He said no. I wrote long letters analysing the novel. After four or five letters, he said, okay, I'll give a free option for a year or eighteen months. So I started working with Aurenche and Bost and at the same time talking to producers. I found somebody who gave me a little bit of money to pay them but for fourteen months I didn't earn anything. I had stopped working and it was fourteen very difficult months. It was tough. We were helped by some friends. Sometimes Claude Sautet helped us but mostly it was Philippe Sarde the musician who was very generous. He invited us to lunch very often.
Can you describe how you worked together? What was the most difficult thing for you?
The most difficult thing was to convince Aurenche to stay on the project. Aurenche was unpredictable, crazy, brilliant, hyper-brilliant. You'd set up somewhere to work for two or three weeks. Then after ten days he'd say I have to go to Ardèche to see somebody there and leave suddenly. I'd go back to Paris and suddenly he'd arrive unexpectedly. One day he phoned and said, come and meet me at St Lazare. I met him and on the page of pocketbook he'd written a brilliant scene, a beautiful scene which was not in the book. It's the scene in the park where they're walking the dogs and Noiret says to Rochefort, you know, one day a little boy I didn't know came up to me and said, you've changed. And Rochefort says, what a mean thing to do. And Noiret says no, it's not mean. It's an act of love to cross the street, meet somepne and tell him he has changed. It's a beautiful scene and one which I discovered on St Lazare station! We'd never discussed it but I don't think I changed a single word! Anyway, Aurenche would come up with ideas like this. Some of them were totally crazy, some of them were beautiful. The problem was to keep a kind of discipline. Aurenche had been influenced by the surrealist movement. He was full of poetic ideas. Everything he was saying about life was inspiring, funny. Bost was very much a Protestant. He had the kind of mind that put some order into the beautiful disorder of Aurenche. In fact, very often in that relationship I think it was Bost's role to keep Aurenche inspired and working. Aurenche was always quitting because he said I'm not inspired, I will never be able to please you. In fact, in a beautiful book of interviews, La Suite a l'Ecran, Aurenche says a good screenplay is a letter of love from the screenwriter to the director. He adds that he works well only with people whom he wants to impress and names Bost and myself, saying he wrote his best scenes because he wanted to astonish us. That is the condition for a screenwriter, he says. To work well you must want to give the director a gift. I loved both of them, but mostly Aurenche. I've never met anyone as young as him, anyone who was less a prisoner of the rules. He told me he hated working with directors who were too classic in their thinking. He said, 'I'm not a mécanicien. I'm not somebody who can do a perfectly constructed plot. I cannot do thrillers. I can write about characters and I can understand characters but I'm not a craftsman.' One thing I learned from Aurenche was not to write a synopsis of two or three pages. Of course we had my forty-page treatment. But we didn't work from the treatment. Aurenche said if we work on each scene at length we'll discover a detail we can incorporate into the next scene. We spent a long time discussing how to do it before beginning. Simenon's book is about a lonely man. Aurenche came to me one day and said to have a guy who is lonely, who has no friends, is very banal. Loneliness is more interesting if you're surrounded by people, he said. He told me he had a friend who was always surrounded by people, always at dinner, always making jokes, but who was one of the loneliest people he knew. I can credit Aurenche with these ideas. If you're trying to represent something, don't illustrate it. Go against the idea, give it a different light. In this way you'll make the scene fresher and more alive.
How much did you change the screenplay from the novel?
Eighty per cent of the screenplay is original. Of course transposing it to France changed some situations and some legal situations. I invented the political dimension of the story. We changed it totally to suit the time and because I wanted to make a contemporary film. I think that Simenon is politically more abstract. I learned a lot from working with Aurenche and Bost. I often wanted to say things against society and police. For example, in the scene between the cop and Noiret on the train, I had written a much longer monologue about the brutality of the police. Bost said, no, you have to cut that. I agree with what you say about the police, about police brutality. But look, our character has started to live now and he doesn't want to speak about that. You want to say it not him. We must listen to him now. There are certain things he can say and certain things he cannot say. He made me cut several things like that. And I learned a lot. I discovered that working with people who were older than me was bringing new ideas into the script. For example, Aurenche brought the story of one of his great-uncles, the man with the matches, into the screenplay. It's an autobiographical thing. So he was nourishing the father with his childhood. And I was nourishing the other characters with my ideas.
Do you think three life experiences will create a richer screenplay than one?
That depends. A film written by one person can be very rich. Some films written by five writers can be shallow and impersonal. Then again, some -- Italian films, for example -- can be superb. The director and the writer can live a lot of experience which will help them. So it's a complex thing. But I think it's more interesting to work with screenwriters who have had an interesting life.
Before we come on to talk about the preparation for the film itself, I just wanted to ask you how you managed to raise the money in the end?
It was a nightmare. I'd met Philippe Noiret and given him the treatment. Three or four days later he said yes. Several weeks later I organized a lunch with him and Aurenche. They met, he liked the screenplay and said yes again. It was then that the nightmare began. I thought having a screenplay, having a producer, having Philippe Noiret and having an interest from the people at Pathé and Gaumont, it would be easy to raise the money. But it wasn't. Firstly, the producer I'd found had another film he was interested in. It was a first film by a director called Serge Leroy, a gangster film called Le Mataf, with Michel Constantin. In the end he decided he'd rather do that than mine. So I had a screenplay but no producer. I went to all the producers I'd been working for as a publicist. I was turned down by every one of them, very brutally, with a lack of respect. They just took the screenplay and said look at it, it's too heavy, too much dialogue. Most of them hadn't read it. One of them even said, my secretary read it and didn't like it. Several times I went with Philippe Noiret and they received us very badly. I felt insulted, discouraged but I tried to fight back. I was not doing one thing after the other. I was pursuing them all together. I had fifteen rejections. The people working for Warner had to send it to London, then it got lost between London and Paris. Some people didn't respond to us, people for whom I'd done fifteen films as a press agent. They had the screenplay for months and didn't respond.
Were you a problem in the sense that you hadn't yet directed a feature film?
Yes, of course. I was treated very badly. Very rudely. I was unknown so they wouldn't help me at all. Philippe Noiret's agent advised him not to do the film with me. And Philippe stayed despite that. Then one day I went to Claude Sautet's producer, Raymond Danon, for whom I'd done a lot of films as a publicist, Les Choses de la Vie, Le Chat. I gave him the figures. I had everything: a schedule of forty days, the cost of the film -- two million six at that time of which I had one million four from the distribution plus a guarantee from Pathé Gaumont -- plus Philippe Noiret who was doing the film for half his usual fee. Danon asked me is the screenplay good? Yes, I said. Okay, he said. I will call the people at Pathé. If what you say is true, I will do the film. He called me two days later and said he'd spoken to the people at Pathé and they'd confirmed what I'd said. So he made an offer. I accepted immediately and we started preparing with Philippe Noiret and François Perrier who was going to play the cop instead of Jean Rochefort. Then Danon came back to me and said, I've read the script and I don't like it at all. But I gave you my word so if you can do it in thirty-six days instead of forty, let's do that. I will always be grateful for that because he kept his word. But we were really considered as a no-film in his eyes: a very little, unimportant film. At that time they were preparing a film with Annie Girardot and Bernard Fresson. It was called Ursule et Grelu and the budget was ten million francs. No one even remembers the film now but at the time their people were constantly reminding us that there was one important film being produced there -- and it wasn't mine. I was being paid one hundred thousand francs which was about seven thousand pounds for co-writing, producing and directing. One day Danon came to the office and said you're being paid very little. I'll double your salary if you shoot all the interiors in Paris instead of Lyons and do a week for the location work in Lyons and everything else in Paris. I said no. And I saw in his eyes a look of total astonishment. He just couldn't understand. I wasn't making any money. I was refusing because I knew that the interiors were important. I also knew that I wanted to move from the interior to the exterior in the same shot and that the interiors in Lyons were not the same as the interiors in Paris. Danon was very puzzled and in his eye I saw clearly the thought, okay, I'm dealing with a madman so it's better if we do the film and forget about it. He went out and it was the end of any kind of discussion. He had just had a problem with a first film with Alain Delon so he put in my contract that if I was two days late by the middle of the second week I'd be fired. Noiret said, don't worry. I'll fight for you. But it was in my contract. Then came a new problem. Francois Perrier became unavailable. He had to do another film being made by his son. So suddenly I'd lost one of my two leads and had five days to find another actor. In the list given me by the distributors there were only two names. One of them was Jean Rochefort. So I went to see him, thinking if he says no the film is out. I went to his farm outside Paris. We had lunch and I told him the idea of the film and also -- because he would have discovered -- that he wasn't my first choice. But I knew that he'd acted several times with Philippe Noiret and they liked each other. I left at two-thirty, returned to Paris and at four o'clock there was a phone call at home. I've read the screenplay, he said. When you find such a screenplay it's impossible to refuse. I have to do it. It took him one hour and thirty minutes to say yes.
This must have made up for the producers?
It made up for it, yes. Then everybody made up for the producers. I hired a cameraman, Pierre-William Glenn, who'd only done a few films but they were very good. He was at IDHEC and before becoming a cameraman did research into the psychoanalytical aspects of American B-movies. He chose me as his assessor and I gave him 19 out of 20 because it was very good analysis. I also knew him because he'd shot some of the films I'd worked on as a press agent, including Day for Night by Truffaut and State of Siege by Costa-Gavras. I had a Viennese executive producer, Ralph Baum, a friend of Max Ophüls, who dld all Danon's films and was always trying to get his girlfriends small parts on the films. I think he was getting a percentage from the labs. In fact, he probably got a percentage on everything he touched. He was very showy, wore huge braces, a Tyrolean hat and talked with a Viennese accent. When he spoke it was in pigeon French: 'Who is cameraman of yours? Me not know cameraman.' I used to answer in the same way: 'Cameraman has done films Truffaut and Costa-Gavras. Please you?' It was crazy! And every time a guy came to sign a contract he'd say, too expensive, before the guy had even sat down! But I had a clever strategy. I knew Max Ophüls's films very well. So any time I had a problem I used my Max Ophüls trick, my Max Ophüls credit card! For example, he once wanted to give me only twenty metres of track and I wanted between thirty and forty. So I said if Max Ophüls were shooting this film would he use twenty or thirty metres? He said, oh, more than thirty. I said, you see? Or I'd say, do you remember La Ronde? Do you remember how did you do such a shot? And he'd start telling me the story of how it was done and I'd say I'd love to do a shot like that! He'd say, okay. But we won't tell Raymond. So I got away with it and there was enthusiasm all around me. Once we were in Lyons, what I thought would happen happened. Danon and Baum were not really working on the film. They were not coming to the set. They were not even seeing the rushes. The only person I had imposed on me was the production manager who left after two days and went to visit Lyons. So the fact that we were outside Paris gave us complete freedom. I was completely free, especially because I was never late. I was always on schedule, always on budget, under budget even. They hardly knew that the film was in production because everything was going so well. At one point at the end of the fifth week, Noiret got a little bit irritated and sent a telegram to Danon saying, 'Do you know we are doing a film for you? signed Philippe Noiret'. And Ralph Baum sent a telegram saying, 'I've seen the rushes' -- which I'm sure was not true -- 'everything looks great I've recognized everybody'. There was an enormous difference between the tremendous pressure during the preparation, the financing of the film and the joy of the shoot, the incredible joy. I decided to create the kind of spirit on the film which would be the opposite of what I'd experienced with Melville. Everybody was going to be happy. People will love going to the set to work because they'll have fun, the actors will have fun, I will have fun. I tried never to look angry, never to look irritated. Pierre-William Glenn was a wonderful help. He helped me overcome some people in the crew.
Let's talk about your working relationship with Pierre-William. How did you prepare in terms of your locations?
Some of the locations were connected to my childhood. I wanted Lyons to be a character in the film. I thought it was a very Simenonian city. It's secretive like the characters in Simenon. It s not a city which gives itself up easily. You have to go inside it and then you discover its beauty, something which is not ephemeral but stable and enduring. For me Lyons was as important as the protagonists of the story, and sometimes I wanted to escape the characters and to have shots of the city, and those shots are not only documentary but have a relationship with what is going on inside the characters.
There are moments I remember where the camera just cranes up and leaves the characters to look at the city.
Yes. That was very important for me. I knew that I wanted a certain style of camera movement. I wanted to use a lot of hand-held shots -- that was something directly from the New Wave. There were two things from the New Wave which were very important for me: direct sound and a hand-held camera.
A lot of the time in the interiors -- when he's walking through his apartment, for example -- you follow hand-held. Is this because it's the simplest way of making a transition between an interior and an exterior?
Yes. I tried to combine my love of the New Wave and certain things I learnt from American films like the dramatization of places, of topography. You have to learn the nature of Noiret's apartment very quickly. You have to understand the rooms, you have to understand the places he inhabits because that is part of the story. Very often in France, directors don't pay attention to that. I come from a school of filmmakers who have learned film-making through a love of directors who knew how to film landscapes. This school embraces John Ford and Joseph Losey -- two very different directors, but two directors for whom locations, the design of the set and the way they film a 'decor', all play an important role, and where the characters seem to be rooted in the locations, not only in a naturalistic way, but in a metaphysical way.
Given this was your first film, were you confident about the choices you were making?
No. I was full of doubts. And I still am! Before the first day of shooting I always had angina which was created by anxiety. Nowadays I'm even more frightened because I feel that after each film that I know less. .At the time of The Watchmaker I was under a lot of pressure and was more crazy. I knew I was dealing with a crew that has made many, many films, I must not hesitate, I have to be sure of myself. So I immediately said something and sometimes I was right, and when I was not, Pierre-William would make suggestions. He would say, it's a good idea, but I would put the camera here rather than there.
Did you always have a sense of how you were going to cover the action?
I didn't have many days in the schedule so I tried to decide everything before the shoot. For instance, I decided to do a complicated shot the first time that we were in the park with Noiret and Rochefort. I said to Pierre-William I would like to start at the statue and turn around it. So we knew we had to build a scaffold in order to do the tracking shot which was a couple of hours' work. Most of the time I had an idea at least of the angle so he could light in the morning. I knew what I was going to use and I tried not to change my mind. Sometimes I didn't know exactly how I would do the scene unless I had seen the actors rehearse. I'd know, for instance, that I wanted to start from the window, pull back, and have the two actors in front of us. But then while rehearsing I discovered I could even go further in the scene before I moved the camera. I'd say to Pierre-William, we pull back from the window, we discover Jean Rochefort, then Noiret goes to his friend, he says a few lines while walking, turns and we stay on the cop who answers, then we cut back to Noiret. And Pierre-William would say, if I do a tracking shot here we can use twenty more lines of dialogue in the same shot. So I accepted the idea. Some I refused, some I accepted. But I'd try to impose myself even when I was not totally sure because I wanted to inspire confidence. Most of the time Pierre-William was very positive. That's a great idea, he'd say. This was incredibly helpful because I had a first AD who was making me doubt myself. For instance, I did a whole scene in one shot and he said, are you going to do some coverage? And I said, no. And he looked at me and said 'this is your film' in a way that made me think, my God, maybe I should do it like that? And Pierre-William said, it's your film. It's much better without coverage it's less conventional. One day I was hesitating about doing another take because I was going into overtime and Pierre-William taught me a wonderful lesson. He said, do it and don't care about the overtime. We are on budget. We have not done it most of the time. It's not possible to subtitle the film explaining that the scene is not good enough because you didn't do another take. You cannot subtitle a film to explain your mistakes so let's avoid the mistake instead. This is something which makes the French cinema totally different from the American cinema. In France the notion of crew is very important and a cameraman, especially someone like Pierre-William, chooses not only his assistant, but also the gaffer and the grip. This doesn't happen in America. I talked to many DPs and they all said that with the exception of Michael Ballhaus, who works with the same people, they work with the people who are available, whereas the cameramen in France work with the same people. It's a kind of family. They support you, especially someone like Pierre-William. That was one of the great things that the New Wave brought. Technicians who are working not for themselves but for the film. The only area where I had people that I had not chosen or were not willing to experiment was the set design. The designer was absolutely no good. Nice but no good. I had no knowledge of that area and had to trust my first AD and it wasn't a good choice. But I chose everybody else. I also did something which I still do. I did the casting myself with my second assistant. I never use a casting director because I want to meet all the actors personally and talk to them. Of course I chose Philippe Sarde as the composer because he had been so helpful and generous and at the same time was so talented. The thing that Pierre-William and Philippe had in common was that they were real film buffs. They loved films. They loved to go to movies. I remember during the shoot, once we'd seen the rushes we'd very often go to see a film!
Excerpted from My First Movie by Stephen Lowenstein. Copyright © 2001 by Stephen Lowenstein. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.