Proven track record overseas helps filmmakers

Hollywood’s lure has always enticed foreign directors, and despite strong filmmaking support in many countries, there are those whose dreams of making movies in the States drives them to U.S. shores.

But unlike tyro American helmers, often plucked from musicvideos or commercials because they come young and cheap, these foreigners are chosen for projects because of their overseas track records.

“It’s not necessarily better to be young and hungry and not have a lot of experience, or to be older and have done more things,” says Erik Olsen, senior vice president at Dark Castle Entertainment. “The most important thing is to be talented and have done something like a short or a feature that shows that talent.”

Jerome Duboz, a William Morris agent working with foreign helmers, agrees.

“When you go to festivals, you’re looking for something that doesn’t feel like everything else you’ve seen before,” says Duboz, who worked with French director Alexandre Aja to bring him to the U.S. after seeing the Aja-helmed “High Tension.” Last year, the director manned “The Hills Have Eyes,” a remake of the 1977 Wes Craven horror classic.

Olsen, who recently worked with the Spanish first-time feature director Victor Garcia on “Return to House on Haunted Hill,” a straight-to-video title, says inexperience won’t keep you out of the director’s chair, though it might affect the first job you’re offered.

“Victor had great visual style, but he’d only ever directed a short,” says Olsen, who also worked with British helmer Guy Ritchie on the upcoming “RocknRolla.” “So we felt that what he’d done didn’t yet warrant a large budget, but we’re very happy with what he’s done and we want to work with him again.”

Certainly, there’s something to be said for not rushing to America. Irish director John Carney, who nabbed a deal to direct “Town House” for Fox 2000 after opening doors this year with his bittersweet indie hit “Once,” believes audiences responded to his film because he focused on staying true to the story’s themes — even when it meant the outcome didn’t produce a stereotypical happy ending.

“I think that’s an advantage you have as a director from Ireland or France or a country where the film business is still smaller than it is in America,” says Carney. “It’s easier to focus on what you want to say when it’s not filmmaking by committee, so you have a real voice that comes through in your work, and that might make you more interesting.”

While Carney made a name for himself with a romantically themed film, many foreign helmers find their way into the American market through a specific genre — the horror film, which sometimes can carve a director’s path for both financial and cultural reasons.

“Everyone is afraid of the same things, and we all enjoy being afraid,” Duboz says. “If something jumps out at you from the darkness, you’ll jump whether you’re French or Spanish or American. So it translates more easily than the sense of humor in comedy, which can be very different from country to country.”

Horror films can be easier on the helmer when it comes time to cast as well. “Horror films aren’t star-dependent,” says Olsen. “And they’re always popular to some degree.”

French helmer Aja came to America to make horror films because it was a genre without a place in his native country.

“We don’t really have the horror film in our culture,” says Aja. “There’s a very supportive film industry in France, and you could stay there your whole life and make movies, but I knew I had to come here to make these kinds of films.”

Though Aja believes France develops and nurtures its filmmakers as artists, both Garcia and Carney feel their native Spain and Ireland, respectively, aren’t as focused on creating an indigenous industry.

“Spain doesn’t really support its young filmmakers that much,” Garcia says. “And here you have all these people from all over the world, and they’re all here to make movies, so there are a lot more choices here.”

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