Most Hollywood productions visiting Paris stop for only a few days, hoping to draw some magic from the City of Lights.
Because U.S. working methods often differ from Gallic norms, “there’s a little bit of squeezing that has to go on, but there is absolutely a way that things can be done,” says John Bernard, go-to line producer for visiting American filmmakers. Through his company Peninsula Film, Bernard looked after the Paris shoots of “Inception” and “Hereafter,” both drawing important story elements from the city.
In Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” Paris is where dream manipulator Cobb finds novice architect Ariadne. They discuss living in dreams at a typical sidewalk cafe before Ariadne starts turning the urban landscape upside down.
“We scouted cafes all over Paris to find what Chris required,” Bernard recalls. In the end, they chose a quiet residential neighborhood around Place Georges Mulot that had the right atmosphere, and gave Nolan the flexibility he needed.
“Basically we created a back-lot set where you could go around corners and the set continued, and we controlled it,” Bernard says.
In the next scene, Cobb realizes that Ariadne is including real buildings in her dream architecture, so a Parisian landmark was required. The producers picked the Bir-Hakeim bridge over the Seine, with its distinctive colonnade. Even a place that busy can accommodate a film crew if the planning is right; for instance, by shooting during the city’s holiday season.
In Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter,” Paris is the home of French TV journalist Marie. When she leaves work she descends the steps at pubcaster France Televisions, and in the evening, she eats at the upscale Senderens Restaurant, with its lush art deco interior.
When she has a meeting with her publisher, the aim was to show that the firm occupies prime corporate real estate. The producers found the ideal view at the Cite de l’architecture museum. “We were very careful to establish the office in a building that allowed us to bring the outside into the conference room,” Bernard recalls. “The Eiffel tower and the Frenchness of what is going on outside the window were key to making that location work.”
In contrast with these short-stay visitors, Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” takes place entirely in Paris. Plot details will be scarce until the pic’s Cannes bow in May, but Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director at the Ile-de-France Film Commission, knows its itinerary.
“The characters move through the whole of Paris, from Montmartre to the banks of the Seine, with some key places such as the Rodin Museum and the Musee de l’Orangerie. All these places are elements of the mythology of Paris, and I think (Allen) is looking to establish his own vision of that mythology.”
One stop was the labyrinthine Saint-Ouen flea market, where tourists go for old-world bric-a-brac. “We chose two small streets in the flea market,” says line producer Raphael Benoliel. “We shot when it was closed and paid some of the small shops to be open.”
Many of the settings are high-profile tourist destinations. “Most of the locations in Paris, and even monuments, are quite welcoming,” Benoliel says. “Of course you need to pick specific days of the week. (We shot in Versailles after) they closed the interiors so that we were able to shoot.”
The luxurious palace (where Sofia Coppola also shot her “Marie Antoinette”) resonates with Allen’s themes of the relationship with history, art, pleasure and life.
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