Lelouch’s lush prod’n atelier

PARIS — About 20 years ago, French auteur-director-producer Claude Lelouch, whose most recent films include “Les Miserables,” decided he wanted a production house of his own where anyone could come to work and play in stylish comfort.

His vision was realized at Les Films 13, tucked in a courtyard off the Avenue Hoche in one of Paris’ swankier neighborhoods. Comprising three screening rooms, a bar and restaurant, editing suites and other post-production facilities, the place exudes clubbiness, while trying to remain determinedly nonexclusive.

Walking down a winding staircase into the bar area, one is struck immediately by the notion that this is a film lover’s domain. From the Marx Brothers to “The Wild Bunch,” Lelouch’s homage to filmmaking is epitomized in the posters adorning the walls. However, this is no vanity project; there are few representations of Lelouch’s own oeuvre.

In the restaurant — which looks more like a cocktail lounge — low tables are set in a mirrored room where one can be seen or decidedly unseen. At midday, the restaurant serves the likes of Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, but the guys from the bank next door are welcome for lunch, too, as long as they call for reservations.

According to Arlette Gordon, director of communications for the operation, “Famous people like to come here to eat since they know their privacy will be respected.”

While you have to know about its existence, she explains, “It is not at all exclusive.” And it is not unusual for young filmmakers to come by, often in hopes of running into Lelouch and perhaps asking for advice or help with their fledgling projects.

Past the bar and restaurant are the projection rooms. There are a 15-seat and an 80-seat room, as well as a small video screening room, available to anyone who wants to rent them.

Prices are on a par with most screening rooms in the city, ranging from 350 francs ($61) an hour for the smaller room during the day to 1,500 francs ($263) an hour for the larger room in the evening. A 500-franc ($88) surcharge is tacked on for Dolby sound.

Production companies often rent the space to screen rushes during the day, while the restaurant and projection rooms are available in the evenings for birthday parties and the like. Lelouch has an impressive collection of 16mm reels, and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, the staff will help locate it elsewhere in the city.

Almost every film opening in Paris has its press screening at Les Films 13, where, according to Gordon, everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Wim Wenders has screened films in the past. Stanley Kubrick reportedly has it stipulated in his contracts that his films have their first showings there and nowhere else.

Student and short-subject films sometimes are shown as well, lending a bit of cachet to a young filmmaker, who can say his debut was screened “Chez Lelouch.”

Certainly, there are other screening rooms in Paris, but Les Films 13 is the only one owned and operated by a filmmaker. And, because Lelouch is a director, he knows how a film needs to be presented for optimum results. He even did all the interior design himself, right down to the wainscoting.

The post-production facilities, however, are reserved mostly for the director himself, although offices and equipment sometimes are rented out to visiting production teams.

Still, Lelouch refers to the center as a meeting place for artists and a place that feels like home. Indeed, at the end of this reporter’s visit, a group of foreigners wearing Disney nametags was led into one of the projection rooms for a screening. Their guide explained, “Do you know the director Claude Lelouch? This is his home.”

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