Overseas directors look for unique atmosphere

Filmmakers move west despite L.A. bashing

HOLLYWOOD – When British actor Gary Oldman was preparing his eponymous role in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula,” he said he came to Los Angeles to learn how to be “undead.” That sentiment goes a long way towards explaining how most Europeans feel about the city.

If so, then why the recent rash of Euro — especially English — directors shooting films in Hollywood?

For Ken Loach, whose “Bread and Roses” wrapped last month in L.A., the decision to lens here was plot driven. The acclaimed director of “Raining Stones” and “My Name is Joe” has made a film about the Justice for Janitors campaign of the early ’90s when local janitors fought for unionization and higher wages. Loach is currently cutting the film in England.

Loach says he was attracted by the story in L.A. even though the themes of labor disputes are universal.

“Everybody brings their own perception. I suppose we saw it in the context of other labor disputes that all have common denomenators. I didn’t see it so much in terms of Californian as about immigrant workers banding together. In the U.K., we’ve had wave after wave of immigrants and they all have similar and distinctive problems.”

Using real people to play pivotal roles was a joy, says Loach. “The locals on the film were a knock-out — very loyal.” But, he says, the experience of being so close to the industry was less than stellar.

Loach considers the city “one of the most inhospitable in terms of an environment. The absence of people on the streets is the thing that hit us most forcibly. There’s the dreadful car culture and people seem to have no time for each other. You miss human sociability.”

It’s no surprise then that Loach says he has no immediate plans to return to the City of Angels to work. However, it wasn’t just the concrete and asphalt that bugged him.

With a crew 50% larger than it would have been in Britain, Loach says he felt as though he was “dragging this tail behind me. So much is about control and ‘this is the way we always do things’. ”

“It would have been easier in Nicaragua,” says the director with no hint of irony. He does soften for a moment though to allow, “There are great stories to tell (in L.A.), but it’s just difficult to tell them.”

Radford’s view

British director Michael Radford is also gearing up to shoot in town but his take on the city is miles away from that of Loach. “I have never been so exhilirated about doing a film as this one,” says the Oscar-nominated helmer.

Now prepping “Dancing at the Blue Iguana,” which will star Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, Elias Koteas (“The Thin Red Line”), Sandra Oh (“Last Night”) and Vladimir Mashkof (“The Thief”) Radford explains his decision to film here: “I had spent an inordinate amount of time in L.A. so I figured it was time to make a movie here.”

Penned by Radford and American scribe David Linter, pic is “a funny and human story of five women, their hopes and dreams.” The women are all strippers at the Blue Iguana.

The club itself will be built on a stage, but Radford says he’ll be shooting in and around Los Angeles for the rest of the film. Cameras roll in late November for four weeks.

“I think it’s ironic that we’re shooting here when everybody else is shooting elsewhere,” laughs the director. “I love this town,” he continues, “I suppose I am in a privileged position, as I’m reasonably well known. I imagine it would be awful if you were struggling.”

Radford’s admiration for the city is best summed up as a supremely English point of view. “What I love about L.A. is it’s like nowhere else. The human spirit was always to move west and you can’t get any further west than here. And, of course, what you end up with is ‘here it is — it’s a pile of junk.’ Fascinating!”

Radford concludes that his love affair with L.A. indeed has its roots in England, “All Englishman are suburban and this is just one huge fucking suburb!”

Wenders’ second home

For Teutonic helmer Wim Wenders, L.A. has truly become a second home. The director has shot locations in L.A. for years and now lives in town. He recently completed “The Million Dollar Hotel” shot entirely downtown inside a 4-block radius.

The pic, which has been chosen to open the 2000 Berlin Film Festival, is based on a story idea by U2 frontman Bono. Set in Los Angeles 2001, Mel Gibson stars as a federal agent who investigates the death of a media tycoon’s son at a seedy hotel. Milla Jovovich and Jeremy Davies also topline.

Wenders admits that it’s not always easy for Europeans to adapt to American working methods but says he feels as though he’s finally gotten the hang of it.

“If you try to transpose your European method here you have a hard time. I totally feel into the American mode of shooting and I think we got good work done. I used to think shooting was more efficient in Europe but I did adjust my opinion.”

Wenders says this most recent go-round was “a great experience” especially given that there were no moves involved due to the confined shooting area. Still, Wenders was grateful for the hotel’s parking as there were three other crews shooting simultaneously downtown.

Wenders says he has the feeling that “people are so sick of shooting downtown that you often meet a neighborhood that doesn’t want another crew. And, most of those shoots aren’t even to (represent) L.A. but other cities.”

Wenders, however, is very interested in L.A. when he shoots here and agrees that foreigners often have a fresh eye. “I think that goes for any city. If you don’t live there, you see it with different eyes and maybe even better than if you live there.”

Referencing his hometown, Wenders explains, “Hitchcock came to shoot Berlin and was the first to really show the city. When Billy Wilder did ‘One, Two, Three,’ it was better than a German production would have been.”

“I must say I enjoy the city and like working here. I’m one of the few not to bash L.A.”