German shepherd gives tyro big break

Emmerich aids young director Kreuzpaintner

Roland Emmerich makes massive Hollywood blockbusters, but it was a modest German coming-out story called “Summer Storm,” produced by two of Emmerich’s friends, that impressed the “Day After Tomorrow” director enough to meet — and mentor — talented 29-year-old compatriot Marco Kreuzpaintner.

In Kreuzpaintner’s words, the good fortune of Emmerich contacting him still seems “unthinkable,” and yet the very gesture catalyzed his career in America and led to Kreuzpaintner helming his first English-language project, “Trade,” with Kevin Kline and an international cast.

But Emmerich was hardly isolated in his admiration. Though “Summer Storm” had earned Kreuzpaintner a German Film Award for best young director, what struck Emmerich immediately was that despite its niche subject, the pic had a mainstream sensibility.

“I come from Germany, too, and I know how people talk there, and I never thought it sounded fake. It’s exactly how kids talk,” Emmerich says.

Striking up a dialogue with Kreuzpaintner, Emmerich invited the young director to visit him in Los Angeles. It was during one of those stays that Kreuzpaintner stumbled across the script for “Trade” in his host’s office. Inspired by a New York Times Magazine story by Peter Landesman and written by “The Motorcycle Diaries'” Jose Rivera, “Trade” takes on the subject of modern-day sex trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Impressed by the story, Kreuzpaintner confessed his jealousy to Emmerich, who was attached to direct. A firm believer that filmmakers have a responsibility to combine entertainment with social messages, the ambitious newcomer felt “Trade” was exactly the sort of issue-conscious project he wanted to tackle himself.

“Call me pathetic, but I want to try and make the world a better place,” says Kreuzpaintner, “so when I saw the script for ‘Trade,’ (I recognized that) it’s not just an American issue, it’s a worldwide issue, and we in the Western world need to be aware that it’s going on.”

According to Kreuzpaintner, Emmerich told him it was always good for a director to be jealous of another director’s work. What he didn’t realize at the time was that Emmerich was already searching for another director to take over the project so he could focus on the Warner Bros. feature “10,000 B.C.” Struck by Kreuzpaintner’s enthusiasm and ability to work with actors, Emmerich offered his young compatriot the job.

“I thought it was very important for ‘Trade’ that these characters feel real,” Emmerich explains. “I was very impressed with the realness and what he gets out of actors.”

Instead of sitting by and idly awaiting “Trade’s” spring release, Kreuzpaintner is directing the fantasy “Krabat” in Prague. Emmerich finds it refreshing that his ambitious protege had the option of dropping the project after doing a Hollywood movie like “Trade” but kept his commitment to the film’s producers.

Kreuzpaintner looks forward to making more American films. While European helmers enjoy the “freedom of expressing yourself in a self-important, artistic way” back home, he says, when it comes to “getting anyone interested in what is considered a bigger political issue … you are better off in the U.S. “

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