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Mar 12, 2007

15 ways to become a French film director : 1 to 3.

medium_fils2.2.jpgAll roads lead to Rome and a few to being a French film director : highways, country and mountain paths, dirt tracks... rich in detours or short cuts... some toll free, some barely affordable... jammed, empty, boring, scenic, mapped or not.

A dead end is rarely further than a wrong turn.

A French film director is a technician and an « auteur » ; under French cinema rules, his compensation combines a salary for his technical work, and « droits d’auteur » -author’s rights- for his creative contribution.

If you video recorded your own birth, go the technical route.

If you cannot tell a camera lens from its viewfinder, follow the « auteur »’s trail : technicalities shall not stand in the way of your « vision ».

Or, between these two roads, map out your own trip, choose your pace, select optional excursions and stopovers.

Here are a few suggested itineraries :

1.Go to film school :

1.a : « bright student » plan :

Graduate in film direction and follow the aspiring filmmaker’s « cursus honorum » : second assistant, first assistant, director.

Idhec -Institut des hautes études cinématographiques- was France’s more prestigious film school ; in 1986, it was replaced by Fémis -Ecole nationale supérieure des métiers de l’image et du son-.

Idhec alumni : Patrice Leconte, Louis Malle, Dominik Moll...
Fémis alumni : Arnaud Despléchin, Laetitia Masson, François Ozon...

1.b : « average student » contingency plan :

Study editing or cinematography, demonstrate your skills, rise to film direction.

Hazards : not all finance and marketing executives become CEOs ; not all those that do make good CEOs.

Bonus : if your film directing career bombs, return to your editor’s or cinematographer’s roots.

Notables :
.Yves Angelo, cinematographer : he directed Depardieu in his first film, « Le Colonel Chabert » (1992), a Balzac adaptation ; a few mediocre films followed.
.Bruno Nuytten : acclaimed cinematographer directed Isabelle Adjani, upon her personal request, in « Camille Claudel » (1988) ; later directed Julien Rassam and Estelle Skornik in « Albert Souffre » (1992), not a step forward ; still a great cinematographer.
.Alain Berbérian : see 8.bis.

2.Become an actor :

2.a.Quickly discover your lack of talent and move to being a director :

Notable : Gérard Oury : playing Napoléon in Raoul Walsh’s « Sea devils » (1953) possibly awoke his ambition to direct ; career change was win-win decision for him and French audiences : he was no Gérard Philipe.

2.b.Become a star and direct your own vanity projects :

If you had the power to film yourself, would you resist the temptation ? Which hired hand would film you with more genuine love, care and understanding ?

Notable : Alain Delon answered « no » and « none » to both questions in 1981 and 1983 - « Pour la peau d’un flic », « Le battant »- then decided, surprisingly, the pleasure was not worth the trouble.

Notable exception : Gérard Depardieu ; lack of ego or time ? Overbooked actor preferred to branch out into wine making, his true calling and profession according to his passport.

Warning : opportunity may not knock twice. If you are the monthly box office wonder, hurry to cash in and direct ; your clout may be short-lived.

Notable : suddenly hot Patrick Timsit’s sense of timing -he was a former real estate agent- gave birth to « Quasimodo d’El Paris » (1998) ; film may convince him to stick to acting.

Plan B : stardom eludes you, but you manage a decent acting career : patiently accumulate favours in sensible « Godfather » manner and call them in when time is ripe.

Notable : Richard Berry. Veteran actor tried his hand at the helm with « L’art (délicat) de la séduction » (2000) ; against most odds, he struck again three years later with « Moi, César, 10 ans et demi, 1M39 » ; praiseworthy for not filming his ageing navel, but Patrick Timsit’s -marginally younger, but buried in fat- in film 1, then a child version of himself played by Guillaume Sitruk in film 2.

2.c.Become an excellent actor, then an excellent director :

Warning : no easy ride ; expect roadblocks ; full tank and extra jerry-cans of talent required.

Notable : Nicole Garcia : moved full time behind the camera with success : « Un weekend sur deux » (1990), « Le fils préféré » (1994), « Place Vendôme » (1998)...

3.Succeed as film producer, trust your directing talent, green-light your own projects.

Bonus : easier for you to negotiate with yourself than (a) as a film producer to handle Leo Carax style lunacy, (d) as a film director Louis B. Mayer size cunning.

Hazard : running overbudget on yourself.

Warning : as any business, film production is to be played with « L’argent des autres » -other people’s money ; a 1978 Christian de Chalonge film-, never yours.

Notables :
.« Claude Lelouch presents a Claude Lelouch production of a Claude Lelouch film » : the director pre-existed the producer, but the producer is better.
.Claude Berri : heavyweight producer regularly puts his directing cap back atop his bald scalp ; credits are a mixed bag, production- and directing-wise ; « Uranus » (1990) is a good and nasty film.
.Charles Gassot : head of production powerhouse Telema directed one film : « Le mauvais garçon » (1992) ; « errare humanum est » but « perseverare diabolicum. » He persisted, in film production.

(Initially posted on August 14, 2006)

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