French Culture Guide

French Culture in New York, with a Touch of Paris

Interview with Eric Lavaine

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Eric Lavaine the French, comedy writer/director premiered his film “Bienvenue A Bord” at the “French With English Subtitles, Film Festival”, in NYC, this December. I had the pleasure to interview him the night of his premiere.


“New York can be very dangerous when you have a wife who loves shopping”, says Eric Lavaine director of the new French comedy “Bienvenue A Bord”, “I now have to make another film to earn money to pay for it!” “But seriously, it’s a real pleasure to be here in NY. “


Q. So Eric you are a writer / director…..?
A. “A cooker “


Q. A cooker?
A. “Yes, I like to cook.”


Q. So you are a writer director, cooker and you started in television. What made you move into film?
A. I was ready to do other things. I started in television on Canal +. I did comedic shows similar to Comedy Central here. My first show was “Le Guingols de l’Info” similar to “The Spinning Image” in the UK, a political puppet show. After that I did a sitcom called “H”. I landed in film by chance, after 10 years in television. I was working with Hector Cabiolories, a Chilean/French writer. He had an idea for a TV sketch about homosexual ghosts called “Poltergay”. I thought it was a great idea for a film, so we wrote it, and I declared myself the director. No one ever asked me if I had directed before. So the first time I directed it was my own film. The first one was a success, so I made a second one, a third and a fourth– this is my fifth film.


Q. Do you like working in film?
A. Yes, very much. The one difference that I like less, is that a film lasts a long time and is different from TV, which is watched right away and then disappears. It’s not as consequential if something is a failure. If a film is a flop, it’s like a ball and chain for the rest of your life. The budgets are larger so the pressure is higher. It’s a world that is harder than TV. Working for Canal + gave me a lot of freedom; I had a salary, it was very different. In the cinema if the first day a movie comes out, and it’s not a success, it’s taken out of the theaters. It’s very hard psychologically, a test, every time. The film came out in France, Oct 5th, happily, it did well, but there are always hard days, and we always want to do more.


Q. Is it still in the theaters in France?
A. No, for that reason, I hope that it will be a hit in the States. “Bienvenue a bord” was taken out of the theaters the same day the film “Intouchables”, a huge hit in France, came out and took over all the theaters.


Q. What response would you like from the American public?
A. I don’t know if the Americans will laugh at the same things. It’s a big question mark. Tonight I’m going to listen for the laughs.


Q. Could that also be due to the subtitles?
A. Yes, The problem with subtitles is we lose the nuances, and I don’t speak English well enough to make sure the subtitles are correct. There are things that I know won’t work here. There is a part in the film with a very well known French singer Enrico Macias. A big joke in the film is that the lead actor Franck Dubosc doesn’t know who he is. Neither do the Americans, so the joke wouldn’t work here.


Q. What do you think is the difference between French and American films?
A. The biggest difference is that American films are more universal. American’s have succeeded in spreading their culture all over the world. The French are immersed in American Culture. American films have taken half of the film market in France but we have succeeded in protecting the French Film Industry. Spain and Italy have not been able to protect their industry as well as France. It’s much easier for a French person to understand American movies because of this immersion. For the Americans, France is more exotic. If you leave NY and go to the midwest and show a world map to someone– I doubt that they can identify France. Foreign films take more effort. I don’t watch films from Bulgaria, Cambodia… etc, and there may have very good comedies…because American films have taken half the market in France.


Q. And you have to be able to read subtitles?
A. Yes, and accept that its dubbed or subtitled.


Q. Is it the first showing of your film in the States?
A. Yes, It’s the first time. It was at the AFM film market in Los Angeles, so hopefully it will be distributed here in the states.


Q. What is the story?
A. It’s about something that happened to a friend of mine who was involved with his boss, and one day she fired him–that’s how “Bienvenue A Bord” starts. It’s about a woman who works for a cruise company. When her boss (who she’s been having an affair with) fires her, she hires an awful cruise director, played by Frank du Bosc, as revenge. It’s very simple.


Q. Are there any funny anecdote’s you can share with the making of the film?
A. We shot with real passengers. There were 2000 passengers throughout the whole shoot. We shot at the pool when they were on their excursions, and in the disco during the day. We never had any problems except once with an English woman. We were shooting in a hallway, and she opened her door and put her television on full blast to bother us. We tried to negotiate with her but she didn’t want anything to do with us. Her husband told us she would not listen to us, so I brought her two magnums of Veuve Cliquot Champagne. We started to shoot again. The moment I said “Action” she put her TV back on full blast. So we had to change locations. On top of that she was fat and ugly. My production director had a universal card key to go into all the rooms. So when she was at dinner we went into her room and took back the two Champagne bottles and left two fake ones. That was our little revenge.


Q. What was your favorite film to make?
A. There is a difference between what they think and what I think.
“Incognito” is the public’s favorite movie. It’s a movie about a singer who becomes famous by stealing a dead person’s songs, but the dead person is actually alive and comes back. The film was a success but the shoot was very difficult. I shot with a very famous singer, Benabar, who was a friend. You shouldn’t shoot with friends. He is a big star in France and he didn’t want to take direction.


Q. How do you work with your actors?
A. I don’t like to work a lot with my actors. I don’t want to pollute what they do. I want to see what they bring. I know what I want. I tell them and then I leave them the freedom to do what they want. The big actors can come up with ideas that are better than mine so I don’t spend time with them. I do spend time with those that are on the set for one or two days, to explain things, put them at ease. It’s much harder to have a smaller role. You come in and out and have to do a good job. Sometimes I laugh, to put someone at ease.. We direct actors the way we direct our lives… I don’t like tension on a film shoot.


Q. Do you like shooting in the states?
A. We shot 15 days in Miami with an American crew.. I didn’t like it at all, because it was like being in Russia under Stalin because of the unions. For example, I ended a shot at 12. Lunch was supposed to be at 1. I wanted to eat earlier, they said ok, but I couldn’t start shooting any earlier because of the rules. You are forced to have an American crew, and every time we started, a guy would scream, “BACKGROUND”, it stressed everyone out.


Q. In France what do you say?
A. “Figuration s’il vous plait” we don’t sceam. It’s simpler, more human…
It’s only movies, we are not trying to save lives, if we don’t get the shot we won’t have it in the editing. It’s like a family, even if it is like a commando operation, it still must be relaxed, we are not going to war in Iraq.


Q. Have you ever acted?
A. No, while there are other’s that can do it better then me, I let them. Some people declare from one day to the next that they are an actor. If I’m as good as the actor it makes me crazy. No one declares themselves a surgeon or a pilot without a lot of training.


Q. Do you want to shoot something in the States?
A. The language is essential, you have to know all the culture. I can sell my scripts, make a remake but I would be incapable to direct Americans, because I’m not fluent and I don’t know the American culture. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, shot Alien here, but it wasn’t complicated because it was all action. It’s like Woody Allen making a French Film it wouldn’t be as good.


Q. Are there any actors with whom you’d want to work that you have not worked with as yet? Who are the best?
A. All the dead actors. I can’t work with them anymore. I would have loved to work with Michel Serrault. You’re lucky here in the US, with so many people competing for the smaller roles the quality of the much smaller roles are fabulous, They come in for the audition in costume with their text memorized etc. In France there are many actors who are not good. In France we are not numerous, we don’t have a huge reservoir of talent; for TV producers to be known, they have to shoot with big stars, that becomes very expensive– with a big budget you can get distribution. The next film I make can be made with unknowns for 2 million, but if I do it for 20 million I can get better actors and have a better chance of distribution. If I shoot with Jean Dujardin and Danny Boon I’ll have money right away. I’d like to shoot with Danny Boon and Jose Garcia.. Up until now, I’ve been lucky to work with great people.


Q. What is the next project?
A. The next project? It’s a comedy but much lighter. A project closer to my heart– a dramatic comedy about a group of friends in their 50’s. There is an expression– the most beautiful family is the one that we choose. But that’s not true–after 30 years of friendship there are the same problems, worries, shit. 50 is a turning point, a change in life style. It’s one of the last times we can make big life decisions professionally. To change, to start a new family.


Q. Can the public see your film here?
A. It’s on VOD in France.. I have to ask Pathe if it is distributed yet.


Interview by Judi Beecher (International Actress, film maker and journalist)