Paris, je t'aime is a collection of 18 shorts inspired by different districts in Paris. Wes Craven supplies Père-Lachaise, one of the five minute segments which play out like a love letter to the City of Lights. Befitting a story from Craven, his short involves one of the world's most famous cemeteries and a visit from the beyond by Oscar Wilde (played by filmmaker Alexander Payne).
On Getting Involved in Paris, je t'aime: Craven says the project came to him from out of the blue.
“I can’t even remember, I think it was an e-mail, ‘We’re interested in you participating in this and here’s what we’re up to. You’ll be shooting in Paris…’ It was like by the time that word came by, I said, ‘Okay, I’m there. What plane do I need to be on?’ And they sent the list of the directors they had so far and it was such a great list. It was kind of a no-brainer to do it, if I could possibly do it. It was right in the middle of the press tour for Red Eye so I was pretty busy, needless to say.
We did our location scout going from, I think, Berlin to London on the press tour. We just took a diversionary flight, got met at the airport, driven, raced out to this [location], driven around it for an hour. ‘Okay, we’ll shoot there, there, there, there and there. Let’s get to the airport.’ Back on the plane, back on the press tour, and then we came back I think a month later because I went on to another press tour after that press tour - and did a week of preproduction and two days of shooting and a week of post and that was it.
I wrote the script in two hours. I had done two other scripts and they had both been impossible to shoot because of a lack of the ability to get clearances for Jim Morrison and then Edith Piaf. So this one was almost like an accident. It was strange and it just came up. I looked at it and said, ‘That’s better than the other one.’”
The Ghost Story Element: Asked if that was just bringing a little extra ‘Wes Craven’ bit to the film Craven replied, “Maybe. I guess maybe it was. I certainly felt like I’m not going to say I’m not who I am, but beyond that, I don’t know. It was just that place is haunted by ghosts in a way, in the sense that you can just feel these gigantic personalities of the people that are buried there. One of the Bonapartes is buried there and you have Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Balzac. You just walk around and it’s one great name after another. You realize sometimes giants walk the earth and a lot of them are buried here, so it’s pretty amazing.”
Craven Opted for English: Craven says he was never tempted to do his segment Père-Lachaise in French. “I couldn’t write in French. It would be a disaster,” said Craven, adding that he did not want to have his work translated. “I wouldn’t trust anybody to. I need to be able to know what people are saying. It was fortunate because initially they had mentioned that I could shoot in French if I wanted to. I don’t think I could do that. But they had some kind of a deal with the French government where they had to have a certain percentage of actors that know the language, being French and it was fairly high percentage. It was something like 80%. I don’t know, I haven’t seen the film yet but most of it is in French, is it not? I’ve only seen my own and I saw Alexander Payne’s. I saw the Coen Brothers and the one with Ben Gazzara while we were editing, those were around. But the rest were in French and they didn’t have subtitles or anything.”
The Process of Making a Short: Craven adopted an interesting approach to creating a short. “I kind of looked at it as a scene because then I could, ‘Okay, it’s just a scene and we have two days to shoot it. That’s pretty good.’ The tricky part is to get the whole story of these two people into that one five minutes, which was another stricture. ‘Your film needs to run five [minutes].’ They gave me I think 5:20 or maybe 5 and a half, but it needed to be basically in that ballpark. That was tough. There were things I had to take out and so forth because it would have been too long. But it’s like a haiku where somebody imposes a certain discipline that can lead to good things.”
Casting Filmmaker Alexander Payne as Oscar Wilde: “You know, I kind of discovered in the course of just being around the offices of that place that people had been doing cameos in each other’s films. And then shortly after that, I got a call from Alexander Payne who I’d never met and said, ‘How are you doing? I like your films. I hear you have a role for Oscar Wilde you haven’t filled yet and I’d love to do it. What do you think?’ I said, ‘Let’s talk.’ So he came over and he looked like yeah, that could be Wilde. It’s not quite the famous Ambrose Bierce or whoever did those drawings of him, but he has an elegance and a sort of charisma. He said, ‘You can re-voice me. You’ll have to re-voice me.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ and it was as informal as that. He came down, got wardrobe, I think, in an hour, and showed up a couple days later when we were shooting and pulled it off beautifully.”
Finding the Rest of His Père-Lachaise Cast: “I just went after certain actors,” said Craven. “Emily [Mortimer] I’d worked with before. We needed to do it very quickly so I just called her up and basically she said, ‘Okay, great.’ Rufus [Sewell] was - we kind of had the strictures we couldn’t bring people from the United States. We didn’t have time and there wasn’t a budget for it. They kind of needed to come from Europe so I just said, ‘Who are the leading men that are around that are available?’ His name was mentioned. I had seen some of his work and really liked it and said, ‘Let’s take a chance with him.’ He was probably thinking the same thing about me.”
Page 2:Wes Craven on Filming in Paris and Upcoming Projects