Take four US scriptwriters, each with a story in mind, whisk them from Los Angeles to a Cistercian abbey near Paris, allow to simmer and wait for their characters to step out on the big screen.
That is the gamble taken by a residency scheme hosted in France this autumn and attended by a quartet of Hollywood writers: Rusty Lemorande, John Brian King, Danielle Wolff and Cynthia Riddle.
By nurturing inspiration in its guest writers — who all come to the project with the rough draft of a French-linked story in mind — the French-US project aims to promote film shoots in France.
Chosen by the Writers Guild of America, the four were to flown to the country for a five-week residency at the Royaumont Abbey north of Paris before heading to the Sorbonne university for a final get-together.
“Working in an abbey,” Wolff said, is a reminder that “film is an art, even if there is a lot of money involved.”
The writer, whose two grandfathers took part in the Normandy landings in 1944, is retracing the life of French resistance fighter Danielle Casanova, who died at Auschwitz.
Lemorande is working on a script around the figure of Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, a 19th--century watchmaker turned magician who is widely considered the father of modern conjuring.
Riddle’s project centers on the turn-of-the-century French actress Sarah Bernhardt and her friend and rival Marie Colombier.
And finally King plucks two young tourists from Arizona and spirits them to Paris where they succumb to Stendhal’s Syndrome — a psychosomatic illness caused by too much exposure to art and beauty — in front of the Mona Lisa.
A longtime francophile, King fed his storyline with inspiration from the capital’s best tables — even if one of his US characters refuses to eat anything but McDonalds while in France for fear of catching mad cow disease.
“Here there is still hope” for the art of filmmaking, King said.
For Lemorande, solid facts are at the heart of any good script.
“I want to be as precise as a surgeon,” he said, having trekked from museum to museum to dig out real-life mechanical contraptions built in the day of his magician-inventor character.
Brainchild of the Paris region and the French-US cultural fund, which links up France’s artists’ copyright body and the major Hollywood guilds, the “Autumn Stories” scheme is now in its fifth year.
During their stay, it put the writers in touch with local scriptwriters, producers and officials who explained the system of subsidies and tax breaks available to them.
“We try to facilitate production since the ultimate goal is for the films to be produced. And for them to be produced here,” Eglantine Langevin of the French-US fund said.