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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Promoting the upcoming March 31st U.K. release of Are Snakes Necessary?, Brian De Palma recently spoke with Lina Das of The Mail on Sunday's Event Magazine. It is not clear precisely when this interview took place, but keep in mind that it very well could have been before virus fears had swarmed over. All of the De Palma/Lehman book signings in New York City have been canceled just within this past week.

I bring this up because in the article, De Palma tells Das that he is hoping to begin shooting Predator in Paris later this year. It remains to be seen what kind of affect this virus ends up having on upcoming productions, but hopefully, things will work out for the best.

The title Predator is never mentioned in this article, but that was the title of the screenplay that De Palma turned in to Saïd Ben Saïd in early June of 2018. It seems likely that the title would be changed by the time the film is released, in order to avoid confusing it with the sci-fi horror franchise of the same name. Speaking to Das in the interview below, De Palma says, "Having been a director for 50 years, needless to say I’ve come across a couple of the notorious predators in the business."

In the article, De Palma discusses that project, his initial impression in the early '90s of Harvey Weinstein, and, within this #MeToo context, also addresses Jemima Rooper's comments from last November about filming with De Palma on The Black Dahlia. Of course, the interview also delves into Are Snakes Necessary?, and more:

Ask Brian De Palma about his first impression of Harvey Weinstein and he is unequivocal. ‘I saw a bully. Just a bully.’ He had met the now disgraced producer in New York when Weinstein’s company was making a presentation of Neil Jordan’s 1992 hit The Crying Game about the IRA. ‘They wanted me to host the dinner,’ explains De Palma, 79, the legendary director of hits such as Scarface, Carlito’s Way and the Oscar-winning The Untouchables. ‘I’d seen the film and thought it was quite remarkable, but when I first saw Harvey Weinstein, I thought, This is a person I do not want to be involved with.’

The director was so horrified at the tidal wave of sexual assault allegations that engulfed the now-convicted producer that he plans on shooting a film on the subject. ‘It’s a combination of the Weinstein stories and a lot of the other #MeToo stories that came out,’ he says. ‘Having been a director for 50 years, needless to say I’ve come across a couple of the notorious predators in the business.’

De Palma’s first major hit came with in 1976 with a blood-soaked version of Stephen King’s horror story, Carrie. ‘I was hearing stories even then,’ he says. ‘George Lucas was casting Star Wars and we would both hear from these young actresses on other films about how they were being manipulated by the person meeting them. It was the old, “Let’s have a meeting at 6.30pm in the office when nobody’s there” line, and then they would try to seduce them. You want to make actresses feel as safe and as good as possible and the fact that these people then cross the line drives me crazy. It’s against everything you want to accomplish for the film.

‘But it’s not like everybody didn’t know what was going on,’ he adds. ‘People saying they didn’t know – that’s hard to believe.’

That De Palma is such a vocal supporter of women in the industry may strike some as slightly ironic, given that critics have often labelled his own work misogynistic. Beautiful women who meet their demise in gory fashion have memorably featured in his movies (Angie Dickinson in the 1980 hit Dressed To Kill is a famous case in point) and he’s rarely been afraid of nudity either. It’s a criticism that draws a weary sigh from the man himself.

‘I just think it’s incorrect,’ he says. ‘If you’re making a suspense movie, would you rather photograph an attractive woman walking around with a candelabra in a haunted house, or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Being politically correct,’ he adds, ‘has never been my problem. I just do what I think is right for the film.

It’s a code he has adhered to over the years, although it came with its own set of problems. After filming The Black Dahlia in 2006, British actress Jemima Rooper, who had a small part as a porn actress, recently claimed that while filming the pornographic element, De Palma asked ‘if my pants could come off, and I was like, “Oh my God, what do I do?”’ (When it was apparent that she had tattoos on her back that would have been time-consuming to conceal with make-up, the idea was scrapped).

De Palma says now: ‘Of course I realised that she was worried, but Jemima certainly knew what was going to be in the scene. It’s not that you haven’t prepared them for what they’re going to do, but it doesn’t mean that once they get in there, they won’t feel very uncomfortable.’

He recounts a similar experience on the set of Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek, which opens with a scene in the girls’ showers at school. ‘There were many girls who just couldn’t do the nudity and I said, “OK.” But because Sissy had done all the nudity in the shower scene a day before, they said: “Well, if Sissy can do it, I can do it.” But it’s always a delicate situation. You have to be very careful.’

De Palma’s latest project marks a departure from movie-making. He has written his debut novel, the political satire Are Snakes Necessary?, with his partner Susan Lehman, a former New York Times editor. ‘We did it for fun,’ he says. ‘I’m very good at plot and dialogue and I would send her a scene. She would write the descriptions and broaden out the characters and then send it back to me.’

The story follows a senator who is cheating on his Parkinson’s-afflicted wife with the beautiful young videographer trailing his campaign. Events, however, soon take a turn for the worse, and when the senator tries to put things right, deadly consequences ensue. It’s fast-moving, laced with De Palma-esque twists and inspired in part by the real life US senator John Edwards, who fathered a child with his campaign videographer. ‘I follow American politics,’ says De Palma, ‘and that whole thing was like a comedy.’

Eagle-eyed De Palma fans will spot recurring themes of his screen work such as voyeurism – a fascination for which can be traced back to an incident in his own childhood. When he was 17, he followed his philandering father with a camera and after catching him with a mistress, threatened him with a knife (though no one was harmed). ‘One tends to be overdramatic as a teenager,’ he admits. ‘Afterwards I went home, got in my car and drove to the seashore. My parents got divorced and I recovered.’

An ability to capture human behaviour at its most vulnerable and unsavoury has certainly served him well as a director. Scarface, his brilliant portrait of megalomaniacal drug lord Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino), was heavily criticised on its release in 1983 for its excessive violence and profanity, but has since been hailed as a masterpiece.

The making of the film was fraught – not only did Pacino burn his hand on the barrel of a gun, necessitating a two-week stay in hospital, but due to the frequent cocaine-snorting scenes, Pacino has suffered from nasal problems ever since. Did they use real cocaine?

De Palma laughs. ‘No! But I don’t remember what Al was snorting. He worked very hard. It was an exhausting schedule.’

Further problems ensued with the screenwriter Oliver Stone, who went on to direct Wall Street and JFK. ‘He told me that he almost got himself killed one night,’ says De Palma. ‘He was doing research and hanging out with a lot of cocaine cowboys in South Florida and they thought he was a narcotics agent.’

While admitting he has ‘always been controversial’, De Palma has nonetheless enjoyed huge hits including gangster classic The Untouchables, which earned Sean Connery his only Oscar, although having played the indestructible James Bond for so many years, he wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of bullets (‘he hated being shot’). De Palma also helmed the first of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible outings, although declined to direct the sequel. ‘It was a very difficult shoot and the only reason to do another would be to make more money. How much money does one person need?’

De Palma has also endured bruising failures, such as 1990’s critical and commercial disaster The Bonfire Of The Vanities. Described by one critic as ‘one of the most indecently bad movies of the year’, De Palma admitted that once the movie bombed, ‘I might as well have put on my leper suit [in Hollywood].’ But as he explains now: ‘You’re not going to last very long in the film business if you can’t take a horrendous reception of your movie. Of course it hurts, but I’ve had some of the worst receptions in the history of movies and I’ve managed to go on and make other movies.’

Despite the fickleness of Hollywood, De Palma has maintained a circle of ‘lifelong friends’ including directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.

In fact, Scorsese has been kind enough to give his friend a rave review for his new novel, noting that reading it is like ‘having a new Brian De Palma picture’. And while De Palma has no plans as yet to turn it into a movie, he’s hoping to start shooting his Weinstein/#MeToo-themed film later this year in Paris. ‘It’s a lot of fun,’ he says, ‘and it’s really scary.’

As a description of Hollywood itself, De Palma would no doubt agree, it couldn’t be more apt.

Posted by Geoff at 12:07 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, March 15, 2020 4:15 PM CDT
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Monday, September 2, 2019
It appears that Brian De Palma may have sat down for an extra Mastercard Masterclass the other day, or perhaps for a few minutes with the press, before or after the Mastercard conversation with Rossy De Palma, Nadine Labaki, and Valeria Golino. A rough-cut Reuters video is posted at One News Page. Meanwhile, Mike Davidson of Reuters filed an edited interview article that posted earlier this morning, under the headline, "A Minute with: Brian De Palma on horror, #MeToo and critics"...
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Veteran film director Brian De Palma, maker of “Carrie” and “Scarface”, has no intention of retiring yet, though he is 78, and is now working on a horror movie inspired by the scandal engulfing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Some 70 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades. Once among Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein has denied the accusations and said any sexual encounters were consensual. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against him.

In an interview with Reuters during the Venice Film Festival, where De Palma revisited his career in a masterclass, the director spoke about sexual misconduct in Hollywood, dealing with bad reviews and adapting to changes.

Below are edited excerpts of the interview.

Q: There is talk you are looking to revisit the horror genre maybe with a take inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Why that subject matter?

De Palma: “Because my years of working in and out of Hollywood you were very aware of the kind of abuse to women that was going on. And being a director who directs women all the time you are very sensitive in how they are treated in the movie that you are making. So I was aware of some of the things that were happening during the Harvey Weinstein era and it is an interesting story to tell, plus, I like the sort of suspense drama and I created a script that is sort of based on some of the real cases reported in the New York Times. But it is basically a suspense film using that as the historical backdrop.

Q: Did the #MeToo movement need happen to bring change?

De Palma: “It annoyed directors like myself and others of my contemporaries because as directors you deal with actors all the time. And you must engender their trust. And if you... take them out to dinner or abuse them, it goes against what you are trying to do to gain their trust in order for them to be as free when they perform in their movies. It is basically crazy and people who do it, I always have felt are misusing their power.”

Q: You have had a feisty relationship with some of the film press. Do you think some of that was unjustified in the past?

De Palma: “You are always judged against the fashion of the day so you can’t take it too seriously. A lot of my films did not do well when they came out and were not particularly reviewed well and people are still talking about (them) today.

At the time it can be quite hurtful but if you outlive it you will be surprised what remains important in cinema over the years.”

Q: A number of your films in the 1980s had the feistiness of Hollywood then. It seems those films are now out of vogue.

De Palma: “It is a skill. Not only that, whatever happened to beauty in cinema? When was the last beautiful picture you saw where people were lit beautifully? That means you have to sit or be in a particular light and say your lines so that you are hit a certain way like they did in the 1930s and the 1940s. You don’t see that any more.”

Q: What challenges have you faced as the industry changed?

De Palma: “You try to do the best you can but in the immortal words of (director) William Wyler ‘Once your legs go it is time to hang up your riding crop’ basically. It gets more difficult to make movies if you physically have limitations so if I get to make a couple more pictures, great, but as you are heading into 80, it becomes quite a challenge.”

DE PALMA, AGAIN: "At the time it can be quite hurtful but if you outlive it you will be surprised what remains important in cinema over the years."

Posted by Geoff at 9:36 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 2, 2019 11:06 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

2018 will be the final year that Piers Handling (pictured above from 2014 with Ivan Reitman, Norman Jewison, Al Pacino, Brian De Palma and Barry Levinson) will be in charge of the Toronto International Film Festival. As Barry Hertz writes today at The Globe And Mail, Handling has been TIFF's "director and chief executive for the past 24 years." In a sort of "exit interview" prior to next week's start of TIFF's 43rd edition, the name Harvey Weinstein ("the great unnameable") comes up several times. "The festival wasn’t obsessed with awards," Handling tells Hertz, "but it was increasingly important, and the landscape totally changed in the 90s, as studios got more comfortable using festivals, largely because of the great unnameable, Harvey Weinstein, who revolutionized the way award campaigns were run. Toronto now tees off the award season because it’s basically a free press junket for North American media."

Later in the interview, Hertz delves more into questions centered around Weinstein:
You say that Weinstein changed the game for festivals. When the allegations came out against him last year, did it cause you to re-examine TIFF’s dealings with Weinstein? How close were you with him and his company?

We were negotiating with him every year, as we did with every other single North American distributor and studio. We obviously in no way condone any of what happened, and we were the first festival to come out in support of the women who came forward. You have no sense of what’s going on in your festival behind closed doors and in hotel rooms. But we’ve tightened up and we’ve always had a sexual harassment policy in place, which we’re going to make more public. There will be a hotline to call, signage, a code of conduct. We take it very seriously.

Did the allegations shock you? There was always talk about him being a bully, certainly ...

That’s a tough question to ask because is there any behaviour that surprises me at the end of the day? You’re in the movie business. Go back to the old Hollywood studio bosses – read Marilyn Monroe’s memoirs for Christ’s sake. The casting couch syndrome goes back to theatre. Does it come as a surprise that there are people still continuing that bad behaviour? No. Does it come as a surprise that that’s the person? Yes. It’s something you wish would go away, and I have no idea if at the end of the day it will. I know the #MeToo movement is going to make great inroads, and all of us are clamping down. But it’s going to take more than one year, two years, to change the industry.

What do you think of Brian De Palma’s plans to make a Weinstein-inspired horror movie set during TIFF?

[Laughs] Well, Brian’s made a movie set in Cannes, and Harvey was here all the time … I’m not going to have to deal with the issue in my position as CEO, someone else will. Whether the film gets made or not, who knows? I was amused by it. I read that and thought, “That’s Brian being outrageous.”

Were you ever tempted to go elsewhere?

I was approached, but you’re running the most important, biggest festival in the world. Some approaches were to run institutions where I’d be an administrator, and I didn’t want to be an administrator raising money. I wanted to be the film guy who had the luxury and opportunity to run an institution with people around me who could do most of that work, exceptional fundraisers who know their business. This is one of the best film jobs in the world, and it’s allowed me to dream my own dreams.

It was announced this week that Joana Vicente will be the new executive director and co-head of TIFF, joining the previously announced co-head and artistic director Cameron Bailey. Vincente is married to Jason Kliot. As co-presidents of HDNet Films, Vincente and Kliot co-produced De Palma's Redacted in 2007. At the New York Film Festival that year, Kliot jumped on stage during an after-screening Q&A (moderated by J. Hoberman) to try to explain the legal issues involved that led to the real-life photos from Iraq in Redacted's final sequence being themselves redacted, against De Palma's wishes:
Hi, I'm one of the producers on the film, and I've been dealing with the legal issues with Brian for a very long time. I think... what has to be understood here, is that, first of all, Brian absolutely tried to indemnify Magnolia, and Mark [Cuban] and Todd [Wagner]. So did myself and the other producers of the film. We were willing to put ourselves on the line to actually get the unredacted pictures out there. But that is not legally acceptable. That doesn't mean that people can't go after Cuban and Wagner, and the people who financed the film. And ultimately, it's their decision whether or not they want to take that risk. What I think is really horrible here, and, you know, what is becoming in the press, a sort of "Cuban vs. De Palma" type of silly debate, is that, E&O insurance, since 9/11, errors and omissions insurance, has become incredibly difficult to get for American films. And the Fair Use laws in America are completely unfair. And they set it up so that we cannot use images of our own culture to tell the truth about our own culture. And that is a restriction that occurs to documentaries that are out there, as well as feature films, and this is a much larger issue.

Posted by Geoff at 11:46 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2018 11:55 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Brian De Palma is interviewed in the summer issue (#17) of La Septième Obsession, and talks a bit about Predator:
It seemed to me that the Weinstein affair was an excellent field for a psychological horror film called Predator. It will not be a realistic movie, far from it. I followed this story and the hashtag MeToo on television and in the newspapers. It gave me the idea of making an extremely terrifying movie.

Elsewhere in the interview, De Palma is asked if he thinks it is still possible to create political images in the United States:
Yes, but it's more and more difficult. Even for my film about Harvey Weinstein, I could not get enough funding in the United States. They are terrified by the idea of producing something so close to their own industry, they don't want to know anything about it, certainly not to see it on the big screen. It's unfortunate. My films that criticized US foreign policy have not been well received and have only found their audience in Europe. I often make films about power and corruption, whether in Phantom Of The Paradise or Scarface, because it fascinates me. Today, there is more and more paranoia, some people isolate themselves from reality; we live in a time when this is happening with our president, Donald Trump.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2018 12:59 AM CDT
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Thursday, June 7, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/torontostartiff.jpgThe Toronto Star's Peter Howell interviewed Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, the other day. Bailey tells Howell that TIFF has been following the news of Brian De Palma's Predator on Twitter, and that while he hasn't yet been approached about the film being shot at the festival, they are "following it as we read Twitter," and are open to the possibility. Here's more from Howell's article:
Is Brian De Palma really going to make a Harvey Weinstein-inspired horror movie and set it at the Toronto International Film Festival? If so, it could help serve as a reminder of the need to fight sexual harassment and to empower women, says TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey.

“It reminds us of just the real importance and the urgency of making a change in the film industry when it comes to gender parity,” Bailey told the Star.

Online reports this week, drawing from interviews De Palma is doing while on a European book tour, say the writer/director plans to make a horror film called Predator in Toronto based on the alleged sex crimes of disgraced producer Weinstein.

The film, to be produced by the same people who made Paul Verhoeven’s controversial rape-reckoning film Elle, would potentially use TIFF as a backdrop for the title predator’s crimes. Weinstein, who this week pleaded not guilty to multiple rape and criminal sex act charges in New York, is alleged to have used film festivals — including TIFF, Cannes and Sundance — as his hunting grounds to abuse women.

Bailey, who will become TIFF’s co-head on Oct. 1, said he hasn’t yet been approached about the film by Hollywood veteran De Palma, whose previous movies include Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Mission: Impossible.

He said TIFF is “following it as we read Twitter” and it’s too soon to say whether the festival would allow De Palma, 77, to use its TIFF Bell Lightbox headquarters and other facilities for a movie shoot, the way Cannes did when the American filmmaker used the French festival for multiple scenes in his 2002 thriller Femme Fatale.

Added Bailey: “I think we’d probably wait to see where this project goes and what it asks of us, but for us, really, what it raises is just the kind of harassment that had been happening throughout the industry, including at film festivals over the years, and how important it is to get women into more positions of power in the industry, telling their own stories. We’ve been doing a lot of that here, by Share Her Journey and other things.”

De Palma has been a familiar face at TIFF for decades. He most recently visited the festival in 2016, where he served as one of the three jury members of the Platform program, a mini-competition within the festival to select the best of new and challenging world cinema.

“Brian’s been at the festival many times and we think he’s a great filmmaker,” Bailey said. “This project (Predator) is something that I think we just need to see what happens with it.”

Posted by Geoff at 8:29 AM CDT
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Monday, June 4, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/predatorscreenplayjune42018a.jpgThe Hollywood horror picture about a Harvey Weinstein-like "sexual aggressor" that Brian De Palma mentioned a few days ago is titled Predator. For this film, De Palma is reteaming with Saïd Ben Saïd, who produced De Palma's Passion six years ago. Ben Saïd will produce along with partner Michel Merkt, reports Deadline's Nancy Tartaglione. Ben Saïd posted this image of the screenplay on Twitter, with the comment, "Work in progress..."

In an interview posted today at Le Point, De Palma tells Philippe Guedj that the film will take place at the Toronto International Film Festival. When Guedj describes it as "a film inspired by the Weinstein affair," De Palma responds, "More specifically, a horror film whose plot will be in a context of sexual harassment in Hollywood and which will take place during the Toronto Film Festival. We will go there and Saïd Ben Saïd will be our producer. But we can not seriously start production for another year, Saïd is already occupied with four other films, he can not manage this one before the summer of 2019."

Predator is just the sort of edgy material that seems to suit Saïd Ben Saïd: he produced Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert's Elle, and one of the films he is currently in production on is Verhoeven's follow-up, Benedetta (formerly titled Blessed Virgin), a lesbian nun drama which stars Elle's Virginie Efira as the real-life 17th century nun Benedetta Carlini.

De Palma writing Hollywood horror movie

Posted by Geoff at 8:53 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, June 5, 2018 7:28 AM CDT
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Friday, June 1, 2018
Le Parisien's Catherine Balle posted an interview today with Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman. At the end of the interview, Balle states, "Since October, the world of cinema only talks about the Weinstein affair..." To which De Palma responds, "I'm writing a film about this scandal, a project I'm talking about with a French producer. My character won't be named Harvey Weinstein, but it will be a horror film, with a sexual aggressor, and it will take place in the film industry."

De Palma also talked to AFP about the idea yesterday, saying that it could become a book or a film. Regarding the #MeToo movement, De Palma tells AFP, "I followed it very closely, because I know a lot of people involved. I've seen this type of abuse unfold, I've heard stories all these years. I always reacted very strongly when someone did such things. As a director, you take actors, and you have to get their trust and love (...) To violate that in any way, for me it's just the worst thing you can do."

BBC News adds a bit more from De Palma, in regards to the #MeToo movement: "It will be interesting to see when women start controlling the aesthetic, what is going to happen. It would be interesting to see if their gaze is so much different than ours. Because a lot of movies are about the male gaze, what the male sees."

The quotes from Le Parisien caught on like wildfire today all over the place, with some other aspects of that interview being sprinkled into the articles here and there. Here's the whole thing, with assistance from Google translation:

The plot of your novel "Are Snakes Necessary" was supposed to be a movie?

Brian De Palma. I had tons of ideas I'd written over the years, thinking about scenarios. And then one day, I told Susan: What if we made a novel? I gave her the intrigues and the dialogues, and Susan developed the characters. When you write for the cinema, you do not work the characters too much, because they depend a lot on the actors who will embody them ...

Susan, was it hard working with Brian?

Susan Lehman. No, it was very pleasant! Brian has millions of ideas all the time. We tried to have fun with each other and we often arrived there.

Brian, it makes you happy, this retrospective at the Cinémathèque?

B. de P. I am very honored that the French recognize my work, as they did in 2000 at the Center Pompidou. That's why we published our book in France and not in the United States: because you seem to understand me better than "those" Americans.

Of all your movies, which ones are your favorites?

B. de P. I hate this question ...

So which one is the most undervalued?

B. de P. "Casualties Of War", which had bad reviews at its release, while I think it is the best movie about the Vietnam War.

And you like "Scarface"?

B. de P. "Scarface" is a wonderful film, very special. This is an example of a perfectly successful collaboration between different talents.

You have just finished "Domino", a film about terrorism, shot in Denmark, Belgium and Spain ...

B. de P. It was a horrible experience. The film was underfunded, it was far behind, the producer did not stop lying to us and did not pay some of my staff. I don't know at all if this feature will be released.

But you like it?

B. de P. Yes, it is good.

S.L. It's very good.

"Passion", your last movie, dates from 2012. Why did you wait five years before making a movie?

B. de P. If you do not just make a blockbuster, it's very hard to redo a movie ... I could never have done "Casualties Of War" (in 1989) if I had not done "The Untouchables"(in 1987).

You're mad at Hollywood ...

B. from P. Hollywood has changed. Dinosaur and superhero movies are made for kids! You can not make serious movies over there ... unless you are Spielberg and you are the studio. After "Mission: Impossible", when Tom (Cruise) said he wanted to make another one, I said, "Are you kidding?" Why do I want to make another movie like this? ... After that, I did "Snake Eyes", "Mission to Mars" and there I said: Stop. I was tired of these big movies, where you fight with the studios to know how much the special effects cost.

What movies did you recently like?

S.L. We love "A French village". We watched all the seasons and we will see them again.

Brian, have you been offered to make movies for Netflix?

B. de P. Yes, but I need a big screen because I am a visual stylist.

Since October, the world of cinema only talks about the Weinstein affair ...

B. de P. I'm writing a film about this scandal, a project I'm talking about with a French producer. My character won't be named Harvey Weinstein, but it will be a horror film, with a sexual aggressor, and it will take place in the film industry.

Posted by Geoff at 10:44 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 4, 2018 10:13 PM CDT
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