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About The Production
An Interview with Director/Screenwriter /Producer


Tell us how the adventure of your first American film started.

It all started just after TELL NO ONE was released in the United States. Because the movie was quite a hit there, I received a lot of proposals from studios asking me to direct movies in America. Mainly big money-making machines. I didn't feel ready to take this path even though I felt quite excited about making a movie in the U.S., and in English. It wasn't that I was obsessed with achieving the American Dream as a filmmaker or as an actor, but that I felt like working in a different way, and in English, and that I was keen to tap into the extraordinary pool of American actors. So I had this idea in the back of my mind but I was well aware that - control freak that I am - I'd never be able to make a film for a studio with a producer breathing down my neck and telling me what to do for each and every shot and throughout the whole editing process.

That was why I had turned down every offer I received at the time. It didn't stop my agent from insisting and trying again and again. So naturally I thought it over, and finally I came to the conclusion that the only way for me to make a movie in the U.S. was to go there with a personal project. But there was another problem: I felt totally unable to write a script in English on my own.

How did you come up with the idea of adapting LES LIENS DU SAN G?

Behind the wheel of my car! I was on my way to meet my friend Christophe Offenstein (the Cinematographer) to go skiing. It was in early 2007. I have no idea why the original BLOOD TIES suddenly leapt to my mind - but this film is very special to me. It has to do with the fact that this was the first project I was offered as an actor that I would have liked to direct. Having said that, I had fun doing this film thanks to Jacques (Maillot).

What's more, I really liked the movie so I never felt any frustration. All of a sudden, in the car it all came back to me and I thought that I had hit upon a good idea. The thing is, I knew Ridley Scott was looking to buy the rights to the remake. It was crucial not to waste time. So while I was driving I called up all the producers at LGM, my American agent's office. I realized that everybody was definitely thrilled by the project which is how it all started...

James Gray co-wrote this adaptation with you. How did this collaboration start?

One day, I got a phone call from my French agent saying that James Gray was in Paris and he wished to meet me after he'd seen and enjoyed TELL NO ONE. We had lunch together and right away I had this weird feeling that I had known him for 20 years. A few months later, I ran into him at the Cannes Film Festival where he was a jury member. At that time the project of a remake of BLOOD TIES was shaping up and I was looking for a screenwriter with whom to co-write the film, someone who could set the story in New York in the 70s. I asked James if he knew of any possible candidates and his answer was brief and surprising: "Me!" - it was surprising because until then he hadn't written anything for anybody else. But he said he liked the story and would be happy to work with me. To be honest, my immediate reaction was one of disbelief. And then he came to France to receive a tribute award at the Beaune festival. I managed to corner him for two weeks in Paris and we started writing. As you can imagine, I learned a lot from him. But not what I had figured on at the start. James taught me a lot of things about film structure whereas I had expected him to help me to adapt the story to New York. However, when he left Paris we hadn't even written a proper first draft. So some time later I flew to Los Angeles to carry on working on the script with him. We managed to write a first, albeit incomplete, draft which was readable.

What was the biggest problem you dealt with when turning BLOOD TIES into an American story?

I wanted to stick to the storyline and I cut down on the number of characters in order to focus on a more in-depth analysis of some. For example: I wanted the girlfriend of the cop played by Billy Crudup to be African-American. And I assumed that their love story - before they split up and were reunited again later on - dated back to the 60s with all the issues raised by such a relationship between a white man and a black woman in those days. This kind of detail allowed me to "Americanize" my story. So I wished to spend more time depicting these characters. However, in order to fight against my regrettable tendency to make films too long, I had to cut some of the storyline and did so during the writing process. It was the most difficult part of writing the script. On the other hand, adapting the plot to American culture was really enjoyable. For instance finding out in which parts of New York the story was going to unfurl...the bottom line of this adventure was my wish to make a film set in the U.S. in the 70's. I am an unconditional lover of Cassavetes, Schatzberg, Lumet, Peckinpah and the like. When I was writing the script I already had in mind the special grainy quality of the film. I wanted the viewer to feel immersed in the atmosphere of the 70's and not to be watching a recreation of the era. That's why I fought hard for the cars to look old onscreen and for the streets to be just as filthy as they were back then. And I wasted long half-days getting them dirty in order to make the whole thing look gritty (laughs). I worked in the same way with Christophe Offenstein, my long-standing DP. This also went for the kind of camera I chose to film this story in order to obtain the specific grainy feel I mentioned.

How did you come to cast the two leads played by Clive Owen and Billy Crudup?

It started with a phone call from my American agent saying that Mark Wahlberg wanted to meet me after he had seen TELL NO ONE. To me it was the epitome of the false good idea. Mark Wahlberg playing in a script co-written by James Gray about the story of two brothers! It obviously sounded deja-vu! However as my agent insisted, I met Mark Wahlberg. My idea was to tell him I was happy to meet him and honored that he wanted to work with me but that frankly he was not right for the part. All the more so as he had just finished THE FIGHTER. He told me that, to the contrary, I was wrong and that we had to make this film together. I gave him the script and two days later he called to tell me he just loved it. So in the ensuing months I started looking for the guy who could play the elder brother. I'll gloss over the difficulties of my search but it was a long, hard slog. Then one day I had an epiphany.

I thought of Francois Cluzet in TELL NO ONE and realized that I was on the wrong track in my search for notorious actors instead of focusing on their talent. At that point Clive Owen jumped to my mind. I had loved his performance in CHILDREN OF MEN. So I called Alfonso Cuaron, whom I am lucky enough to know. I told him about my idea and he picked up the phone and called up Clive to describe the project and advise him to accept it (laughs).

Why did you choose him rather than someone else?

Because when you select your cast, you must always know if the role an actor is cast for is the role of a lifetime. If it's going to matter to him. Because when an actor plays a part that may change the course of his life and bring him something essential, he will naturally feel more deeply involved. And I thought that this was the case for Clive Owen with the part of the gangster in BLOOD TIES. He had to alter his accent to sound American. It was a new line of work, different from the roles he had played in earlier movies and he had to portray a charismatic and tough, appealing and frightening man. He accepted to embark upon this adventure. So there I was, confident that I had found my two brothers. And then... Mark Wahlberg told me that he couldn't do the film. He had second thoughts since the part was too similar to the ones that he had been playing. It was like the sky was suddenly falling because his name had helped us, in large part, to raise money for the film.

How did Billy Crudup end up landing the role of the cop, Clive Owen's brother?

Honestly, for one and a half months I lived a nightmare under enormous time pressure. The very existence of the film was under threat. I won't lie to you, some actors took me for a ride. Until I decided again to focus on talent when selecting my actors, as I had with Clive Owen. That's when Billy Crudup's name suddenly cropped up. I had loved him in ALMOST FAMOUS and JESUS' SON and, in my opinion, he exudes vulnerability, an essential feature of his character. It took Billy two days to read the script after which he immediately came on board.

What was your first taste of America?

To settle the issues of casting that I mentioned before I showed up unannounced in the New York production office one week before the official pre-production start date. Guess what, nobody knew who I was. In fact, I realized that no-one believed the film was going to be made, which meant that nothing had been planned or organized. Believe me, it was a surreal experience. I was faced with issues I had never experienced before, not even with my first film. BLOOD TIES was an extraordinary experience because I was faced with another culture and another filmmaking style. Rules in America have absolutely nothing to do with French rules.

This American experience must have changed your relationships with actors.

That's true. Contrary to what I usually do, I hadn't been able to get them together for a reading or even have the cast rehearse before the shoot. Here again, I had to adjust to a new approach. I had expressed my misgivings to James Caan and told him I'd rather not wait until the first day of shooting to discuss wardrobe issues with him - wouldn't it be wiser to settle them beforehand? He answered that he had never done any rehearsals in his life and certainly wasn't going to start now. He said that I shouldn't worry and that within a couple of days, I was going to call him "Jimmy the Dream." Well, guess what, two days after he arrived I went to see him and called him "Jimmy the Dream!" Everything he had told me came true. Although this is complicated, and even painful at times, it was also filled with fascinating moments. Shooting in New York invigorates you in some peculiar way. Even though I sometimes felt confused, I never lost my stamina. Every night I went back home totally exhausted and every morning my excitement returned bigger than ever.

Did speaking to your actors in English change the way you worked?

Absolutely. I am very talkative on a set. I love giving a lot of instructions. Naturally I can't be as specific in English as in French. So as I often realized that the cast had not grasped the full meaning of what I was asking them to do, I would repeat my instructions trying to use other words. There again, I had to stay the course. I had a great time with them all. Some of them, like French actors, are more complicated than others and each one has a specific approach to acting. Some are real professionals, who take their jobs very seriously, and no matter how small their roles may be they are fully engaged.

Music plays a crucial role in this film. Were the pieces that we hear composed during the writing process as you usually do?

Yes, I would play the music on the set before shooting the scenes. And here more than ever because the songs play a crucial role in creating the atmosphere of the 70's onscreen. But this method surprised my crew. In France, technicians love it because they get immersed in the mood of the films. Over there they thought I was out of my mind.

The songs aside, you asked your friend Maxim Nucci from Yodelice to write the score. Why did you choose him?

I was lucky enough to do the editing of BLOOD TIES at home, which helps you focus fully. And Maxim visited me on holiday. Naturally I had a specific idea on my mind (laughs) and I offered to show him the rough cut. After we watched a couple of scenes again, I suggested he plug in his guitar and accompany them on his instrument to find out if he found them inspiring. And he started creating a sublime piece to accompany the scene in which Frank sees his brother Chris to prison. I subsequently asked him to compose the film score.

How did you proceed working together?

As time went by, I realized that I was interfering too much with the work of my team. But I am learning! For instance it was really difficult to compose the score of the chase finale. I had probably swamped Maxim with too many details. So one day I called him to tell him to forget all my instructions and give free rein to his imagination. He was so keen to conform to my guidelines that his pieces sounded too academic and empty of emotion. So the following day, he had me listen to a theme which was a mix of two phrases that he had created for the characters of Chris and Franck, with one phrase spinning out of control to wrap itself around the other. The idea was so astounding it gave me goose bumps.

As for the editing process that you mentioned before, you worked with Herve de Luze. Has your collaboration evolved over time?

We've known each other very well for quite a while and here again I think I made some progress on one point: letting people work on their own and entrusting them with more responsibility. When we were editing TELL NO ONE, after three months of editing together I told him to dump everything because we were starting over from scratch. I thought he was going to quit but we did watch all the dailies again and start afresh. On editing LITTLE WHITE LIES I let him have more leeway, and this time around I gave him even more freedom. But the editing of BLOOD TIES has also benefitted from the change in my filmmaking approach, which includes more clear-cut decisions in terms of style. It is one of the good consequences of the rough times I coped with. Consequently I was forced to film a lot of wide shots that couldn't technically be cut. This had never happened to me before. In LITTLE WHITE LIES I couldn't bring myself to do it. BLOOD TIES allowed me to be more assertive in my options and to use more ellipses. And the editing reflects this approach. I hope I'll keep making progress from film to film and learn from each new experience. Interview with Producer


How did the project start?

With just one sentence, Guillaume told me: "I'm going to make a film without you." (laughs) and he set about explaining his idea to adapt LES LIENS DU SANG (RIVALS), in the United States, with LGM (production company) and STUDIOCANAL. Obviously the news saddened me a little because this meant our adventure, which had started with three shorts in the late 90s followed by three feature films, was temporarily coming to an end. Of course I didn't own Guillaume. And I thought that after all, this project would give him some breathing room and even help us develop new ideas together, since at the same time we had signed a contract to develop his next movie and had already been brainstorming ideas for this new project. Naturally, I didn't meddle in the screenplay development of BLOOD TIES. In fact, I didn't even read it.

How did you become part of this adventure then?

Everything started when Guillaume mentioned his worries about the script development. It made sense, since he had been used to teaming up with me for years, which meant that he had only worked with one person. However LGM and STUDIOCANAL didn't see eye to eye on this. It doesn't mean they were not effective. Indeed LGM had hired James Gray and set everything up for the screenplay to be completed. Therefore, everything had been going along as planned. But Guillaume couldn't get his bearings. And he was feeling, rightly or wrongly, a little isolated. So he asked me if I'd be willing to take over the job. Of course I was tempted but it's not something you can do overnight. There had been money invested and producers involved. To start with, I read the screenplay, which I thought was outstanding. An ideal mix of James Gray's and Guillaume's style. You got James Gray's mastery of ellipses, taste for Greek tragedy and some radicalism, and Guillaume's long continuous sequences, which provide an outlet for emotions in key scenes. I was thrilled.

How did you actually find yourself at the helm of the project?

I called LGM and STUDIOCANAL right away to make an appointment in order to discuss it with them. And both played fair, gave their consent and made it easy for me to take over. I advanced all the expenses in order to find myself in familiar territory: being independent and having to deal with only one person, the director. And I started to seek financial partners. On the French side I got positive responses very quickly. The two first partners that followed me with enthusiasm were Vincent Maraval (Wild Bunch) and Stephane Celerier (Mars Distributions). Then Canal+, France 2 and M6 joined us. Then we set off to conquer American investors. At that point we were confronted with different methods and a different culture, which it was wishful thinking to try to change or contravene. I met up with John Lesher, the former Hollywood agent and Paramount boss, who had become an independent producer. His name helped us improve our credibility with the cast. But we were only at the beginning of a long slog. Once Worldview came to the table as an investor and partner to help find a distributor in the U.S., I knew we could complete the film smoothly.

What lesson have you personally learned from this adventure?

BLOOD TIES was an extraordinary experience for me. I was very lucky to produce a film I was not initially expected to make. And what's more to be surrounded by outstanding professionals. Cast and crew. The success of American cinema owes nothing to chance. And having the privilege of seeing it first-hand has been a priceless experience.


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