Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
My adored French friend and film director (with whom I was developing a French film about famed French con man, Christophe Rocancourt) was asking me to give him a French “adapted by” credit afforded him by his French contract. I had argued that because the French production had made a Writers Guild agreement to secure my services, we would be required to abide by WGA rules.
I hoped my attorney, also known as The Werth, would settle the matter.
“He’s a director. WGA will never abide by this French rule,” The Werth had said. “Company made a Guild deal and they will have to live with it no matter what Florent’s contract says.”
I hoped that would end the discussions which were occurring daily and becoming more and more uncomfortable.
“Florent,” I pleaded. “When we make the picture you’re going to get a ‘directed by’ credit. Also, ‘a film by’ credit. What’s one more?”
Over the years, the two of us had argued plenty over the possessory credit directors so often demand in their contracts. They were friendly fights with no real winners or losers. It wasn’t like Florent to let a splinter as small as the odd “adapted by” credit cause him such discomfort. At last, I asked him if his issue was less about credit and more about money.
“It eez true,” he eventually admitted. “I don’t trust Langmann. French producers always try to fuck French directors. Zee ‘adapted’ credit guarantees me money when our film shows on TV and DVD.”
It all made sense. Money was money. Residual revenue is gold to writers and directors who have homes, mortgages, children in private school, and never know when their career might go cold. Yet alas, I couldn’t help. Contracts had been struck. Signatures affixed. We had to move on. So we did, titling the finished product AKA in consideration of Christophe’s many guises.
Langmann’s and Christophe’s initial responses to the screenplay were nothing less than stellar. Rocancourt appeared to have put our Pia fiasco behind him. I was able to attend to the few notes that trickled in while handling my next paid assignment. Because I owed Langmann another draft, I flew to Paris for a few days to discuss any substantive changes we might need and to talk the next step: making his American movie.
This was where I began to discover a certain resistance from the French producer. With a script he liked, a director signed, and a rough budget with the money to back it, the obvious next step was to cast it with a movie star to play Rocancourt.
“We can’t afford Johnny Depp,” defended Langmann.
“How do you know unless you ask?” I said.
“How do I ask?”
“You make an offer to his agents,” I suggested. “It’s not Pirates of the Caribbean. They’ll understand it’s a smaller film requiring some creative deal making.”
“Do I just phone the agent?” he asked. “They don’t know who I am.”
“If your money’s real I promise they’ll figure out just who you are.”
During the annoying conversation, I was screaming inside my own head. Seriously? The friggin’ writer is explaining to the producer how to approach an American star? I strongly suggested Langmann make a trip to Los Angeles with Florent and the script under his arm. Meet with all the major agencies. Explain to them what he had explained to me—that he wanted to make an English language film about the famous French con man. The red carpet would be unfurled and we’d be off to the races.
It was clearly a case of a big fish in a small pond who liked the temperature of his own bath water. So Little Man Langmann continued to stiffen, make excuses for never making the Hollywood trek, and seek ways to make the movie without having to appear as if he was on bended knee in hopes of landing an American movie star.
I told myself fine. Let Langmann and Florent figure it out. I put the project on a mental back burner until I received an urgent call from Paris.
“Langmann says he needs you to come with us to Cannes!” said Florent over the phone. “To zee festival.”
“Uh, errr,” I replied. “Okay. Like when?”
“You must be here tomorrow!” he pressed.
“Wait,” I began to backpedal. The month was May. The iconic Cannes Film Festival was already in progress. “You want me to leave… tomorrow?”
“No. You need to be here tomorrow! I will be there. Langmann. Christophe. We’re going too sell zee movie.”
“What movie?” I asked. “We have no casting yet.”
“We have zee script. Langmann needs you to be here.”
I was trying to do the math. It was late afternoon in Los Angeles. I couldn’t imagine what it would take for me to drop what I was doing and find air travel that got me to Cannes by the next afternoon. And for what? A photo op? To pitch our movie? What kind of haphazard planning had led to this sudden decision?
“You should go,” advised the War Department.
Someone from Langmann’s office called for my vital info to secure the proper flights. Meanwhile, I began a crazed search for my passport and clothes to pack. I wasn’t looking forward to the trip. From what I’d heard about the festival, unless you had a film in competition or a yacht parked off the Croisette, navigating was nothing short of a nightmare. I’d just pulled a travel bag out of my garage when another call came through. There were no flights available that would deliver me to Cannes in time to suit Langmann’s still unknown purposes. And just like that, my absence was excused.
I was never able to fully garner from either Florent or Langmann what had transpired regarding AKA at Cannes. The best I could surmise is that Langmann had given the script for a quick read to a film market buyer from Lionsgate. He or she wasn’t impressed.
“He gave the script to a fucking foreign film buyer?” I shouted at Florent. “This is who Langmann trusts to tell him if the script is quality? Jesus. I’d get a more qualified read from my pool man.”
What happened to the project after that? You’d have to talk with Chris Rocancourt and Thomas Langmann. I know this much. I got busy with other assignments. Florent took a personal pass at the screenplay that I felt was a step backward. When I voiced a complaint to Langmann, he agreed. My guess is that when he spoke with Florent, he was equally two-faced, blaming the project failure on me, the writer. The usual excuse. What I do know is that Langmann began to struggle in his personal life and spent some time in prison for spousal assault. Later he won and Oscar for producing The Artist. Florent, in turn, moved on to make other movies and television.
And that was that. In the meantime, Florent and I continue to collaborate. Our affection remains strong and our mutual respect endures. I truly love him.
As for the con man who brought us all together, he has yet to set foot back in the U.S.—at least legally. In 2012, he allegedly swindled French filmmaker Catherine Breillat out of nearly a million dollars. And presently, he’s awaiting trial on another fraud charge involving the trafficking of counterfeit visas.
For those curious about my screenplay AKA, I’ve temporarily published it HERE. Don’t forget to comment or tell me what you think.
Get Doug’s volume of Hollywood war stories in his new book
The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches