Being independent filmmakers presents certain challenges, but imagine the added challenges of shooting a film in Paris. Screenwriters of Under the Eiffel Tower, Archie Borders and David Henry, discuss filming internationally.
Under the Eiffel Tower tells the tale of a Kentucky man who suffers a mid-life crisis while in France but meets a new love after a fantasy of love fails him. This rom-com screenplay is by Archie Borders and David Henry, both of whom live in Louisville, Kentucky but work internationally. Borders co-owns the production company 180 Degrees, which Henry also works at as a producer. This is the second film the two have written together (previously, Pleased to Meet Me), and they are already working on another.
The film is based on a true story about another Louisville producer whose Eiffel Tower proposal was rejected by his girlfriend after he invited himself along on her family’s vacation in France. While parts of the story were twisted into fiction, the location remained integral, and I was curious about some of the processes in writing a script you plan to produce in another country.
You can listen to more about the script in this “Selling Your Screenplay” podcast interview with Borders.
How did you meet and become writing partners? What made you appealing to each other as partners?
David: Ben Daughtrey and I were writing a screenplay together—a musical—when he introduced me to Archie. But I’d been aware of Archie since shortly after I moved to Louisville when his first feature, Reception to Follow, premiered at the long-gone and still lamented Vogue Theatre. I thought it was wonderful, and really inventive in the way the story was staged and told.
Archie: Our writing relationship really began when I asked Dave to read and then rewrite, my screenplay for Pleased to Meet Me. Dave is extremely well read, both in classic writing but also popular culture. He’s got a dry wit and can turn a phrase so much better than I. He takes my writing and makes the good stuff better and then, with surgical timing and precision, cuts out the bed. But never with any rancor or disdain. And he listens and is thoughtful. A quality I think all good writers have.
Had you both been to France before writing?
David: My first time in Paris was thirty years ago, while visiting friends in Bremen, Germany. I took the train and spent three days walking around the city by myself, which is perhaps not the best way to enjoy the City of Love, but it was a wonderful time nonetheless, and I knew I’d be back. We have good friends from Louisville who’ve lived in the Dordogne region of France, and our family has twice had the opportunity to visit them and explore the surrounding wine country. They were tremendous help to us on our first location scout, driving us around and making introductions.
Archie: I had not been to France before beginning UTET and I took my first trip when we did our initial scout, before we had cast the film or raised any money. Dave was definitely the more experienced about the geography of the subject.
Was that Paris location aspect of the story just too good for the embarrassment factor or did you consider changing that at all?
David: Early in the writing process we did talk about ways we might adapt the script—to Sonoma Valley, for example—if we couldn’t raise the money to shoot in France. We weren’t too excited by that idea, though. France was always the goal.
Archie: It was really a function of the story. Stuart was on his best friend’s family’s two-week itinerary, which explains why they keep running into each other. Since he was broke, from having been fired and running up his credit card bill, he couldn’t afford to pay for a change ticket so he’s stuck there.
It might be a little different since you were writing to direct than it would for a studio, but how did you handle the French in the script?
Archie: We had always planned on subtitling it, because I hate it in movies when you’re watching two non-English natives speaking English it’s like… What? It feels phony. For the readers, we usually would write the words (in French) in the parenthetical, and then do the rest in English. But sometimes we mixed it up to create a feeling of disorientation.
There are a lot of interesting locations in this film, from passing shots of the countryside while they are on the train, the shot of the moon, etc.—did you write that into the script, like “countrysides roll by” or are those “b-roll” moments when the director’s hat took over and it was put in while planning the shoot?
Archie: It’s often a combination. When Leo Hinstin, my Director of Photography, and I would go out to shoot 2nd Unit, we’d find those little details that illuminated a sense of place. Sometimes, if we were blocking a scene or setting up, Leo would simply spin the camera around and grab an insert, if he felt inspired. Not everything is planned but the more you can plan out before hand, the better.
With such a romantic setting, did you use evocative descriptions of these locations in the script or keep them simple like “A Vineyard”? I imagine the process might be a little different if you are the director and bypassing studio readers. Mind sharing a line from the screenplay that represents your style?
Archie: Here’s a sample location description:
EXT. VILLAGE RESTAURANT (CHEZ FREDERIC) — DUSK ESTABLISHING
Situated by the river in a commune the size of Brantome, the restaurant windows emit a welcoming glow from within.
Did you write the supporting character Liam, a wounded Scottish freeloader, as Scottish or write the character and let the ethnicity be decided in casting?
Archie: Liam was specifically described as Scottish. It was a nice contrast between the American Stuart and the elegant, French Louise. Also, since I’m part Scottish, I’ve always liked the rougher, earthier lilt of the accent. My great grandfather had a Scottish accent like the Terrier in Lady in the Tramp, so I included that.
Were there any surprises that you came across that forced you to change the script based on shooting in France? Were you met different realities once you were there that didn’t quite translate correctly that other writers should keep in mind while writing?
Archie: I had prepared a very meticulous shot list, since we had a short pre-production schedule. Leo was great about comparing that list with the locations we had chosen remotely. In other words, the location scout would send me photos, I’d pick the places I liked and then I would try and design the scenes based on information from those photos. Leo would then compare that with my list. It was especially helpful in the train sequences where he’d diagram the shot list and lighting down to the detail. I normally like to be a bit looser when directing but given the short schedule, we didn’t have that luxury. But even the best laid plans can go awry; when we shot at the Eiffel Tower, which has a number of entrances, all arranged differently, and we had scouted and designed the scene based on one location. But when we arrived on the morning of the shoot, the security authorities moved us to another entrance. Completely different set ups and blocking but you have to improvise. That’s where the years of shooting low-budget movies and videos came in very handy. It gives you a momentary pause, but then you quickly adapt or risk losing the scene.
Anything else you think readers should know about writing a script set in another country?
Archie: Work with a great line producer. Our French producers, Kanzaman, particularly Frederic Bovis and Lucete Legote, navigated the logistics of location, the differences between U.S. and foreign currencies, and provided a great crew to carry out everything for the production. So, just know that if you’re going to be shooting in another country, you’d better have a team you trust that can handle those always changing parameters.
Do you plan to write solo projects in the future or are you story bros for life?
Archie: We are working on a third and fourth right now. The third is written with Louisvillians Kiley Lane Parker and Erin Roark, and we’re doing another draft of that one even as we speak. The fourth is still in the talking/outlining stage but we hope to tackle that when time allows. I’ve got two horror projects co-written with other writers, and Dave is an active writer of books and collaborates with others and solos.
David: We, together and separately, always have multiple projects underway in various stages of development. Besides the two projects Archie spoke of, I’m right now working on a stage play with my brother Joe, a singer-songwriter, recording artist, and multi-Grammy-winning producer. Joe and I previously collaborated on an unproduced screenplay about Richard Pryor, which led to us writing Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
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