Hollywood’s Best Film Directors


Jean-Pierre Jeunet

In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.

AIRED: May 18, 2020 | 0:25:57

Man: Action!



Narrator: This great Hollywood director started his career

and established his own unique style

with the surrealist black comedy "Delicatessen."

It was a huge success and received seven Caesar awards

and was nominated for a BAFTA.

He followed that up with the very ambitious

"City of Lost Children" starring Ron Perlman.

The film got the attention of the Hollywood studios,

and he was offered the chance to direct Sigourney Weaver

in "Alien: Resurrection."

His next project was the stirring romantic drama

"A Very Long Engagement,"

which tells a touching story of a fiancée

looking for her beloved during the First World War.

Later he would direct the magnificent family adventure

"The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet,"

starring Helena Bonham Carter.

But he will always be best remembered

for bringing to life that big, brown-eyed girl

who helps those around her in the streets of Paris.


My name is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, I'm a French film director.

You are watching "Hollywood's Best Film Directors."

I made "Amélie."

If you remember "Amélie."

You remember "Amélie"?

It was shot in the heart of Montmartre.

This is the reason my office is in Montmartre.

I was born in Roanne,

it's a small town close to Léon, in France.

I grew up in Nancy in eastern France

and my father worked at a telephone company.

My mother, at this time during the '50s,

the mother was used to work at home, to clean the home.

I just remember I was bored

and I wanted to escape, to leave,

and to engage in something.

The teacher were like the fascist guy.

Only punishment and no pleasure.

I quit very early because an event was very important for me.

I was probably 16, 15, and some friends of my parents

came at home with Super 8 camera.

And the guy said, "Okay, you can take it and try it."

So I remember, I can say I remember,

because it was a smell, it was a noise,

it was a texture of the camera.

It was a Bauer, a German Super 8 camera.

And I take it, I took it,

and I remember the sound as well.

[ Imitates camera ]

It was a vibration,

and -- Ah! -- it was a revelation,

like the music in a Monty Python movie.

[ Vocalizes ]

And I understood, "Okay, I just to buy a camera

and I will be a director" and I did it.

[ Speaking French ]

Some director, they say I learn cinema

when I went to the cinema that day.

It wasn't my case. I started to make at nine.

I was very, very young, and the first thing,

if I remember, I built a kind of theater play,

a small theater play, I built the set, the costume,

and I used some sort of mechanic puppets.

And I wrote the story.

I was nine and I have my parents to play,

so I was producer as well.

It was a first step.

I loved animation, reading some books and watching films.

I remember when I was at the telephone company,

I was building some electronic rooms in the east of France

in a small village.

One night I was in a café

because I was sleeping upstairs

and it was a football game on TV, and after the game,

the owner of the café changed the channel

and it was a free cartoon, free animation film,

short film on TV from [ Speaking French ]

A very old-fashioned TV.

And it was a revelation. I was stunned.

I was alone in the café watching the screen.

Luckily the guy changed the channel.

And it was a revelation and I thought "I can do that myself."

I don't need to know some people.

I don't need to have some director,

I can do it alone, myself, in my kitchen, and I did.

I have to say before I started to work

for animation with Marc Caro

because we met in Annecy Film Festival,

and he builds the puppets of my film,

and we decided to make a short TV live action.

So we wrote a scene, "The Bunker of the Last Gunshots"

or something like this,

and we made everything on set.

We were five tons of total crew, a war crew,

and I was director, I made the focus.

I made the editing, even the negative editing.

I cut the negatives myself with white gloves.

And I learned everything from that with just a few tools.

We were so poor that the budget was so low.

But it was a good lesson.

And after that, we decided to write a feature, of course,

but we were crazy.

"The Bunker," the short film, had a success.

We won some award.


Jeunet: So we wrote "The City of Lost Children,"

which was so expensive.

We were completely crazy.

We didn't have any idea the budget cost of the film.

And we were so naive.

We gave the script to a producer.

He said, "Oh, too expensive."

Okay, let's work on the one.

And we want maybe two, three movies.

And we were so naive.

[ Man speaking French ]

During the process when we were looking for a cheap story,

I was living in an apartment on the first floor

and underneath it was a butchery.

And every morning I could hear the noise

of the knife of the butcher cutting the meat, you know?

And my girlfriend at this time, she said, "Oh, it's time to move

because probably they kill the neighbor.

Now they kill the neighbor on the sixth floor.

The next week, it will be the fifth floor,

and in one month, it will be us.

So we have to leave." It was a joke, but I thought,

"Okay. It's a good joke, it's a good pretext for a film"

because it was an opportunity to shoot in the same place

with a few actors.

And luckily this film got a big success

because UGC was a producer.

They sold the film in one week in Cannes Film Festival

in every country.

It was a kind of gossip in Cannes

and everybody spoke about "Delicatessen"

and we got the big success everywhere.

[ Screams ]

Man: Action!



"Alien: Resurrection."

If "The City of Lost Children" was not a disaster

but it wasn't a big success in France.

American people were stumped about the film

with so many visual effect,

we invented the software for the visual effect.

We were the first to mix in digital.

It was very new. So Hollywood was all interested

so they called me for "Alien: Resurrection."

I didn't want. I was ready to write "Amélie,"

so I didn't want to make on the Hollywood movie

but I was curious because I didn't speak

English at all at this time.

So I was curious to see a meeting

in a big studio to visit Hollywood too.

So I said, "Okay, let's do a meeting."

And, of course, during the meeting I said

"Why do you want to hire me. You have so many good director

You can choose everybody," you know.

And, of course, when you say that

they want you, and I stayed 10 days

instead of two days, and after 10 days

they called me to say, "You make the film."

So I was, "Oh! I don't want to make your Hollywood movie."

And I was sure I will be fired after two weeks.

And I took the airplane with British Airways,

and I was ready to hijack the airplane.

I don't want to go to Hollywood,

but luckily I came to New York

and I met Sigourney Weaver, and she was so warm with me,

so happy to to work with me.

So I started to make the film.

And after a while, it became my film.

I remember I said to the studio,

"If I make the film, I need to make a storyboard."

And they told me, "No, no, we don't have the time.

You have to start the next week. You're too late."

I said, "Okay, no problem. Bye bye."

And really I did that.

"Okay. Nice to meet you. I go back to Paris. Ciao!"

And they were stunned. Nobody did that.

They never did that before, you know.

And, "Okay let's give us a time to think,"

and two days after they said, "Okay, you have the storyboard."

"Amélie" was on my mind since a long time,

it was a kind of collection of so many ideas in my box.

My box is a computer, of course, a Macintosh,

but I had so many ideas

and I needed to find the theme of "Amélie."

And it was very difficult I took maybe one or two year

to find the main theme,

and in my notes it was a small idea.

The girl, not a girl.

Some people helping other people, because one day

I was in the center of Paris and I saw a guy.

He didn't have any legs. And he was in a box

like in a Western moving, you know, with wheels.

And it was so weird in the middle of Paris.

Maybe about, what, 15 years ago, and I thought,

"Oh, my God, maybe this guy has some friends

and they are so poor because they are freaks

and they don't have any future

and maybe their only passion

is to help other people in secret."

And I thought, "I think I have a good idea."

But, of course, I didn't want to use freaks

because that is a good film, Freaks

And I thought maybe it will be better

with a beautiful young lady.

The first reaction was from the Cannes Film Festival

and they didn't like it.

They said "It's a mistake.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet couldn't make this film.

We don't like it." So we were very disappointed.

because the first reaction we thought

maybe it would be a disaster. It wasn't a disaster.

And little by little it blew up, it was such an event in France.

Everybody were speaking about "Amélie" too.

Like now the place in Montmartre,

the neighborhood is so expensive because of "Amélie."

"Amélie" changed completely Montmartre.

And until now, 12, 13 years after the film,

you can go to the Café des Deux Moulins.

You see some people taking some picture every four minutes

13 years after.

So it was the dream for every directors.

When you make something very personal

and it becomes a huge success.

[ Speaking French ]

"A Very Long Engagement" was in my mind because I read the book

a long time ago.

But the writer of the book, of the novel,

it was Warner, I think. And it was so expensive,

I couldn't get the rights. It was impossible.

But because of the success of "Amélie,"

I could imagine to have the rights.

So I called Warner and they said "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

And they gave us a lot of money to make the film.

When we made the film, when we arrived every morning

with Bill Gerber, my DP, I remember we saw in the sky

a big crane for the lighting, a camera.

We thought, "Oh, we have big, big luck."

And the film was a huge success in France.

[ Screaming ]

It's about the First World War.

It was a kind of obsession for me when I was a teenager.

I read every book about the First World War,

don't ask me why, it was a kind of obsession.

And after that, I felt more relieved after that

because I spoke about the First World War.

When I came inside the trench

for the first time with the helmet on my head,

I had the feeling I knew that before.

And I made a lot of time with his joke,

but it probably not completely a joke.

I had a feeling I died during the First World War

and then was alive and I met some people even in America.

They told me exactly the same things,

the same feelings, twinge, with this twinge.

Pretty weird.


I love every step to make a film,

and preproduction, especially the casting.

I write my own script in films.

It's very important because it's honor the job.

It's different for me it says it's not my job

it's done as a comedy or as a work.

But I am able to do that. I love to write.

I'd love to to write and to make a film

because I couldn't make film every year

like Ridley Scott, for example.

It's so exhausting that I couldn't.

You know, it's a question of health, and I love to write

because you've spent half of the day

to build something with your hand in country

and at 4:00 or 5:00,

if you think about the scene of the day

and you are ready to write at 5:00.

I love earliest timing, and so after preproduction

is especially casting, I love the casting moment.

Coming up!

Huh? [ Laughs ]

[ Speaking in French ]

Jeunet: My first intention was Emily Watson, you know"

I saw her in "Breaking the Waves."

And she was ready to shoot the film, to learn French,

well, she had just one page of dialogue.

And after a while, she gave up for personal reason

and I had to find another actress.

And the second one I met was Audrey Tautou.

[ Conversing in French ]

Audrey Tautou made the test, and you can see the test

in the DVD, on the bonus of the DVD,

and you can understand after 10 seconds

I was hidden by a camera because I cried and I said

"Where do you come from, from another planet,

from Mars or what?" And she was a kind of E.T.

She was so amazing, so special, so inventive.

So she was Amélie immediately.


[ Glass shattering ]

[ Laughs ]

Marc Caro had the idea to hire Ron Perlman,

and we wrote to his agent

and, of course, every American agent

are the worst liar on Earth. It's known.

And he said, "No, no, he doesn't like the film. In the garbage."

We were a bit surprised.

So Jean-Jacques Annaud gave us his personal address,

we wrote directly to him, and he fired his agent.

He made the film. Yeah.

And, you know, the American agent,

you can imagine.

I love so much this guy.

I wanted him for "Alien: Resurrection."

And the studio wasn't so -- they were a little bit concerned

about he might not know why.

And I remember before the shooting was beef

of Ron Perlman. And this evening, a nice producer

he came on the stage

he said, "We saw the dailies, you were right, he's great."

It was very nice to do that.

Very reassuring for me and for Ron.

[ Laughs ]

Helena Bonham Carter, I met her in the shooting of "Fight Club"

because I knew David Fincher.

I visited the set.

And she was speaking French little bit and she told me,

"For you everything, when you want."

And when they read the novel of "T.S. Spivet,"

immediately at the first page I thought about her.

I think, "Oh, the mother.

It's for Helena."

And it was very simple,

I sent her the screenplay and she

made her a response very short,

"I am in love with the script."

And that's it. It was very simple.

Man: Action!



[ Speaking French ]


Jeunet: On set, I love everything.

It's in my blood.

It's physically, I feel something hot in my blood.

The first time, the first day of shooting

on "Delicatessen," it was the first day

I was working with actors.

I made just a short film before, it wasn't the same thing.

And suddenly, I really I felt something.

"Oh, I love it."

It's the kind of feeling you can't explain.

For some directors to shoot is a pain,

it's a suffering. I don't understand.

Do another job because if it's not a pleasure,

why to suffer?

For me, every day, I sing when I go to the stage

maybe not for "Alien," because it was so tough.

Sometimes I missed the opening of those gates of the studio.

It's kind of mistake because of it.

I had the freedom, as I said, but it was tough.

But for my own film,

and it's very important I have the freedom, you know?

It's a very important concept.

There's a reason, for example,

a French and Canadian co-production to keep freedom

and to find that is very important.

I am very happy when I am completely responsible

about every decision, and in all my films

I have the complete responsibility of the film.

If it's good, it's me. If it's not good, it's me.

I just grab it in the most practical way.

I don't know what that is.

Every actors are different and Sigourney Weaver was different

because she's used to to make some theater play

and she loves to sit down on the floor,

to speak, to speak acting, and to find idea.

I remember the first day during rehearsal

when we were walking in a hotel.

I said, "Maybe you could --" and she said, "No, no,

I will tell you what I will."

I said "Okay, okay, okay."

Because, of course, she knew Ripley better than me,

she made for films before, and at this time I understood

"Okay, I will go in her way"

and I brought some ideas on her way and she was very happy,

it was a very good version.

Winona Ryder was different.

She was young, she was 26 at this time,

and she was tired because she was like an old actress.

She was laid down on the floor, showing the double how to play,

and sometime, you know, she walked down the corridor,

or she opened the door.

It wasn't so great for her, but she was okay.

She was -- I remember one day, the alien wasn't finished,

and so I told her,

I have to explain, it will be a monster, a slimy monster.

And I said -- She said, "No, be cool. Be preoccupied.

I will show you different things."

And she made.

It was stupid on the set, and after the editing

everything worked. I couldn't show them the best.

Everything worked.

The day after I had made some compliment.

I said, "You were great" and she said,

"What are you talking about? I do my job and that's it."

You know, it was so simple for her.


"Amélie" tells the story of a girl helping other people

because she feels alone, she's very shy.

And she decides to help other people in secret

and she wins -- what, again is that the love, of course.

But it's a romantic story and it's about

hope and it's a feel-good movie some sort of way.

It's not easy to make something like this

without to be too much sugary and tacky

and it was very experimental, by the way.

For example, the 20 first minutes

she speaks to the audience with a voiceover.

She speaks to the audience before voiceover.

A French director said he makes everything

you can do to avoid in the film. And it works."

So it was very experimental. We won a lot of our awards,

we had five nomination at the Oscars.

We didn't won some Oscar, unfortunately

because it was a year

which Miramax was boycotted by the Oscars

because everybody knows what Harvey Weinstein does

to win some Oscars.

And this year, Hollywood said finished.

Not again.

And it was the year Whoopi Goldberg

made the presentation, and she'd make some jokes

all along the ceremony with Harvey Weinstein.

So we had 19 nomination and we won just one Oscar

and "Amélie" didn't win anything like.

Bad luck.

[ Screaming ]

Marion Cotillard, I saw in different French films,

immediately I understood something interesting

was the emotion scenes

and she had just three days of shooting, three or four days

of shooting in "A Very Long Engagement,"

and she came for the scene

and she was so stressed because you have to do,

to give everything in one day, you have two days,

and it's stressful because you have a crew,

you know, they work together since months and months

and months, you arrive suddenly

and it was very stressful.

So she was sick and she had to go to the hospital.

So we took advantage to cut her head because

she had the death penalty in the film,

and we cut the head of the double, not her

because she was at the hospital, and the hospital called us

to say "she's not sick it is a stress."

So she came back and we shot

and she was so great she won the French César.

And it was a big event for her career,

it helped her a lot.

And I'm very proud about that.

Jodie Foster was a big surprise

because she called me at home in my America --

My wife is American. She's from San Francisco.

I met her on "Alien: Resurrection".

She was a God for her and she couldn't believe

she had -- Jodie Foster had the phone.

We had an appointment as the Café des Deux Moulins.

And it was a very funny story

because at the end of the appointment

we were waiting for a cab outdoor on the sidewalk

and a bunch of young guys,

French guys arrive to take a picture of the café.

Like every four minutes, as I said.

And Jodie and me, we were between the café

and there was a girl

and we did not know if they recognize us,

you know, and the girl. I swear it's true.

She she said, "Okay, please, please, can you."


I would say probably "La Dolce Vita" from Fellini.

I recently watched it again.

It is very long but such a masterpiece.

"Night of the Hunter" probably and from Martin Scorsese,

is difficult to choose, probably "Taxi Driver."

And Coppola, "The Godfather."

It's a cliche but it's true.

It's a lot of old French film from the '40s.

I am a big fan about Marcel Carné

and Jacques Prévert, "Children's Paradise."

That is still my favorite.

My favorite "Le Quai des Brumes."


About my movies is difficult to say because one day,

it's "Amélie," probably at any time really because

it's a more personal movie, it was such a big adventure.

But sometimes when I watch "A Very Long Engagement,"

I like it and some time when I rewatch my film,

I am completely depressed, I only see a defect,

So it depends on your moods.

It depends on mood.

But...it depends.

But in the order I would say "Amélie,"

"A Very Long Engagement." Maybe.

Maybe "Delicatessen." I don't know,

it depends on the day.


The shy with spirit.

The style, it's very important to have a style.

Important, some director not have a style.

I was speaking about Ang Lee or Roman Polanski.

They don't have a real style,

but they are very good directors.

And somewhere I prefer a director

like Tim Burton and Fellini and David Lynch.

They have a strong style.

You can recognize a Tim Burton movie

after five minutes, two minutes.

And I think it's my case. The danger is you can --

People can be tired sooner

when compared, when you don't have a style.

You know what I mean? Because, "Oh, Tim Burton,

he does all the time the same thing.

Ah, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, one more time a shy with spirit,"

This is the danger. But I love when you love a director.

Of course, you don't like the style.

But I love to do to recognize a style,

because there are so many directors.

[ Crowd shouting ]

My best advice -- be original.

Take your camera, take a computer, and make some films.

Don't listen to a advisor don't listen to a master

or the guru of the script,

for example, they travel everywhere in the world

to teach you how you have to --

what do we have to make to write a script.

Don't listen to them, be original.

Make the opposite.





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