Interview: Woody Allen, writer and director of Midnight in Paris

As a HUGE fan of Woody Allen, I was psyched to be able to sit down with the Woodman for a few questions about what has turned out to be his highest-grossing film of all time, Midnight in Paris (Blu-ray $35.99, DVD $30.99, Sony, Release: Dec. 20, 2011). As the movie rang up some $56 million at the domestic box office, it’s obvious that working in Europe is agreeing with Woody … just as it’s going down well with those who attend his films!

Here’s a transcript of my exchange with the legendary Mr. Allen. And, yes, it was a thrill to be able to share a few minutes with the brilliant filmmaker who made Annie Hall, Manhattan, Love and Death, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Enough said.

Disc Dish: For many years, you’ve been associated with making films on location in the New York area. The last decade has seen you making films abroad, a very radical change. That said, I have two questions: First, business considerations aside, when it comes to making films abroad, what has the experience of working on films on foreign soil with foreign crews been like for you?

Woody Allen: Okay, first off, I can’t leave business matters completely unconcerned, because I originally went to London because they offered to back Match Point and I had a very nice experience in London. I found that foreign crews there are just like American crews, and it was no problem. I found the same thing to be true in Barcelona and Paris. They’re film crews, electricians and carpenters. They know what to do, and the language barrier is minimal. Most of them speak a little English or I can struggle through a minimal amount of French. You learn how to communicate quickly.

In the U.S., I worked with a Chinese cameraman, Zhao Fei, for three pictures, three years, who never spoke a word of English. But it doesn’t matter because you’re talking about the same things. Once you learn the same 10 signals, everything is the same. So, it’s no problem working in foreign countries. It’s the same exact thing. I’m working in big cities — London, Barcelona, Paris and soon Rome — and it’s just like working in New York. Everyone is very professional and very nice.

One nice perquisite is that these foreign countries welcome you so generously that everybody cooperates in such generous ways. They close off streets; you get police help. It’s so wonderful working abroad because everyone is so enthused over it.

Disc Dish: Okay, my second question is directed more to your reputation as a cinephile. Are there any specific filmmakers and films that have inspired you or that you keep in the back in your head wherein the filmmakers, like you, are associated with making films in their native country and subsequently enter a period where they leave their home turf and make films elsewhere?

Woody Allen: That’s a good question. The only person that comes to mind, although I’m sure there are many others, is the wonderful film director Jules Dassin. He was terrific in New York — The Naked City, which revolutionized the whole way of looking at certain kinds of film — and then he left for Paris because of the blacklisting.

When he went abroad, he did Rififi and other great films, some with his wife [Melina Mercouri]. He did some of his very, very best work as an ex-patriot, and why not? You get a new location, fresh sights, fresh ideas. The people, as I said, are every bit as good and competent, and so are the actors and actresses. It’s not like you leave home and are stranded in the desert where nobody knows what to do with a lens. It’s not like that. You go to a new city, and you’ve got new restaurants and new places to go to. It’s actually very exciting.

Disc Dish: But you’ll be back in New York one day, I hope.

Woody Allen: I would love to! New York is a fabulous city to work in. There are a million things to do here, a million stories to tell and a million great locations in the city. I’ve made many, many movies here, and I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of New York City.

What’s great also is that there’s a certain advantage to be in your own home. For instance, I’m going to Rome this summer, so I’m not going to be able to see any baseball. And I’ll have three months of using a hotel shower. I have a great shower at home, where the water comes out hard and hot, compared to a hotel in a foreign country. It’s nice to work at home — my own bed and my own house and all of my surrounding pharmaceuticals. But there are exciting things for me to discover abroad as well.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.