Writer-director Jason Bushman’s feature-film debut, Hollywood, je t’aime was recently screened at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. The tale of a Frenchman befriended by a handful of social outcasts while looking for Hollywood stardom, Hollywood je t’aime turned out to be a quirky, funny, touching revelation. The good news is that those who missed the film at LAFF will now get the chance to check it out at Outfest, where it’ll be screened on Friday, July 17, at 8:30 at the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood.
In Hollywood, je t’aime Eric Debets plays Jérôme Beaunez (pronounced “Bea-nie” by a clueless casting director), a befuddled blend of Jacques Tati, Buster Keaton, and Adrien Brody. (“Beaunez” literally means “Beautiful Nose.”) After being dumped by his boyfriend, Jérôme ends up in Los Angeles, where “it’s always summertime.” Well, not quite.
While freezing at the beach, Jérôme meets a pothead drug dealer (Chad Allen, above), and from then on it’s just a few (mis)steps to Hollywood stardom. Well – once again – not quite. But even if Jérôme doesn’t quite become the next Brad Pitt, he at least does meet a handsome guy at a gay bar, goes on a trip to a bathhouse, meets people “in the business,” gets to use LA’s dismal public-transport system quite often, and, most importantly, becomes friends with a drag queen and a transvestite sex worker.
The three things I liked best about Hollywood, je t’aime are its low-key humor – Debets’ comic performance, whether or not he’s playing a version of himself, is simply flawless; the all-around excellent supporting cast, most notably Chad Allen, Diarra Kilpatrick as the beautiful transvestite, and Michael Airington as the moody drag queen; and Bushman’s genuine, straight-on look at Los Angeles and (a certain sub sect of) its denizens.
Bushman has kindly answered several questions (via e-mail) about Hollywood, je t’aime for Alt Film Guide. Frankly, his comment on the parallels between his film and The Wizard of Oz caught me completely off guard. I hadn’t noticed any connection while watching Hollywood, je t’aime, but now that I think about it … Well, it should have been quite obvious. Keep on reading…
My understanding is that Hollywood, je t’aime is the feature offspring of your short Serene Hunter. I haven’t seen Serene Hunter. What are the similarities/differences between the two films?
Serene Hunter is the story of Luc, a Parisian lothario, and his sex and love relationships with several men. It’s hot and heavy, and I acted in it as well, playing Luc’s American lover Jon. Eric’s character in Hollywood, je t’aime is Jérôme, a little more innocent perhaps, but still hunky and on the hunt for attention - through love, sex, or even Hollywood stardom.
Serene Hunter is thirteen minutes long, and it’s really a portrait of someone. (Please check it out - on a shorts DVD collection called “S Is For Sexy.”) Hollywood, je t’aime is a feature, so it explores ideas and concepts in a much more fleshed-out way. The lead characters are familiar, but not the same.
Jason Bushman and Eric Debets on the set of Hollywood, je t’aime
Did you have Eric Debets in mind from the start when you wrote Hollywood, je t’aime? What was it like working with him? Also, how similar is the real-life Debets to Jérôme? Or did you get him to watch Jacques Tati or perhaps Buster Keaton movies as inspiration for his character?
Yeah, Eric has been a dear friend since 2002. I learned French largely though hanging out with him, and so I’ve picked up a lot of his personality quirks and idiosyncrasies along the way. I wrote both Serene Hunter and Hollywood, je t’aime with him specifically in mind for the lead role.
Because we’re friends, working together is a double-edged sword. It’s great, because we really do understand one another and speak the same language. But it can be hard, too, because I know what he’s thinking all the time and maybe our relationship isn’t always as professional as it could be.
No, I didn’t ask Eric to study Tati or Keaton. The role of Jérôme was written for him, so he just had to honestly play himself - which is easier said than done, and I think he did a terrific job.
The supporting cast – Chad Allen, Diarra Kilpatrick (above, with Eric Debets), Michael Airington. How did they come onboard? And what was it like working with them?
We had a wonderful casting director, Jeremy Gordon, who found us Diarra and Michael. I’d had no prior knowledge of their careers, but they both just worked for the roles I’d created.
Chad is another story. Of course, he’s sexy and charming and has been part of American pop culture since he was a child. But I never thought of him as much more than a pretty face - until Save Me. Seriously, if you haven’t seen that film you should. Chad’s performance in that made me sit up and realize he was a very deep actor. He was first on my list when Jeremy and I were brainstorming who could play Ross, and I’m pleased as punch he accepted the role.
My favorite line in the movie has to do with the un-specialness of nonstop sunshine. You show a very deglamorized – i.e., very real – Los Angeles in Hollywood, je t’aime, e.g., people riding buses, homeless people in the streets, dingy motels, etc. Since you’ve referred to Hollywood, je t’aime as your “love letter” to LA, were you ever tempted to glamorize the place?
What I love about Los Angeles isn’t the glamour, and glamour doesn’t turn me on. I live in Silver Lake, and I only ever go to Beverly Hills when I have to, for business or a doctor’s appointment. (That’s not to say the Eastside doesn’t have it’s own bobo snobbiness, but that’s another story.) After years of fleeing LA for Paris whenever I had the opportunity, I finally started to realize any city is what you make of it. Of course LA is less urban than Paris or New York, but public transportation - one of my favorite parts of being in any city - does exist here. It’s just that white people don’t normally use it. So I became an avid cyclist and bus rider, and I love it. Considering I hardly ever go further west than Weho or further east than Eagle Rock, it works out.
Why the choice of showing the Parisian scenes in black and white, considering that the Parisian winter – even in color – can be quite gray…?
I love classic movies in black and white - and I go see many of them projected at the wonderful revival movie houses on the left bank of Paris. (That’s among my favorite things to do when I’m there.) Also, we wanted to contrast Paris, which obviously is much older and established, from the relatively recently constructed City of Angels. And from the beginning, I always associated this film with The Wizard of Oz. Jerome is having a rough time at home; then he lands in this totally otherworldly place, and meets three characters who kinda show him the way; then by the end he’s decided there’s no place like home. So it worked on that level, too.
Hollywood, je t’aime is set in Los Angeles, but at times it has the understated feel of several French films I’ve seen. What were your cinematic inspirations for your first feature? (As an aside, was that “What a dump” line – when Jérôme first walks into his motel room – an homage to Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest?)
I wrote the line “Quel bordel,” in French, and then we translated it into English, so I wasn’t really referencing anything other than Eric. (He says it a lot - along with the film’s opening line, “Quelle horreur.”)
I’m glad it felt like a French film to you - that’s a major compliment in my book - and we were definitely studying À bout de souffle and some other films by Godard. But we also thought a lot about Midnight Cowboy and, as I mentioned earlier, The Wizard of Oz - so there was plenty American influence as well.
Eric Debets, Jonathan Blanc in Hollywood, je t’aime
At the end of Hollywood, je t’aime Jérôme briefly explains his views about the concept of “home.” Is home where love is?
Home is where you are, and what you make of it, that’s all I know. (Maybe I’m a little more cynical than Jérôme.) That part of the story - Paris versus Los Angeles, and deciding where to be if given the choice - totally came from my own experience. I love both cities very much, and I have friends and lovers in both, so why choose? It’s a complicated question, and one I’m sure I’ll keep returning to in my work.
Any new projects in the works?
Nothing going immediately, as we just finished Hollywood, je t’aime in the nick of time for the festival. But yeah, I’ve got several scripts I’d love to get made - and also some new ideas I’m developing with Charlie [Herman-Wurmfeld] (the film’s producer) and other collaborators. Stay tuned!