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HomeNewsParis FAM Tour-Behind the scenes of Marie Antoinette

Paris FAM Tour-Behind the scenes of Marie Antoinette

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Versailles plays as much of a leading role in director Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette as do the lavish film’s stars, Kirsten Dunst, as the storied queen of France, and Jason Schwartzman, who plays King Louis XVI.Coppola was determined to shoot the film in the ornate rooms and splendid gardens of the Versailles palace, where Marie Antoinette held court, in order to make her cinematic take on the controversial 18th century monarch as authentic as possible.Gaining permission to shoot in one of France’s most important and highly visited national treasures, took some doing. “From the beginning, we knew that in order to do the movie the way Sofia wanted it was crucial to get permits to film at Versailles,” says Christine Raspillere, the French line producer on the film. “And we wanted to be able to film in many different and important locations.”It took six months of intricate negotiations for the film’s producers to reach an agreement with Versailles’ official custodians. But once granted, the terms were very favorable and exceptional access was granted.Many parts of Versailles that had never before been filmed were made available. These included the Petit Trianon, the little palace that was Marie Antoinette’s pastoral retreat, and the recently renovated Le Petit Theatre de la Reine, a miniature playhouse nearby, where the queen would often take the stage. The famous Hall of Mirrors in the main palace, though undergoing restoration, was opened for the filming of the elaborate ball that celebrated the royal wedding.Even with such unprecedented permission, actual shooting was quite complicated. That’s because Versailles is essentially a museum that is open to the public six days a week. Interior shooting was limited to Mondays when it’s closed—though filming outside in the gardens could be done throughout the week.“The logistics were incredible,” says Raspillere. “We spent nine Mondays filming inside Versailles, but we couldn’t bring in our trucks and cameras until late Sunday. All night was spent dressing the sets, and after we shot on Monday, everything had to be taken away again and by Tuesday morning made to seem like we had never been there.”Preservation considerations were paramount, challenging production designer KK Barrett. No walls could be touched, nor could the furniture, which had to be moved out and replaced with substitutes that looked similar to the originals. Blinds couldn’t be opened in some rooms because light could damage fragile fabrics.“It was all a bit dangerous,” adds Raspillere. “We knew we were coming back the next Monday, but there was always the chance that something could go wrong and we would not be allowed back. So we kept warning the crew to be very careful. Everything worked out very well, and not only were they happy with our crew, they went out of their way to help us.” One concession was to allow 10 of the shoot’s equipment trucks to remain parked during the week in the courtyard, instead of having to exit and come back.Other than Monday, Marie Antoinette kept shooting the rest of the week at other locations around Paris. Several rooms at the French National Archives in the heart of Paris were decorated to serve as Marie Antoinette’s boudoir where key scenes take place. The Bank of France also cooperated, making available a corridor decorated in the 18th century that had never been opened to the public. “We were shooting there just feet away from where the bank keeps all its gold,” marvels the line producer.Versailles administrator Ariane de Lestrange also expresses satisfaction about how the Marie Antoinette shoot went. She attributes the lack of even small problems to the fact that the crew was over 90-percent French. “They know this is part of the country’s patrimony, and they went out of their way to make sure that there were no problems—nothing was broken, nothing was left behind.” In addition, a squad of inspectors and Versailles guards was assigned to make sure all rules were being followed.The fee for using Versailles as a location came to $20,000 for each 24-hour-period. That was no bargain but far from what it would have cost to build sets from scratch.For Versailles, however, the fees earned represent a miniscule percentage of its operating budget, which is mainly funded by admissions from 3.5 million annual visitors. A more potent payoff comes from the film’s potential to market Versailles. “The film could do a lot for the image of Versailles, presenting it in a way that’s more up-to-date,” says de Lestrange. “It could touch viewers all over the world, and maybe many will then want to visit Versailles.”Versailles also got a kick from hosting the shoot. The presence of all the actors and extras in period costumes “made Versailles spring to life,” she says. And some of the staff even got a bit starstruck, not so much by the seeing the actors, but when the director’s father Francis Ford Coppola showed up at Versailles. “The Coppolas to them,” she suggests, “are a kind of American film royalty.”

Written by Jack Egan

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