Register this: When writer/director John Gray was asked by his old pals at Sander Moses Productions to go to Paris and make a short film about romantic fantasy and international travel (“They had me at Paris,” Gray said), the one thing everyone knew in advance was where they’d be holding the premiere.
“French Kiss” will have its debut tonight, replete with red carpet and after-party, at the Marriott Marina Del Rey, the insouciant fantasy having been produced for Marriott Content Studios. Starring Tyler Ritter and French ingénue Margot Luciarte, it marks the corporation’s latest foray into the production of films to be launched on a variety of online platforms including the hotel chain’s website, and for which the company is willing to expend the money necessary to create polished product avec special effects. (A previous effort, “Two Bellmen,” had an estimated budget of $200,000. And about 5 million hits on YouTube.)
“It was a blast,” said Gray, creator of the long-running “Ghost Whisperer” and the writer/director of “White Irish Drinkers,” his semi-autobiographical drama of 2010 starring Stephen Lang and Karen Allen. “Marriott was super easy to work with, they didn’t have many parameters other than they wanted it to appeal to millennials and involve traveling, so I came up with this story and we shot it in February.”
The story involves a work-obsessed American, Ethan (Ritter), who’s in Paris to attend a conference at the Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees (!). He is literally bewitched by a mysterious young woman named Margaux (Luciarte), whose eyes follow him around the City of Lights, and help Ethan come to term with his workaholic tendencies and allergy to magic. It’s blithe, effervescent and makes great use of Paris. And, of course, the Paris Marriott.
“Oddly enough, they were trying to be low-key,” Gray said. “It’s not supposed to be a commercial for Marriott. They actually had us take out a couple of references.” He said the strategy seems to be the same kind of “soft-branding” engaged in by companies like Cadillac and BMW, one that’s “not hitting you over the head” and is “very intent on getting real directors and writers and producers to do it.” The producers, Sander Moses, were also behind “Ghost Whisperer.”
The production, he said, was semi-guerilla. “It took four days to shoot it,” Gray said. “It was wintertime in Paris, so there wasn’t much daylight and that was a challenge, but it was a throwback to the way I made movies as a kid – a small crew, run it and gun it, invent stuff on the spot. They told us we could basically do what we wanted as long as there were no trailers or gigantic crew and we didn’t disrupt traffic. We did get to close off part of the prime viewing area for photographing the Eiffel Tower [from the Montparnasse Tower]. So that was pretty cool.”