a) Jeunet started writing Amelie
Jean-Pierre Jeunet started writing "Amelie", he had all these notes and anecdotes collected since childhood and he was trying to find a way to bring them together but was still not succeeding
b) Called by Alien producers
Jean-Pierre Jeunet had made two noteworthy movies with Marc Caro, being Delicatessen and City of the Lost Children and so Jorge Saralegui saw them, found them to be amazing and also heard that Jeunet didn't speak English.
But "So what?" he thought,
Jeunet was called up for "Alien" by the producers, he was curious about it, and it was impossible for him to say that he wasn't.
He liked the idea, he was definitely interested in reading the script , and so he read a translated version of the script and this led to a meeting with the producers.
Since they were director partners Jeunet discussed the whole matter with Caro perhaps expecting him to come along and be his co-director for the movie.
Caro had different ideas, perhaps saying something to the extent of "Why don't you go it alone on this one because I don't think that they'll let me do my sort of turn of the century Jules Verne of of of art direction, and if I can't have that, i can't really be interested"
This may have been a reasonable assumption for Caro to make and so Jean-Pierre said "Fine" realising that he was going to have to go it alone.
He went to Hollywood for the meeting just to see what this was all about thinking that it would be just a day's meeting but he would find himself there still ten days later.
c) Despretz and Jeunet start talking
Jeunet took a two week trip over to Hollywood to meet the Fox Executives and Sigourney Weaver, and this appeared to coincide with a trip that Sylvain Despretz was taking across to the Hollywood.
Despretz was involved in the art department for Luc Besson's movie The Fifth Element (which would be released the same year as Alien Resurrection and was filmed in England) and already knew Jeunet from his time working in the production for City of the Lost Children.
Basically this time they met as they were getting off the plane and discussed the issue, and Jeunet said to him "We need to talk again in a few days after I know if I've got the job"
Despretz spoke to him again perhaps week later. Jeunet started to talk about what he understood of Fox's agenda, and expressing his own agenda he told Despretz, "For me this is just an extended commercial"
It seemed as if Jeunet was willing to go into it as more or less as a hired hand whose talent was obviously respected by Fox, and he was supposed to be helping the studio do exactly what they had in mind for the franchise as if he was saying to himself "Look, I'm here to do an Alien movie, I'll do what the studio wants, it's their job, it's their call". Perhaps it's was as if he had come in already self-neutered before Fox had the chance to try to castrate him their own way, (and later he would be prepared to have his star alien digitally castrated). Perhaps all thoughts about turning the film into something else had gone away because Caro didn't come in as co-director.
Sylvain Despretz's view was that Fox would expect any director who was brought on board would come in with a vision and probably a screenwriter to, telling them "Here's where I want to take the material, here's what I want to do with it next" and perhaps Jeunet hadn't gone down this route, and he was thinking about it as technical exercise.
Jeunet would hear what they want, they were going to tell him who they wanted in the film, and by that time Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder had been cast in their roles as if part of the package.
To Despretz, it was as if Jeunet was saying "Okay right, this is the script, let's do it."
Once Jeunet was officially on the film he then hired Despretz as a storyboard and conceptual artist, which would have meant a potential conflict with production designer Nigel Phelps, because Sylvain was being hired by the director himself rather than by the production designer
d) Meeting with Fox
It was an initial meeting, with the Fox executives and Sigourney Weaver there, so it was more to establish a kind of feeling between them and Jeunet, which was very important in any collaboration, and he said exactly what they wanted to hear.
It was one of these processes where the studio was worried, because they didn't know what they were getting into, especially with a film maker from France.
Jeunet would be very straight forwards with them about what he could and couldn't do, what he knew about the Hollywood filmmaking system and he showed this his passion for the project was very clear.
From what Sylvain Despretz was aware of the situation, it wasn't as if Jeunet was bring his own take
Jeunet he thought, "Oh, no, they are going to hire me. I don't want to make this movie."
But it was turning into Jeunet saying to them "How can I say no to making Alien?"
e) The Winona ruse
He told the studio that he needed two months to do the storyboards
They responded thinking that they could use Winona Ryder as a donkey's carrot to lead him where they wanted. "No, we don't have time for that. If we do, we're going to lose Winona Ryder. "
Jeunet responded, "Okay. No problem. Bye-bye. I'm on my way to the airport."
They were very surprised because in Hollywood, it seemed as if everyone would die to make a film like Alien, but the French had the power to say no in their faces.
Of course the time limit that they had with Winona Ryder was a lie.
They finally caved in and allowed him the time that he needed
He found himself taking the job and so his life totally changed in one week.
Then he went home to pack his belongings for an extended stay in Hollywood
- Sylvain Despretz: Basically I met him as we were getting off the plane, he said we need to talk again in a few days after I knew if I've got the job, uh, um, and when I spoke to him maybe a week later, something like that, that point, he started talking about his understanding of the Fox agenda, but what was more important to him, I think was his own, and his agenda was for me this is exactly the same as taking on a commercial, except it's going to be a very long one. But what he meant by that is that he was completely willing to come in as a hired hand, whose talent was obviously respected by Fox, but I think he understood his job to really be, um, helping the studio do exactly what they had in mind for the Franchise, and it was clear in his mind. He was like, we are going to listen to what they want, they're going to tell us whom they want and I already knew by that time that Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder were in the film. It was presumably of some package, at least prior to Jean-Pierre being on the film, and I think they, um, already had a script written which was very close to the script we ended up working on.(Alien Anthology: alien resurrection documentary)
- Jorge Saralegui: Jean-Pierre Jeunet had made these two amazing movies that I loved. When I first saw them, I heard he didn't speak English, but so what. (laughter) We called him up, he liked the idea and read a translated version of the script and then he met with us. It was one of these processes where the studio was worried, because they didn't know what they were getting into, but he was very straight forward with what he could and couldn't do, what he knew about our [filmmaking] system and his passion for the project was really clear. He said "How can I say no to making Alien?". That was it, he came over for two weeks, went back, packed up and he's been here for 14 to 15 months now. (Starburst Special #35 p84)
- Jeunet: I was definitely interested in reading the script and meeting with the producers. I was curious but really didn't think that it would lead to anything. I came to Los Angeles thinking that it would be just a day's meeting, and I was still there ten days later. I met with Fox executives and, of course, Sigourney Weaver. It was an initial meeting, so it was more to establish a kind of feeling between us, which is very important with any collaboration. (Cinescape, p75)
- SFX: So how early was Jeunet involved with the film?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: I actually did not write the script - it had already been written by Joss Whedon. So I came along just after that (SFX, #32 December 1997 , p31)
- Onion: How did you get involved with the Alien sequel?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: When [the producers] called me, I was just curious. But it was impossible to say, "No, I'm not interested." I wanted to make Amelie at this time, and I started to write it, but I came to Hollywood for a meeting anyway, just to see. In this case, I said exactly what they wanted to hear. I remember thinking, "Oh, no, they are going to hire me. I don't want to make this movie." [Laughs.] But I took the job, and my life was totally changed in one week. It was so weird. Nevertheless, the film turned out to be an amazing adventure for me. It was unlike anything I've made before. It was the first time I didn't write the script—Joss Whedon wrote it—but I decided from the beginning to modify each scene to include at least one personal idea, so I could claim the film for myself in a way. Now I love the film. I saw it again a couple months ago, and I'm very proud of it.
Onion: Did you not have enough time to prepare to shoot it?
Jean-Pierre Jeunet: No, I had the time. I told the studio that I needed two months to do the storyboards, and they said, "No, we don't have time for that. If we do, we're going to lose Winona Ryder." So I said, "Okay. No problem. Bye-bye. I'm on my way to the airport." [Laughs.] They were so surprised, because in Hollywood, everybody would die to make a film like Alien. But they finally caved and allowed me the time that I needed..(http://www.avclub.com/ Jean-Pierre Jeunet By Scott Tobias Oct 31, 2001)
- Sylvain Despretz: So I think they talked about it and I think Caro said " why don't you go it alone on this one because I don't think that they'll let me do my sort of turn of the century Jules Verne of of of art direction, and if I can't have that, i can't really be interested" which was probably a good call, the chances are they didn't want that, you know, and Jean-Pierre said fine, so he flew over to Los Angeles to meet the guys, but, because they were buddies he said "why don't you come out" and still do some designs for him, which Caro did, he came out for about three weeks in June I think of 96, and um, did some paintings of costumes, which were then adapted erm into actual costume designs by the costume department.(alien resurrection documentary)
- Jean-Piere Jeunet: But he doesn't like the sun and to go to LA would have been horrible for him. (Total Film, Feb 2010(?))
- Sylvain Despretz: Caro knew that, because he tended to have more of of the sort of art direction responsibility, and Jean-Pierre had more of the director's responsibility, dealing with the actors, dealing with with the actual framing of the shots, if you like, um, I think that Caro sort of knew that he would have a very hard time working especially in the American studio environment, and that's sort of a reaction that you would get from most typical French film makers, or would be film makers, is their they like, pride issue, they like act as if they're very suspicious of the American studio system. and I think he just didn't want to be part of it, he didn't want to have um, the the sort of size, the sort of bigness of what his idea of an American film studio is hovering over him. But Jean-Pierre welcomed the opportunity, because, um, he's trained as a commercial director, and he's he's got that whole part of his personality licked and he had it for a long time, he knows how to be um very efficient, be a very good business man when needed and when. (alien resurrection documentary)
- Jean-Piere Jeunet: I don't consider Alien the first film that I did on my own, because it wasn't my script and I only did it because it was hard to refuse Hollywood. If I had, I might have regretted it for the rest of my life, I'd already started writing Amelie before and the whole time I just wanted to go back to that script. (Total Film, Feb 2010(?))
- See: Alien: Resurrection part of the Sylvain Despretz interview by Kent Hill for Podcastingthemsoftly.com