French Girl – Interview with Film Writer-Directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright

French Girl - Interview with James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright
Paramount Global.
The 2024 comedy movie French Girl follows a teacher named Gordon Kinski (Zach Braff) who accompanies his girlfriend, chef Sophie Tremblay (Evelyne Brochu), to her hometown in Quebec City. Sophie has a cooking test at a Michelin 3-star restaurant under the supervision of a chef, who is Sophie's ex-girlfriend Ruby Collins (Vanessa Hudgens). Below is a Q&A with French Girl's writer-directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright, covering various aspects of the filmmaking process. In select theaters now and is available to rent/buy on VOD platforms.

French Girl marks your feature film directorial debut; you both work together on the screenwriting and directing roles as a team. How did you join forces for the project? What was the inspiration and driving force for making the French Girl?

We met as actors in Montreal over 20 years ago. And being a small market, we often got cast in the same projects. And working so often together allowed us to develop a comedic rapport. It wasn't long before we decided to take the plunge into writing together when we realized that we had similar backstories, in that both our fathers are English Canadians who married French Canadian women, we knew that it was fertile ground for a great romantic comedy. And fusing our Quebec cultural roots with our American sensibility was a recipe for a unique and heartwarming tone.


What was the screenwriting process like for French Girl?

We share all the same cultural touchstones. We grew up loving the same films and music. So our collaboration has always been a smooth one. Because of our experience acting together, we've developed a tight comedic rhythm and chemistry. And so the writing process is an utter delight because as we craft dialogue we perform it together as a way of honing the musicality of it. Being a team is supremely helpful because we have each other as a first sounding board on every idea before we show anyone else the work. This story has been gestating in us for a long time. We originally conceived of it over ten years ago. And began working on it full-time five years ago. Through that time we were able to hone the material and carefully work through the challenges of a cross-border comedy. Navigating the challenges of French and English jokes in the same script was a massive challenge. But we were confident that these days with so much content being streamed from Asia and Europe, American audiences would embrace that element.


The film stars Zach Braff, Vanessa Hudgens, Evelyne Brochu and William Fichtner. What was the casting process like for the movie?

We knew Bill Fichtner from working with him on Independence Day: Resurgence and developed a close friendship on that film. We crafted that role for him, and thankfully his schedule allowed him to shoot with us. When it came to Zach, he was always at the top of our list as a pie-in-the-sky comparison for our casting archetype of Gordon. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would actually get to cast someone like him. But thanks to the intrepid work of our producers Valerie D'Auteuil and Anders Bard, we were able to get the script to him and he took the time to read it and respond to the material. We had a fantastic initial meeting with him and he enthusiastically boarded the film. And it was amazing to have a comedy ninja like him as our lead. And also the fact that he's a successful filmmaker in his own right was fantastic. He was supremely helpful to have around as a resource for us on our directorial debut.

For Vanessa, it was a similar experience. We've always known how funny and versatile she is. Her work on the Princess Switch movies definitely showcases that. Our producers were able to get her the script and after we met with her she came aboard as well. And she was an utter delight and is so unbelievably funny. Her talent as a musician lends itself to comedy. Because at the end of the day, comedy is about timing and rhythm and she has that in spades. We hope that she does more comedy in the future because her instincts are so sharp and more importantly she's game to try anything.


What was it like to work with the likes of the cast? Were there any moments of improv, or was it more on script?

Our philosophy has always been the best idea wins. So we love opening things up to people to add and contribute to what's already on the page. As actors, we definitely love to encourage a lot of improv. We know how to foster a safe environment where people can feel safe to play. It's so key to keeping things fresh and alive. So we left room for a lot of spontaneity after we got the dialogue on the page in the can. And our entire Quebec cast was first-rate. These are such high-caliber artists who are all movie stars in Quebec. We're so lucky that they all lent us their talent. They also all happen to be the loveliest human beings to work with. Very collaborative, open, and enthusiastic. No egos. Which is key to creating an atmosphere where comedy can flourish.


What were the creative decisions for cinematography and the visual aesthetic in French Girl?

JF Lord, our fantastic cinematographer, was an absolute joy to collaborate with. From the beginning, we took the approach of a very natural, but rich look. We wanted the film to feel warm and comfortable, so that the audience would feel transported to the farm, to the cobblestone streets of Quebec, and to the wood-paneled walls of the Chateau Frontenac. He was also instrumental in setting a great pace on the set. For comedy, it's so important to keep things moving. You never want the pace to sag so that the energy stays high. And he and his fabulous team have the unique dual ability to light things beautifully but also move quickly.


What is a memorable moment from behind the scenes shooting the film?

Shooting for 12 days at the Chateau Frontenac was a dream come true. It's literally a castle on a hill. And for two weeks it was our backlot. They were so supportive and gave us everything we asked for and more. And no matter where you point the camera, it looks like a painting. So the entire experience of shooting in that location was our favorite part. That and watching Vanessa sing during the funeral scene. Man, that voice. Incredible!


A major portion of the film is set in Québec City. What were the filming locations, and how long was principal photography?

We shot in Quebec for 12 days. Montreal for 20 days and NYC for 1 day. Shooting in and around the city of Quebec was so inspiring. As we said, everywhere you point the camera it's a painting so it ups our production values to no end.


What are the films/directors that have influenced you as a filmmaker, including French Girl?

Some of our heroes are John Hughes, Jay Roach, Todd Philips, and John Hamburg. We think what these filmmakers excel at, besides their insane comedic instincts, is that they play the truth. And that's when the laughs come. There's no need to lean into hamming things up. When you play the emotional truths of the characters, that's when the laughs will cut the deepest.


Who would you love to work with in the future?

So many people. The list is too long to name. We've already had the chance to work with some of our heroes and that experience is so surreal and sublime. We can only dream of who we may get to work with in the future. That's the joy of this business. It allows you to constantly meet and work with new people. It's been the greatest joy for us to make new lifelong friends on every single one of our projects.


Which genres, themes, and subject matters interest you as a filmmaker?

We let our passion for the story lead the way. We wrote across many different genres and at the end of the day the story has to grab us. As writer-directors, you spend years on a project. So if you're not passionate about the story then you'll never be able to see a project through.


What's the most recent movie you absolutely loved, and what makes it a must-watch for others?

Death of Stalin. It's a master class in weaving together so many different tones. Iannucci is a genius.

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