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HOW TO STAY SANE IN PARIS: A TREATMENT
Director/ Executive Producer: Omonike Akinyemi
Image Quilt Productions
1 Main Street
Cherry Valley, NY 13320
What happens when an ambitious poet from New York City moves to Paris to find love?
When the FEATURE FILM MUSICAL “How to Stay Sane in Paris” opens, Lola, a Black woman in her late 20’s, is fired from her job as a spoken word poet... in New York. It is the year 2000 and Lola gets a job as a stewardess. After a crash landing, she decides to find love in Paris.
Set in Paris’ multi-ethnic Montmartre and Belleville neighborhoods, the film delves into the language of urban music and African-European style to convey the story of Lola’s journey to self-discovery.
In order to survive in France, Lola gets a job teaching a group of high school students the English language. When Hassan, a math teacher at the school, challenges her to really “teach them” something, Lola starts to use rap in her lessons.
Through her landlord, Beaumarchais, Lola gets an “in” into the coveted Duc des Lombards jazz café. Oscar, the lead of the acid jazz band Lola is singing with, gets jealous and dumps her. Lola soon takes up with Hassan, the math teacher.
Things seem to be going smoothly. Lola’s students and jazz music keep her connected to the beat of the streets… of Paris. Beaumarchais, the transvestite landlord, asks Lola to help set his opera, “The Barber of Belleville” to hip-hop… And Hassan, the math teacher, falls in love with the way Lola sings jazz.
Lola and Hassan’s romance blooms while life for the students grows more and more tense. Hassan’s niece, Victoire, an Honors student, wants more freedom and tries to hang out at the Duc des Lombards after hours. A Nigerian student, Ahmed, becomes embroiled in undercover work as a paparazzi, in an effort to get his French immigration papers. And… a racial incident erupts when the students learn Samia, the student hooker, has been shot.
After a paranoid dream, Lola senses Hassan is lying about something. She confronts Hassan and he reveals that his former wife in Morocco actually lives in Paris and was never really a former wife.
Lola’s music grows more radical. She breaks from the jazz standards she has been told to sing and performs some of her own poetry at the Duc des Lombards. Her sound inspires others to change. Fatumata, an African hairstylist, confronts her husband about an affair. Josee, a West Indian meter-maid, decides to confront her new lover, Fatu’s husband. Crystal, the prostitute who is also Samia’s madame, decides to leave the life of whoring and the French students decide to perform in Beaumarchais’ hip-hop opera.
After September 11th, Lola is fired... again. She leaves the Ducs des Lombards and performs in Beaumarchais’ hip-hop opera, which wakes everyone up and sets the stage for revolution in Paris.
How to Stay Sane in Paris is a 135-minute modern musical. It is a musical that breaks with the optimism of Gene Kelly’s “An American in Paris” in favor of a optimistic paranoia. Here, gritty contemporary inter-racial and inter-cultural dialogue scenes play back to back with musical numbers inspired by French cabaret, hip-hop, and jazz. Lola’s transformation as a poet is the thread that binds all of the characters stories.
As a satire, the film also plays with the conventions of colonialism through the fantasy scenes in which elements of art and reality mix. Images of Aunt Jemima from the art of African-American artist, Ealy Mays, come to life and interplay with historical figures like Haiti’s Toussaint L’Ouverture and France’s Louis the 14th in Lola’s paranoid dreams.
The film is, at the same time, a murder mystery in which the culprit, Samia’s murderer, is never caught. She, a young Algerian woman, is accidently shot by Mary, an American jazz singer, while in the arms of a French man. Her murder goes un-reported and only expressed in the violence that ensues inside Lola’s classroom.
Camera, Editing, & Lighting
You can look at the film in terms of the worlds of circulating relationships- firstly, that of Lola’s relationship with Paris and secondly, the Parisians’ relationships with each other.
The first world is filled with bright light and deceptively simple camera movement. A circular fish eye camera seems to stop all of the characters movement as Lola raps with the words, “Alright, alright” in the opening. This loose handheld camera used in exterior street scenes hints at the playful decadence of French New Wave Cinema.
The second world gives way to darkness when the characters enter interior spaces where they carve their own light. Felipe decorates his staircase with candles when he welcomes Josee, the Creole meter maid, into his home. The practical lights in Hassan’s home state his simple refusal of Western decadence.
Lola faces the harsh light of the stage as she sings jazz. Like Eartha Kitt, she uses her hands to deflect the light and the audience’s expectations of her sexuality. The mirrors on stage stagger Lola’s image creating a visual staccato that reflects the light, representing her tension between “good girl” and sexual animal. Lola singing on stage is intercut with exterior shots of the hookers beckoning potential johns on the streets of Paris.
We will shoot the film using 16mm film and a 2.4 Aspect Ratio. This larger and life frame will help give the film a larger than life feel reminiscent of cinemascope.
Music & Dance
Music in How to Stay Sane in Paris references the Big Band and Gershwin era jazz as intimately as it does hip-hop and spoken word poetry. Lola’s arrival in Paris is filled with Big Band music. The prefecture where all of the immigrants go to get their papers is the site of a fast paced tap number; yet, musical numbers sometimes begin at moments of intense dialogue.
For example, Fatu and Felipe’s argument over his affair becomes a war between musical styles R&B and hip-hop. The intimacy of the on stage jazz music numbers as Lola sings at the Duc des Lombards feels like a psychological dialogue as she uncovers lies and brings truth to light in her relationships.
The hookers of Paris prowl the streets with a jazz dance when they sing “Meet Me ‘Round the Corner”. African dance happens in the beauty salon as well as a street dance meets ballet number in Lola’s paranoid dream sequence.
Art Direction, Costumes, and Make up
The crackling glamour of Europe fills our production design in the film. Real interiors will be used and exteriors shot on location in Paris. Our color scheme uses lots of reds to highlight the flame of Latin spirited Paris. Lola externalizes the mix of Latin and African cultures in her eclectic choice of outfits that she creates mixing the fabrics she buys in the Senegalese market with Bohemian dresses she buys in Montmartre.
Super-saturated colors will be built in through the colorful painting of walls in interior spaces such as Beaumarchais’ apartment and Le Mirage Cabaret.
Hair crowns the various characters as their manifesto—Lola’s hair is decidedly nappy and filled with fun locks. She is not a rasta but embodies the Brooklynesque natural hair of late 90’s Afro-centric hip-hop.
Oscar, the jazz musician’s hair is also nappy. Though he is French, his style is decidedly African-inspired. Crystal, the madame-prostitute wears a wig. Fatu sports tight African braids and Josee’s hair shows off her mixed heritage until she decides to cut it all off.
Make-up is natural-esque until the final cabaret opera, “The Barber of Belleville” where the baudy make-up brings the theme of insanity right in front the audience’s eyes.