Noted independent filmmaker Whit Stillman takes the social worlds he examines in films like “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona” and “Damsels in Distress” and transfers it to television — sort of — with an Amazon Studios digital pilot, “the Cosmopolitans.” The pilot for the series — chronicling a group of American ex-pats trying to make their way in the Paris social scene — debuts online this weekend, and if all goes well …
What did you think a Whit Stillman TV show would look like?
We always called it a film — “We’re doing the film, we’re making a film.” It’s just a film that only happens to run 26 minutes. Hopefully it will be in chapters and we’ll get to make at least six more chapters.
And you have those planned out to some extent?
Not exactly. I really love to write from detail to story rather than have a story and then do the details, so I have to kind of give them some version of how it could be before mid-September, but when it really comes down to it I prefer to start from scratch and just get the characters doing their stuff and going in different directions.
How’ve you found the experience of working with Amazon?
Well, I’ve had a long relationship with them. One of the first things that Amazon Studios did, actually, was to option “Metropolitan” for remaking. They were going to allow neophyte filmmakers using their site to use the “Metropolitan” story to adapt to their own uses. I think too many people focus on that sort of class nature of “Metropolitan,” when in fact it’s really just a story of group dynamics. It’s someone from outside coming into a group and the group falling apart or metamorphosizing. So that really could be any milieu, so I think Roy Price at Amazon had a really good idea, but I think there were problems at the Writers Guild, or complication, so that didn’t go through. But I’ve had a relationship with them for a very long time, and last summer in July they had this specific idea of doing something in Paris, which is great for me because before I had to change my Paris stories to New York stories. This time I got to have a Paris story in Paris.
What is it about Paris specifically that speaks to you so much?
The thing is, I was there for nine years in a period in which I was newly single and I got involved in this kind of ex-pat social world. And so I had all kinds of experiences and met all kinds of people, and they were pretty funny, pretty interesting people doing pretty crazy things. A lot of potential stories came out of that.
From the beginning this has a reassuringly “Whit Stillman” style of dialogue. Are you conscious of that as you’re writing, after so many films?
No, definitely not. I guess there’s a danger of getting formulaic, but it really the material fighting its way into the structure. The velocity of this show, I don’t think there are any walls in this show. That’s impressive, to not have walls. So that was good.
Has it made you considered going into more conventional television after this?
I mean, I really want to do this show and I really want to do the independent projects that I have lined up, so I’m very keen to see this show go forward. But I’m really keen on indie and low-budget films as well. After a horrible sort of 10 years of failure trying to work out of London, things are going better.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick