From No Budget to Netflix: How ‘Paris Est à Nous’ Captured (and Captivated) a City

Behind the viral Kickstarter campaign that caught the eye of the streaming media giant.

Noémie Schmidt in ‘Paris Est Une Fête

When the team behind Paris Est à Nous (“Paris is ours”) began production, they knew the film would play with the concept of reality. They didn’t anticipate that their own experience would soon become surreal — when their Kickstarter campaign to fund post-production went viral and their indie project got picked up by Netflix.

The film itself is a work of fiction shot against the backdrop of unscripted moments and front-page events. It follows Anna, a young woman who embarks on a whirlwind, ill-fated romance. The scene where she meets her love interest is scripted; the massive electronic music festival where they meet is not. Filmed between 2014 and 2017, the entire narrative takes place in the midst of real-world events, including the 2015 march in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.

As a result, the question of what is real is never far from the viewer’s mind. That tension between narrative and reality consumes the film, making a classic trope — the tragic love story — feel unfamiliar.

The project raised €91,500, nearly ten times its funding goal, on Kickstarter with the support of over 2,300 backers after the project went viral in France. The film will premiere on Netflix on February 22, 2019.

The team is still reeling, says screenwriter Paul Saisset.

“We were no one in the French film industry. We’re not famous, we didn’t have any community following us, we didn’t have any big production company backing us,” he says. “We just asked our friends to take a look at the campaign, and if you think it’s worth it, spread the word.”

The viral Facebook video

During production, and while the Kickstarter campaign was live, the film was titled Paris Est Une Fête (“Paris is a party”), which was also the title given to Ernest Hemingway’s 1964 memoir A Moveable Feast in France. The expression became a mantra in public and private conversations in the years the film was made, Saisset says, used both to recall the carefree Paris of the past and to satirize the climate of fear seizing the city in the wake of terror attacks like the one at Charlie Hebdo at the Bataclan theater later that same year.

“It’s like, Paris is a party, but sometimes it’s a pretty awful party.”

“Sometimes it’s a pretty frightening party,” Saisset says. “We wanted to capture the time we’re living in. We wanted to express what we’ve felt in the last few years — what we felt politically, what we felt emotionally.”

Saisset, director Élisabeth Vogler, and a team of roughly 24 actors, writers, cinematographers, audio engineers, VFX artists, and others embarked on this project with essentially no budget, industry clout, or connections. They chipped in their own funds, called in favors, and worked around their day jobs. After failing to find an interested producer, they decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise €10,000 to cover the bare-bones post-production costs. “We felt like maybe we could attract the interest of a production company that could inject the rest of the money that was needed to make the film,” Saisset says.

They encouraged friends to support the campaign and share it on social media — and suddenly, it was going viral. They watched, astounded, as the project amassed support from strangers who identified with their vision.

“Why something works and why something doesn’t work is a very complex thing to analyze,” Saisset says. “Like, how do you explain that Nirvana was such a world-famous band? It just connected with what people were feeling at that time, what people were searching for. I think with this project we pulled the right string, and people were like, ‘I want to watch that movie.’”

The extra funds allowed the team to remain creatively independent. They were able to complete post-production on their own, without having to bring on a producer for financial support, who, Saisset explains, “would also get control at an artistic level.” The outpouring of support “enabled us to stay the masters of our own creation.”

And then, more unbelievable still, Netflix came knocking. Saisset isn’t sure how the film caught the company’s attention, but Netflix’s head of acquisitions for Europe, who hails from France, approached the team while the campaign was still live about releasing the film as a Netflix Original.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to go with them,” Saisset admits. “We really wanted to have a cinema experience, a theatrical release. We were a bit sad [thinking] that some people will watch the film on their laptops. But at the same time we thought, ‘But that’s also great, that more people will have access.’ We grew up in a world where you could have access to the cinema, to great works of art, online. And we all built our passion for cinema [online]. So we felt that going on Netflix is going where people are.”

So, in February 2019, Paris Est à Nous will be available to viewers (on laptops and not) around the world, all because the team decided to take a risk and share their unconventional film in an unconventional way.

“After trying and trying and trying and having the door always closed to us, but still believing that the idea is crazy and we should do something with it, we thought, ‘Okay, let’s try that,’” Saisset says of launching the Kickstarter project. “We thought, ‘What do we have to lose?’”

Rebecca Hiscott

Support the next genre-bending film before it winds up on Netflix. Explore live Film projects on Kickstarter.