A Paris Secret – Reid Hall

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So there you are in Montparnasse dreaming of the heady days of Left Bank writers and artists as you stroll down the streets they frequented. You’ve seen the spots Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald lived and/or drank in and paid your respect to some of the literary lights buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. Maybe you’ve had a drink or dinner La Coupole, the capacious dining and dancing hall of the 1920s Montparnasse scene that is still going strong today – minus the dance floor. La Coupole has always been quite the place to celebrate: At its grand opening in 1927, the 2,500 guests including Jean Cocteau, Foujita, Kisling, Vlaminck and Josephine Baker downed twelve hundred bottles of Mumm champagne and the story goes that even that was not enough.

So many places to visit in Montparnasse, the cradle of bohemian Paris. But – unless you have a reason – there is one you will not enter and that is Reid Hall at 4 Rue de Chevreuse near metro Vavin. Built in the 18th century, the complex has had many lives – as one of the largest porcelain factories in France, a Protestant school, and the American Girls Club of Paris founded by philanthropist Elizabeth Reid. In 1964 Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law, Helen Reid, who continued to own the property gave it to Columbia University which is now the headquarters of a dozen American graduate and undergraduate universities for their programs in Paris. Lucky students!

I have lived in the City of Light for fifty years and spent a lot of time in Montparnasse but, amazingly, knew little to nothing about this very special Parisian landmark. That changed when I signed up for a Masterclass on Screen and TV Writing at the Paris Writers Workshop organised by WICE (Where Internationals Connect in English) which was held at Reid Hall from June 2 -7. The Workshop included five days of intense writing and critique in different disciplines plus optional literary walks and panels on subjects of interest to writers. (I skipped the walks since I live in Paris, and opted out of some of the panels because it was impossible for my 70 something old brain to complete the classwork and do the rest.)

But hey – I was there to learn how to write a script! And I couldn’t fallen into better hands. The masterclass I attended was taught by the brilliant scriptwriter Diane Lake whose film, Frida, opened the Venice Film Festival and won two Academy Awards in 2003. She has been commissioned to write films for Columbia, Disney, Miramax so it’s an understatement to say that she knows the ropes. A personable and no nonsense instructor, Diane managed in one short week to drill some of the basics of the difficult craft of writing for screen into our eager minds and collective heads. The basic I retained – and the one that is so very hard for novelists – is that a script contains only what the characters see and hear. In other words, you do not have permission to get into their brains and their thoughts. You can’t even let your characters mutter to themselves, as I did in one of my attempts.

Learning a new genre was a revelation. And the week was an unqualified success thanks to Diane and my fellow students who were open-minded, cooperative and sympathique. Reid Hall, that place I had never been and now know, played a big part. It is a dream of a setting, both for serious classwork and leisurely conversations in the garden.

And now it’s no longer a secret place to me – nor to you!

10 thoughts on “A Paris Secret – Reid Hall”

  1. I’m amazed you never attended any of the many AARO or AAWE events at Reid Hall — among the many other associations that have wonderful events, there. Now that you you know the place….

    1. I’m amazed as well – that’s why I wrote the post. Now that I know the place I’ll keep my eye out for events that take place there.

  2. Final Transgression would make a great movie. And of course, your other books would be great fodder for a comedy!

  3. Wow, I learned so much about Paris and about screenwriting! And I agree, although I was in Paris for only three years, I thought I’d been everywher Franco-American. I had known about Reid Hall from friend back in college days, but never popped in as a new resident.

    1. Thank you, Polly! Glad you learned and Paris and screenwriting and hope you’ll pop into Reid Hall next time you’re here.

  4. Janice Williams

    Your experience and the place sound terrific. I have to say though, that I am not shocked by the champagne consumption-about a half bottle each and those were some wild folks.
    Hope you get busy on your own screen play so that at the Cannes’ screening we can pop a few corks too!

    1. Wouldn’t that be nice (to see one’s creation on the screen)? Not there by a long shot, but it’s an interesting process. As far as the wild folks in the Paris 20s and 30s, man, they knew how to live and live it up!

  5. Hi Harriet — I read your post on FB on my phone and was so happy to discover you’d posted it on your website so I could read it on a big monitor!

    First off, the photo of Reid Hall really got my attention. It looks so peaceful and inviting and Edith Wharton-ish. And you made Montparnasse sound so inviting. What a great experience to learn something new about writing there. Can passers-by walk in and take a look? I especially want to sit in the garden.

    What struck me about your experience was the “basic” you took away — that for a script you can only write about what the characters see and hear. At first, I thought you’d said “what the characters say and hear.” Either way, what a task, especially for a novelist. I mean, you’d be thinking and thinking about what goes on in their minds!! I guess that would come out in dialog?

    Thanks very much for this fun reading experience and for the discovery of Reid Hall!

    P.S. I agree with Nanette — I’d love to see your Fatal Attraction on screen!

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