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Not having your story in a specific place helps to make it more universal, but also to reflect the state of mind of everybody; they are all lost in one way or another. I am a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan's movies like Unbreakable and Six Sense; I discovered they were shot in Philadelphia. I was just in the writing process and had no specific idea regarding the background--I knew I wanted a place that would say something. I didn't want just a postcard in the back--make my story happen in New York, or in Miami. So we took a plane to Philadelphia, hired this movie scout that worked on the movie Philadelphia. We asked him, "Could you take us to some poor houses and meet poor people?" The movie scout was surprised by the request. I was inspired by Bowling for Columbine, the movie by Michael Moore. The social background he showed in this movie was a big shock to me, being European. I know the U.S. quite well, but I was always in L.A. or in New York. I never saw what Moore showed in his movie. I thought he was telling something very interesting about the United States--not the Hollywood side where everyone's tanned and has big muscles and is very sexy--but how people actually live.
What we discovered in Philadelphia was beyond anything we could imagine. We saw despair. We saw violence. We saw fear. We saw poverty, in a way that no one in Europe could imagine takes place in the U.S. And we saw all these huge factories near people's houses, these big chimneys with black smoke. You know where Ethan looks for his son near the school, big chimneys just behind it? This is something we saw in Philadelphia. And we met poor people. They kindly let us come into their house and take pictures. We didn't want to just imagine what it looked liked, we wanted to take pictures--which is a very stupid thing to do, when you think about it. I remember one specific time where we went to this family, and the movie scout had arranged it a month before. But when we arrived, their ten-year-old daughter had died the day before in an accident. The family was there crying in the kitchen and we immediately said, "We're going to go. Sorry." And they said, "No. You came from France to take pictures of the house, please come in." We didn't want to say no, we couldn't say no. And we were taking pictures of their house while they were crying about their daughter. This is something that stayed in my mind for all the years I spent writing, this moment of intense sadness, and depression, and death. I hope a little of this is in the final story.