PARIS — The Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur (PACA) area in France’s southeastern corner has ties to cinema stretching back more than 100 years ago to the brothers Lumiere, who cut their technical teeth shooting the area’s spectacular natural beauty.
The area’s other attractions for film and TV production are major studios in the area, including Marseille’s Belle de Mai media park and Nice-based Studios Riviera (formerly Studios La Victorine), which despite frequent fiscal and other forms of trauma, has been at the center of French filmmaking for nearly 90 years.
The past two decades have seen intensive efforts by various regional players to boost the local profile and capacities. It now lures around 15% of all shoots in France.
“PACA invested a lot in their audiovisual policy as a region. Now it’s the other real national production hub,” says Patrick Lamassoure, head of national film commission Film France.
They built this not on foreign shoots but on attracting successful long-running TV shows such as “Life So Sweet” and “St. Tropez.”
“The result of this has been that many of France’s top producers, and especially technicians, decided to make the area a permanent base,” says deputy director Franck Priot. “In 2005, PACA actually attracted more foreign shoots than the Paris region,” and in 2007, the region had a strong year hosting foreign shoots.
In the form of the Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles-Provence, the region was also the first local French authority to approach Film France for support from a tourism-promotion angle.
Both sides considered the support by Film France at last April’s Locations Trade Show in Santa Monica a major boost in attracting international professional attention to PACA, and are eager to do more this year.
“We see the audiovisual industry as a major part of regenerating tourism in the region,” says the chamber’s head of tourism Richard Bower. Marseille will be hosting the first European Film Tourism Conference in October, bringing together both tourism and film boards on a pancontinental basis.
Pascal Becu, head of film production at the Euro Media Group, which owns Studios Riviera, is encouraged by the atmosphere of cooperation between national and regional funding bodies, and admits that the sums on offer are hardly likely to entice bigger foreign players as co-producers.
PACA is forced to cope with many of the same negative stereotypes shadowing Gaul as a whole. Irish producer-helmer Mary McGuckian, who will shoot for the first time in France, says, “What put me off before was a perception of high crew costs, and that it was very difficult if you didn’t know the right people, due to bureaucracy and a general lack of straightforwardness.”
Guy Pechard, executive producer on Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year,” admits “people in southern France may have been a bit more ‘Latin’ in the ’80s and ’90s. They now better understand what is expected, are more professional, and are far more willing to budge on prices where possible.”
Monaco-based John Bernard, line producer on French shoots for “Munich” and “Rush Hour 3,” sees certain French legal strictures — like a firm ban on shoots running longer than 12 hours a day — as having upsides. The French system “demands more prestructured thinking than elsewhere. This can create an atmosphere of efficiency, which can end up being a very pleasurable experience.”
And there is little doubt in the mind of Raphael Benoliel about the extent to which many in the Provence-Cote d’Azur region see the advantages of foreign shoots boosting the overall economy.
As production partner with Working Title on “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” he found “local officials could hardly have been more accommodating, which on a road movie, with locations changing almost every day, was a huge plus.
“In Cannes, we had full use of the public beach for two days — in July! In a tiny town called Cavaillon, the mayor literally closed the city for us.”