Commission aggressive in promoting Paris

Paris has become a fixture in heavyweight Hollywood shoots since getting an energetic new “agent,” the Ile de France Film Commission, which came onboard in 2004 to revitalize the local film industry and promote the appeal of the region to international producers.

“We’re like the biggest star agency,” jokes Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director of the Ile de France Film Commission. “The Seine, the Eiffel Tower and the Chateau de Versailles are some of our clients and they rank among the biggest box office draws.”

Handling the largest regional film fund, the commission has become a prominent film force since its inception in 2004, striving to boost the Gallic film industry to play a larger role in the international scene, creating Euro production alliances — notably with Madrid, Berlin and Rome — and drawing the spotlight on the Parisian region as the place to shoot for overseas productions.

Ile de France, an umbrella moniker that encompasses Paris and its surrounding suburbs, has become a vibrant and fertile ground for shoots, employing 15,000 full-time workers, concentrating 90% of France’s media-related industries and handling 70% of Gallic productions.

“Our job consists of establishing connections and seeking partnerships,” Veillon explains.

Indeed, the commission’s “agents” — Veillon and his marketing manager, Yann Marchet — have been globe-trotting for the past four years, running the circuit of major film markets and industry gatherings around the world.

This grass-roots campaign has apparently paid off, as Ile de France has been featured in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” “Marie Antoinette,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “Rush Hour 3,” to name a few pics.

But even though Paris has what it takes on an aesthetic level to attract overseas directors, it is not an easy sell, Veillon says. Convincing producers and studio execs to overlook the lack of tax breaks, the cumbersome work regulations and the language and cultural barriers takes more than just schmoozing.

“There is a cultural barrier, not just a language one, for foreign producers to overcome,” explains John Bernard, a Paris-based line producer who worked on “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Rush Hour 3″ and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”

In fact, some of the frustration that U.S. helmers and producers experience when shooting in Gaul partly stems from the stringent French work regulations.

As Jon Turteltaub, who shot scenes of “National Treasure: Book of Secret” in Paris, points out, “The notion that you can only shoot between noon and 7 p.m. seems insane, and it puts more pressure on you.”

However, according to Bernard, booking locations that are considered national or historical landmarks remains the main challenge producers have to deal with. This makes local film commissions crucial to ensuring smooth shootings.

“Money is not a solution with the French, and you can’t buy your way around it,” Bernard explains.

Brett Ratner, who shot important scenes of “Rush Hour 3″ on the Champs-Elysees and the Eiffel Tower, aided by Paris Film and the Paris police, agrees. “France is a very sophisticated market: You’re obviously not shooting in a Third World country, so you have to play by the rules.

“But we were asking for big control, we had lots of car chases, we had to stop traffic, and they said yes to everything,” Ratner recalls.

The shooting of “The Da Vinci Code” inside the Louvre was one of the big-budget Hollywood films handled by the commission, and it happened to be the most lucrative marketing campaign that Henry Loyrette, president of the Louvre, could have hoped for. As Veillon points out, the museum revenues skyrocketed by 50% after the pic was released.

“We all had to grab (Loyrette) by the sleeves to allow the shoot to take place inside the museum,” Veillon says, “and now he is the one hosting a retrospective to promote shooting at the Louvre during the Location Trade Show in L.A.”

“They’ve been key in making the French government, municipal associations and other prominent institutions that control the French patrimony understand the economic weight of the film industry and what the industry can bring to the economy,” says Christine Raspillere, who worked as line producer on the shoot of Sofia Coppola-helmed “Marie Antoinette.”

The Ile de France Film Commission also is keen on matching its economic interests with those of overseas production teams by reducing travel expenses for foreign producers via finding ways to keep crews shooting within the confine of the Ile de France region. During the filming of “Marie Antoinette,” for instance, Veillon says, the commission obtained permission to shoot inside the Banque de France for a scene that was supposed to be shot in Austria.

But beyond what the Ile de France Commission can do for foreign producers, Ratner wonders, “How bad could shooting in France be when you’ve an hour-and-a-half lunch break every day, great food, great wine and beautiful women — what else matters?”

SCORECARD

The Ile de France Film Commission has handled a variety of foreign shoots, from big-budget Hollywood films, such as Ron Howard-directed “The Da Vinci Code,” to arthouse fare, like Sofia Coppola-helmed “Marie Antoinette” and Hal Hartley-directed “Fay Grim,” plus Asian pics like Taiwan’s “Flight of the Red Balloon.” Ile de France has also assisted in the shooting of American TV series, like “Sex and the City,” “The Sopranos” and “ER,” to facilitate their access to difficult or closed-off locations.

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