South of France, ideal locale for film

Region boasts picturesque shooting spots

With its diverse scenery, luxurious settings and sunny skies, the South of France has long lured tourists, the rich — and the film biz.

And now, since the release of “A Good Year” and “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” the picturesque region called Provence-Alpes-Cotes d’Azur (PACA) has been on a roll, luring thrillers as well as romantic fare.

Last year, the Don Cheadle starrer “Traitor,” a high-voltage thriller, shot in Marseille. This year, Lionsgate’s untitled action comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl will shoot for two weeks in Nice.

The latter actioner, directed by Robert Luketic, starts off on a romantic note, with Kutcher and Heigl falling in love and marrying .

“The script called for an international resort, and our director specifically wanted the feeling of the French Riviera,” says Mike Paseornek, Lionsgate’s production prexy. “You can’t duplicate that anywhere else. There’s only one French Riviera.”

Set for a June 2010 release, the film will start shooting in March in the streets of Nice and at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes.

Host of 30% to 40% of Gaul’s foreign film shoots, the PACA region was France’s most popular destination for foreign productions in 2005 and 2007, with Paris and its suburbs coming first in 2006.

The region boasts two large studio facilities — Studios Marseilles, where Gallic hit soap “Plus belle la bie” shoots, and Studios de la Victorine in Nice. But Gaul has its north-south discrepancies. The Ile de France region around Paris is home to 15,000 full-time film technicians. Ninety percent of the French film industry is based there, with multiple studios and post houses. Once challenge for PACA is to mobilize more than 200 qualified English-fluent technicians for a sizeable international shoot.

“There’s is a growing … TV biz in Marseille, and that provides a good base for foreign producers,” says Richard Schlesinger, co-producer on director Jeffrey Nachmanoff”s thriller “Traitor,” which shot in Marseille and Morocco. “But if you’re shooting a studio movie, you really need the A-list guys from Paris. It’s a different level of mastery.

“On a basic French film, you need a 50-person crew; on a big-budget American film, you need at least 150 people,” he adds. “But producers shooting in the south can easily key out technicians from Paris, which is only a three-hour train ride away.

Paseornek says the producers on the Lionsgate project are bringing key creatives from the U.S. since the bulk of the film will shoot Stateside, but they hired most of the crew in France.

One of the region’s strengths is its landscapes and stunning locations. Plus, its city locations can can sub for other urban areas. Line producer Raphael Benoliel recalls that when he worked on “A Mighty Heart” in Marseille, he saved some coin be faking a Parisian flat in the southern city.

Another bonus of the region is its web of film commissions that help coordinate shootings as well as scout and secure locations.

“There are seven in all. That reflects the volume of activity,” says Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France.

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