Pics take TRIP to France

Hollywood's keen to cash in on the Gallic tax rebate

The roll call of recipients for Gaul’s four-month-old international shoot rebate reads like a Hollywood Hall of Fame.

Clint Eastwood (“Hereafter”), Woody Allen (his 2010 summer project) and Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) have tapped the coin.

Martin Scorsese (“The Invention of Hugo Cabret”) looks poised to follow suit. “The Tourist,” with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, shot late February in Paris using the tax shelter.

U.S. beneficiaries of the program include Warner Bros., Universal, Disney-Marvel, GK Films/Spyglass, Gravier, Lionsgate, Screen Gems and Lakeshore.

But Gaul’s Tax Rebate on Intl. Production (TRIP) isn’t a one-stop game-changer: The nation still needs a studio up to the standards of Blighty’s Pinewood-Shepperton, and regional film funding for foreign shoots similar to the German model.

But, in its crusade to become an international production destination, France is at least halfway there.

TRIP puts France “in the big league,” says Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director of the Paris region’s Ile de France Film Commission.

Offering foreign shoots 20% credit, capped at e4 million ($5.4 million) on most — though not all — French spend, TRIP broadly matches U.K. tax credits and Germany’s DFFF rebate fund.

For Hollywood production heads, rebates make France a viable production option, says Raphael Benoliel, who’s line-producing Allen’s Paris pic.

Indeed, things have changed. Nora Ephron said that shooting six days of “Julie & Julia” in France “cost a fortune.”

TRIP has taken the sting out of currency fluctuation and made Gaul a more affordable luxury — although the weakened pound makes the U.K. currently cheaper to shoot in than France, says John Bernard, line producer on “Hereafter” and “Inception.”

“Sterling’s been dropping fast against the euro; the rebate makes up that difference,” says “Merlin” producer Julian Murphy at London’s Shine shingle.

According to Bernard, both “Hereafter” and “Inception” added shoot days to qualify for TRIP, which requires minimum five-day shoots and a $1.4 million expenditure.

On “The Tourist,” “the tax rebate’s existence was an added appeal for us to maximize shoot days in Paris,” says GK Films chief operating officer Bahman Naraghi.

TRIP’s early benefits have been clearest in animation. “The French animation industry is highly creative, but without the rebate, it couldn’t compete with the U.K,” says Veillon.

On Allen’s summer project, like toon “The Lorax,” TRIP was a Gallic shoot clincher. The helmer had abandoned a Paris-set pic skedded to roll in 2006 as too expensive.

“We work on a very low budget, and Paris is an expensive city to shoot in,” says Allen’s producer Letty Aronson. “Every bit helps us to be able to shoot there. Rebates are absolutely critical for us.”

TRIP, which bowed on Dec. 23, has already strongly impacted foreign films’ expenditure, says Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France, which fields rebate applications.

Total 2010 French spend from TRIP recipients will be more than $110 million, Lamassoure calculates. That compares to foreign movies’ average yearly expenditure of $27.5 million to $50 million from 2006 to 2008.

Aside from TRIP, the Ile de France Film Commission — a regional film funder and promo org — has worked tirelessly to bring films to Paris and the surrounding region. So it was a shock when on March 10 an Ile de France fund committee, stocked by French film professionals, turned down Allen’s summer project, which is a totally foreign production. Aronson was “very disappointed.”

Aronson says the pic will shoot in Paris because “it could not be done in any other country or city in the world.”

On a national level, TRIP is having a major impact. What the new initiative hasn’t changed, says Bernard, is that while “France is one of the best places to shoot in the world, where locations, crew and light are excellent, the principal reason to come to France is that you need to shoot in France.”

Unlike Germany’s film funds, France’s program has a larger cultural and national brief. Over decades Gaul has used a sophisticated film support system to build the strongest national cinema in Europe.

The question now is whether France will, on occasion, give up the keys to its kingdom to some of the most celebrated directors in the world.

Click here for more Scout & About: Ile de France

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