Case studies

A look at three productions in Paris

“Hugo Cabret”
Scorsese pic recreates Paris of 1930s

“Hugo Cabret,” Martin Scorsese’s first film shot in 3D, is set in 1930s Paris. The story centers on an orphan boy living a secret life behind the walls of a Paris train station.

Pic, now in post, shot at the U.K.’s Shepperton Studios, as well as on location in London and Paris.

The ensemble cast, led by Asa Butterfield, includes Chloe Moretz, Jude Law, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone and Emily Mortimer.

Produced by GK Films, “Cabret” was line-produced in France by John Bernard with Paris-based Peninsula Film. In Paris the pic liaised with the Paris Film Office, the mayor’s department that obtained permits from the police and the City Hall to close off the locations.

The office’s first contact with Scorsese occurred in February 2010. He later came to the city several times to scout locations, with the org’s assistance.

“Cabret” shot in Paris in August for nine days in two neighborhoods: The Latin Quarter, including inside the Sorbonne and a Metro station; and the area around the Square de l’Opera-Louis Jouvet (pictured), where the facade of the Athenee theater was transformed and the storefronts were turned into a hat shop, watchmaker, haberdashery and pharmacy.

The Paris Film Office oversaw these alterations, including the removal of signage, modifications to the street lighting and other changes needed to recreate the 1930s.

The Paris Film Office also worked with production shingle Peninsula Films to find space nearby for the many vehicles — both the vintage automobiles used in the pic and the production trucks — and to house the cast and crew. For example, the canteen and dressing rooms were located in a nearby high school, which was closed for the summer.

Budgeted at a reported $120 million, the film was able to claim 20% of its Paris expenditure up to the maximum $5.7 million.

U.K. TV series starts fourth season in French chateau

The Pierrefonds Chateau, a 19th century castle located an hour’s drive from Paris, has served as backdrop for period dramas since Raymond Bernard’s 1924 “Miracle of the Wolves.” Most recently, “Merlin,” a British medieval fantasy skein produced by Shine and BBC1, has been lensing most of the exterior locations at the French estate. Show, which has just been greenlit for a fourth season, will continue shooting at Pierrefonds, says Johnny Capps, creative director at Shine Drama and exec producer of “Merlin.”

“The Chateau brings huge production value to our show,” Capps said. “We’re also fortunate in having one of the world’s leading equestrian stuntmasters at our doorstep.”

“Merlin” is an international TV hit, having been sold in 113 territories.

While it was one of the first TV productions to benefit from the international tax rebate, the producers had chosen the location and shot a whole season in France before the incentive was introduced, says Amanda Wilkie, head of production and line producer on “Merlin.”

The rebate plan was nevertheless “extremely helpful, especially in a time when budgets are being constantly squeezed,” Capps says. The cost of shooting in France “works out pretty similar to English shooting costs.”

Paris-based Firstep Prods. was tapped to coordinate the French lensing. The production also hired French staff to complement its U.K. crew. “We have a very loyal French team that integrates and adapts well to our way working,” says Wilkie.

Capps adds: “They are also very calm under pressure with good stamina and humor.”

Marvel film finds incentives for post

Strong incentives can lure a production to different places to take advantage of the potential savings, so it comes as no surprise that incentives have the same pull on post-production work.

Victoria Alonso, exec VP, vfx and post at Marvel and co-producer on “Thor,” made French vfx house Buf one of three lead teams on the film (the other two were Digital Domain and Luma Pictures).

Alonso chose the vfx house because it was able to create the look she need for “Thor,” which was an imaginary world that somehow looked natural and real. Though Buf was picked for its ability to visualize a “believable world where gods exist,” the fact that France offered a 20% incentive on the expenditures didn’t go unnoticed.

“You look at all the incredibly creative people in the world and you have to ask yourself if you can afford them,” says Alonso. “When a country comes along and offers an incentive so you can afford all that talent, it’s good all around.”

Buf — which has been in business since the mid-1980s — was given around 400 vfx shots to complete. Alonso estimates that about 300 will appear in the movie once the final cut has been made. More than 2,100 vfx shots were done for the film overall; just over 1,300 will probably appear in the final cut.

Paris-based Buf also has a small office in Los Angeles, which it uses when a production requires that vfx artists come to the set for part of their work, says Steven Adams, a Buf producer based in L.A.

“It’s always a balancing act trying to choose the most creative, talented people and somehow stay on your budget,” says Alonso. “Incentives help you do that.”

More from Scout & About: Paris/Ile de France
Tax rebates lure auteurs to Gaul | China syndrome | Case studies | Twenty at the top | Hollywood draws on magic of Paris

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