Magic Under the Moonlight

France’s revised tax rebate scheme has made France more competitive in the global film market

France’s Ile de France LocationExpo, that runs Feb. 13-14, is a showcase for the location and studio facilities available in the region and in France in general.

It’s also a reflection of the increasingly fierce competition that currently exists between regions and countries in order to attract film productions.

France remains a comparatively expensive location for filming – including new restrictions on working hours and higher social charges for crew – but in the wake of the TRIP tax rebate scheme introduced in 2009 and revamped in 2013, overall production costs are now comparable to the U.K.

Lower costs can still be found in other parts of Europe – including Eastern Europe and countries with more generous tax rebates such as Belgium and Luxembourg – but France offers a much more in-depth range of services and other guarantees that reassure foreign producers, in particular American studios.

Line producer Raphael Benoliel emphasizes this fact: “American productions often choose to film in France because it offers them greater certainty. They know they’ll receive a quality service and can be sure to receive the promised tax rebate. It may take several months but we know that it works.”

Recent developments, such as the opening of the Paris Studios in the Cite du Cinema complex, means that producers can concentrate the entire production in France, thus minimizing logistical requirements of a multi-territory shoot.

These synergies are further enhanced by the fact that the cap on TRIP has increased from $5.44 million to $27.2 million and the range of eligible expenses has widened.

Professionals also believe that the scheme could go further, in order to enhance France’s competitiveness on the international stage

“To be honest the higher cap has not made a huge difference for me,” explains Benoliel. “The real difference is that hotels and several other living expenses are now eligible, when they weren’t previously.

The key thing would be to enlarge the base further by increasing the range of eligible expenses and increasing the rebate percentage to 25-30% as in other countries. That would have a huge impact”.

Line producer John Bernard agrees: “France does nothing but improve but there’s still more ground to gain. We can offer very limited advantages in terms of above-the-line benefits, so we need to focus on how to improve the below the line benefits. The main measure being to increase the rebate percentage to 30%.”

TRIP has already made a major change to the pattern of foreign productions.

Before 2009, productions would jet in for a minimum two-to-three day shoot in order to secure establishing shots.

Many productions now stay for the entire shoot.

“Before we had shoots that only lasted a few days – such as ‘GI Joe’ or ‘Inglourious Basterds’” explains Franck Priot, COO of Film France, “Now, because of TRIP, all exteriors that are supposed to be in France are shot in France. And with our sound stages, we’re not just getting the exteriors, we’re also getting the interiors.”

Benoliel agrees: “Last year, I line-produced two major U.S. production in France – Woody Allen’s ‘Magic under the Moonlight’ and DreamWorks’ ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey,’ both of which were entirely shot in France. That would never have happened before.”

Bernard recounts a similar experience: “Last year we worked in a way that we’d never done before, which was made possible by TRIP. Legendary Pictures, the producers of ‘As Above So Below,’ came in thinking they’d do a five-to-six-day shoot and ended up doing the entire picture here, with a 30-day shoot. They only brought in the director, producer and some key cast.”

Another production entirely shot in France, including sound stages and the postproduction work was EuropaCorp’s “Three Days to Kill,” starring Kevin Costner.

“U.S. productions won’t come to France exclusively because of our studio facilities or our technicians,” suggests Thierry de Segonzac, prexy of technicians union, FICAM.

“They come because they need our exterior locations for their stories. But we have to ensure that the strength of our technical offer, complemented by fiscal incentives, will ensure that a foreign production will want to organize most of its shoot in France, including both exteriors and studio sets.”

“Everything is now available locally – in terms of technicians, locations, studios, VFX and other production facilities,” suggests film financier, Leonard Glowinski. “I’m working on a project set in France that needs a French castle and a forest. It could be shot in Eastern Europe but would require the set to be dressed and bring in external technicians, and would end up costing more.”

In parallel with the reinforced competitiveness of the French production system, tax relief schemes in Belgium and Eastern Europe are also being reviewed or undergoing significant changes, which increases the comparative attractiveness of a French shoot.

The Belgian system, which can contribute up to 40%  of a film’s budget, is currently under scrutiny, with a major debate on whether it should be revised.

Schemes in Eastern Europe are also being overhauled, as the regimes find it difficult to meet the costs of attracting major productions.

“Viable tax relief schemes no longer exist in most East European countries because they lack the financial resources to maintain such systems,” suggests Glowinski. “It’s no longer so obvious that it will be more expensive to shoot in France. Shooting in France ends up being more cost effective and offers greater creative consistency.”

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