France offers rebates, charm

Nation counts on new factors to attract films

PARIS — Shooting films in France has been popular from the get-go. Indeed, France was the get-go. The first film lensed anywhere is believed to be “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat,” Louis Lumiere’s station platform chronicle, shot at a small fishing port on the Rhone.

But now France, famed for exporting films, is attempting to lure foreign shoots, and it’s bringing the same high seriousness of purpose that has helped create the world’s most sophisticated subsidy system and biggest film festival.

France counts on new factors in its hope to acquire shoots: an impressive film commission infrastructure, globalization and a leap in CGI visual effects abilities.

While history’s on France’s side, pricing is not. France will likely only emerge as a key foreign shooting locale if its government adopts newly proposed tax rebates, counteracting a soaring euro and leveling the playing field with tax-break systems across Europe.

Beyond new trends, traditional Gallic charms still abound.

Foreigners tend to shoot five kinds of movies in France, maintains Frank Priot, VP of Film France, the national film commission: romantic comedies, spy movies, gentlemen-

burglar stories, sword-and-sorcery movies and sequels.

“There’s scope and range of locations, a sophistication and depth of tradition in medieval and historical iconic places, which is fantastic,” says John Bernard, who line produced “Rush Hour 3.”

Mulling medieval? Film France’s website offers 124 abbeys and 101 battlements, ordered by century.

Scenery is jaw-dropping, and malleable, insists KanZaman France’s Lucette Legot.

Opening “Tomorrow Never Dies,” KanZaman Monaco helped morph Peyresoude’s dinky airstrip, perched in the Pyrenees hills, into an Afghanistan air base and then helped blow it up.

France, alongside the U.K., dominates European movie production, making 228 movies last year worth x1.1 billion ($1.8 billion). Such vibrancy hones expertise.

“French technicians are really good,” says Caroline Hewitt, who co-produced “Mr. Bean’s Holiday.”

“The best thing was working with as much French crew as possible,” she adds.

“Holiday” imported 30 British pros — costume, makeup, sound, sfx, stunts — then crewed up to 438 technicians in France through Raphael Benoliel’s Firstep.

Now new factors are galvanizing efforts to pull in shoots.

France’s political class — from Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe downward — has wised up to the upsides of foreign productions.

Commissions plus regional, county and local funds have flowered nationwide. One, Ile de France, offered $22.9 million last year to French and foreign productions shooting 50% in the Paris region.

Opportunities for higher-bracket and sophisticated co-productions are opening up as well.

“Pathe, UGC and now Gaumont are more interested and involved in big international productions,” says Ile de France Film Commission executive director Olivier-Rene Veillon.

Restructuring an American project as a European production, then co-producing, may open CNC finance, plus Gallic TV and distribution coin.

But most big shoots come to France because of France.

“Ever since Vincente Minnelli shot ‘Gigi’ here, Paris has attracted American romantic comedies, capturing its icons. Now national cinemas worldwide want access,” Veillon says.

In a global amusement park, U.S. companies — Pixar, Scott Free, New Line, Sony — have recently weaved plots around France’s star attractions.

Other countries want in. According to Sophie Boudon-Vanhille, head of the Paris film commission, in 2002 Paris hosted shoots from three countries.

Last year, that number rose to nine, including Indonesia (Rachmania Arunita’s “Lost in Love”) and Korea (Hong Song-soo’s Berlin competitor “Night and Day”).

But, she adds, the number of shooting days per pic has dropped.

The bugbear for shoots in France is pricing, especially against the greenback. In 2000, $1 bought x1.2. It now buys x0.6.

French fringes benefits — overtime, social security — are legendary, Europe’s highest.

But “For a 12-hour shoot, our rates undercut an English crew’s,” says “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” line producer Benoliel.

“On the film I’m making, the U.K. production manager receives $3,369 per week, my French production manager $3,200.”

A plunging dollar continues pushing up French costs for American producers.

One solution, Bernard says, is streamlining shoots.

For “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” Nice’s Riviera (aka Victorine) Studios, mocked up Cannes’ Palais des Festivals on five soundstages and rented out offices and warehouses.

“The Devil Wears Prada” used Paris to the full, shooting six locations in two days, a lot by any standards.

The vfx revolution opens up vast new possibilities for location-studio-CGI tie-ups.

In “Rush Hour 3’s” finale faceoff, Jackie Chan throws himself into the Eiffel Tower’s elevator well, grabbing its girders: Chan did that for real in situ. When Chan alights at the tower top, machine-gun-toting hoods bear down: That’s a U.S. studio shot. But Chan and Chris Tucker hang-glide on a tricolor to the Trocadero Fountain far below: CGI work.

A soaring euro adds extra urgency to the need for France to adopt foreigner-shot tax rebates to take a sting out of prices. They’re now a very real possibility.

Ficam, the Gallic technicians association, closed an agreement March 27 with France’s culture and finance ministries and, crucially, its six producers’ associations, on a 20% tax rebate on foreign shoots’ Gallic spend, capped at $6.2 million, says Thierry de Segonzac, Ficam president.

“At the moment, all lights are green. Now we have to wait for parliamentary approval,” which could come late fall, he adds.

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