Luc Besson is a man of many dimensions. Best known as a writer, producer, director and founder of EuropaCorp, one of Europe’s largest production companies, he’s also bringing to life the Cite du Cinema, the largest studio complex ever built in France — a purposeful attempt to bring Gaul’s physical production facilities up to the standards of its Euro rivals: Italy, Germany and the U.K.

After two years of construction at Saint-Denis outside Paris, part of the Ile de France region, Cite du Cinema will open for business this year.

The project’s corporate structure is complicated. It includes the €30 million ($39 million) Paris Studios, France’s first modern mega-studio, which is integrated into the 16-acre, $209 million Cite complex, a real estate project built around a former power station.

Paris Studios is financed by Besson’s EuropaCorp (40%), his holding company Frontline (9.9%), Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications (25%) and facilities provider Euro Media France (25.1%). The rest of the real estate venture has a different constellation of shareholders.

In addition to Paris Studios, La Cite will house the Louis Lumiere National Film School, ambitious EuropaCorp office facilities, a state-of-the-art theater, 129,167 sq. feet of set construction workshops and 185,800 of office space for other film and TV companies. Nine soundstages will operate on the property.

The complex is well placed to find synergies with other production entities. “Two-thirds of French production companies are already based in the area around northern Paris,” says Thierry de Segonzac, prexy of technicians’ association Ficam. “There’s a natural basis for creating a film and TV cluster in this zone.”

But more a more important goal is to attract production from outside France. “We aim to bring in foreign shoots interested in spending over $50 million in France,” says Olivier-Rene Veillon, director of the Ile de France Film Commission. “La Cite du Cinema, with nine world-class soundstages, will attract major Hollywood productions.”

In keeping with this international vein, most EuropaCorp movies target global markets. The company aims to be a major user of Paris Studios alongside other big Hollywood, European and French outfits.

EuropaCorp’s first film is booked for early July; Paris Studios says it has inked deals to bring in two additional high-budget shoots before year-end.

“The Cite du Cinema gives France the studio and post-production infrastructure to compete with Pinewood, Babelsberg and Cinecitta.” says Eric Garandeau, prexy of French funding agency CNC, referring to the large, decades-old studio complexes, respectively, of Blighty, Germany and Italy.

In conjunction with France’s Tax Rebate for Intl. Production (TRIP), “We now have all the necessary ingredients to attract major productions,” he adds.

Challenges remain, however.

Paris Studios’ launch ratchets up pressure on the French government to raise TRIP’s rebate cap from $5.2 million to around $13 million, enabling films to benefit from a 20% rebate on up to $65 million of production expenditure, instead of the current $26 million.

“If France wants big pictures to make 80% of their production spend in France, there has to be a major rethink of labor costs, fringe benefits, set-building costs and the working of TRIP itself, especially in relation to above-the-line expenses,” says line producer John Bernard. “The U.K. rebate is much better for above-the-line costs. Studios want to keep the shoots there.”

Bernard Chaussegros, prexy of Euro Media France, believes there’s room for a major new market player, citing the fact that Pinewood is at full capacity, but is emphatic that revising TRIP is crucial for La Cite’s success. “For France to compete for big studio productions, it’s absolutely imperative that we increase our tax rebate ceilings,” he says.

Film financier Leonard Glowinski emphasizes the need to also change mindsets. “Big studios are creatures of habit,” he says. When Hollywood studios shoot outside North America many of them gravitate to the U.K., “where they share the same language and have the cast and crew they’re looking for.”

Veillon is upbeat. “We no longer live in splendid isolation. The new generation has a truly international vision and the Cite du Cinema will reinforce our region’s position as a key hub of international cinema.”

Scout & About: Paris/Ile de France 2012
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