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France Fights Bidding War to Lure Hollywood Filmmakers

Aggressive tax breaks and other incentives pull in foreign producers

Just months after the European Union dropped plans to nix big-bucks rebates for Hollywood blockbusters shooting in Europe, France has further upped the ante and is pushing through multiple measures to make it far more — not less — attractive for Yank titans and smaller foreign fare to shoot in Gaul.

France isn’t alone in rolling out the welcome mat for foreign productions. Since 2013, the U.K. has extended rebates to vfx work, animation and TV production, tempting “24” to London. A $27 million Dutch fund for international productions launches in 2014.

But in bidding to lure runaway shoots, few countries have been as aggressive as France. Just last year, the ceiling per movie for Gaul’s Tax Rebate for Intl. Production (Trip) was upped from €4 million ($5.5 million) to $13.7 million, then to $27.4 million.

“Few movies, if any, spend $135 million in Europe. A $27 million cap on a 20% of spend rebate is like having no cap at all,” says Franck Priot, chief operating officer of Film France, a network of Gallic film commissions.

Once more restrictive than neighboring programs, with not only a lower relief ceiling but a narrower range of eligible expenses, the French rebate has, over the years, become more flexible. Since 2013, hotel accommodation qualifies for Trip spend. In CGI and animation, fantasy creatures and unrecognizable locations are no longer written off as non-French in culture-criteria tests that foreign shoots face to qualify for Trip.

“All Europe’s tax rebates have cultural tests. France’s, we’re convinced, are the most open,” Priot adds.

Inaugurated in 2009, France’s Trip put the country on the international shoot map. It also meant movies set in France usually shoot in France.

In another initiative, seven Gallic production orgs — including the CNC film board, Ile de France Film Commission, Film France and France’s Ficam technicians association — have teamed to create the Paris Images trade show in 2014, grouping together four events: Dream Industry, a craft/technicians’ conference, which will study Franco-German co-production and creative collaboration (Jan. 26-31); high-tech seminar IDIFF (Jan. 28-29); cinematographers’ meet Micro-Salon (Feb. 7-8); and the Ile de France Location Expo (Feb. 13-14).

Why is France increasing its big-bucks shoot lures?

Setting out to slash non-EU shoot rebates in 2012, the European Commission argued in its Cinema Communications law that competition across Europe in big-budget production aid was creating a location arms race.

But the argument met with strong headwinds from Europe’s big three governments: The European Film Agency Directors — whose members include the British Film Institute, France’s CNC and Germany’s FFA federal funding body — dubbed the commission’s proposal “hugely problematic.”

Other groups from around the EU also protested the proposals.

Under budgetary pressure, but exercising far greater fiscal flexibility than cash-strapped U.S. states, Europe’s governments are increasingly convinced of the positive effects of non-EU shoots, and see the growing economic weight of creative industries.
Per Priot, a recent CNC report said that France’s creative industries — movies, TV, vidgames — repped 0.8% of French GDP, or $21.9 billion in annual sales.

“We’re not just saying, ‘Come to Paris’ but rather ‘You’re part of a creative process, must have the elements to make best choices, information about how key location use has evolved,’ ” says Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director of the Ile de France Film Commission. The tradeshow is also about visibility, he says.

Trip is already showing its worth. In 2013, for the first time, Trip-qualified foreign shoot spend passed $136.7 million, per Priot.
Persuaded by Trip to set up shop in France, and later creating Illumination MacGuff, Universal saw its Paris-animated “Despicable Me 2” gross some $918 million worldwide. Universal now has “Max” and “Lunch” set up at Illumination MacGuff.

“Film/TV sector jobs created in the last five years are all connected to international development,” Veillon says.

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