Foreign Helmers Remix France’s Unique Heritage Sites

French locations are increasingly geared towards international productions

Over recent years France’s heritage sites, many run by the French state, have woken up to the tremendous economic and promotional potential associated to hosting film, TV and advertising productions.

“2005 was the beginning of a new era in terms of international production,” claims Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director of the Ile de France Film Commission.

“‘The Da Vinci Code,’ filmed in the Louvre museum, and ‘Marie Antoinette,’ set in Versailles, ushered in a new mindset about France’s landmark locations.”

Whereas over a decade ago, producers might have been given the cold shoulder when contacting heritage locations, or sometimes stalled with red tape, they now encounter slick logistical machines.

“Over the last five-to-six years the French government and the authorities that oversee heritage buildings and museums have realized the tremendous value of hosting film productions,” says Thierry de Segonzac, prexy of technicians union, FICAM. “Until then, there were major constraints on using such locations, but now they’re extremely well-organized and when a producer calls a museum or a castle, they’re greeted with open arms.”

“Locations are now much more organized and costs are more standardized,” suggests line producer Raphael Benoliel. “The key next step would be to decrease the paperwork and create more flexible regimes. It can still be difficult to shoot in landmark locations, due to the maximum number of hours that one can shoot and the minimum rates.”

The Ile de France region was one of the first zones to introduce this change in mentality, in the wake of the creation of a regional production fund in 2001, the municipal Paris Film Office in 2002 and the Ile de France Film Commission in 2004.

“We help foreign producers prepare their shoots,” explains Veillon. “In one day they can visit five to six locations. We accelerate the process.”

French films often have a superb sense of setting, and choice of location is also one of the key factors in gaining approval for a project within the TRIP scheme.

Projects must shoot at least five days in France and pass a Cultural Test, scoring a minimum of seven out of 18 available points in the Dramatic Content category.

Of these 18 points, seven are linked to location, including three points if a project is lensed in at least two sets that are considered to be “symbolic of France.”

Access to regional funds is also dependent on location criteria.

For example, in order to be eligible to apply for a grant from the €15 million ($20.4 million) Ile de France production support fund, projects must allocate at least 50% of the shoot, with a minimum of 20 days, in the Ile-de-France region. Since its launch in 2001, the fund has supported over 600 films including major international co-productions, such as Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”

The rising number of international productions hosted in France’s key heritage sites brings in new ideas and perspectives on traditional landmarks.

“International productions often provide a fresh look at our locations,” suggests Veillon. “They dare to show our most emblematic locations, in new surprising ways. French producers tend to be more reticent”.

Line producer John Bernard agrees: “Films are constantly renewing the identity of locations. They can bring great value to locations, since movie-making is also highly beneficial for tourism and other economic activities.”

But Bernard believes that the owners of landmark sites shouldn’t try to crystallize a specific brand image for their location: “There’s a very important distinction between advertising-based films that may try to tie their brand to a specific location and the freedom of artistic creation that is required when shooting a film in a well-known location. Patrons of unique locations must embrace the cultural dimension of filmmaking.”

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