The French-China Connection Shifts up a Gear

Coproductions and TRIP tax rebates are generating an increasing number of Chinese shoots in France

Zhang Ziyi in 'The Grandmaster'

Over the last 10 years, one of the biggest hikes in international film and TV productions in France has come from Chinese productions – one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

This trend has been further enhanced since 2009 as a result of the TRIP tax rebate scheme, aimed at international productions.

Productions from Asia, in general, assume an increasing presence in France, having risen from 14% of all foreign shoots in 2005 to 22% in 2012.

Japan has traditionally been the biggest Asian producer in France, but has now been dethroned by China, which in 2012 was responsible for 8% of all international productions in France, compared to 6% from Japan.

“Chinese production really began in 2005, with ‘My Stay in France,’ that recreated 1920s France,” explained Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director of the Ile de France Film Commission.

“They now occur on a regular basis, with two-to-three major productions every year. We know how to work with Chinese producers, which requires a very different approach.”

Over the last two years, important Chinese films and TV series have been shot in the Ile de France region, that proved to be major hits in China.

The breakthrough title was the 2012 feature, “Chinese Zodiac,” starring Jackie Chan, that had a 23-day shoot in France and grossed over $145 million in China.

The 30 x 52′ TV series produced for CCTV1, “Our French Years,” directed by Hong-Lei Kang, was also a major hit, seen by 300 million Chinese viewers.

“The U.S. and France are two of the few countries that have entered the mental landscape of Chinese audiences,” suggests Franck Priot, COO of Film France. “That also explains why so many sequels are set in France – for example the martial arts franchise, ‘Rush Hour,’ the first film was shot in America, the second in China, France was the obvious next choice for the third film. Paris was a key setting for ‘Red 2,’ or ‘The Smurfs 2’ for the same reason.”

China and France have also developed an increasing number of co-productions, in the wake of the 2010 Franco-Chinese co-production treaty, China’s fourth after Italy, Australia and Canada.

Co-productions not only involve locations in France, but also VFX and sound work.

For example, film financier Leonard Glowinski, coproduced the Chinese-Canadian-French co-production “Outcast,” starring Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen, with sound post-production conducted in France.

“Chinese producers are looking to include a few specific things in their films in order to engage with Chinese audiences – including shots of Paris, French castles and vineyards,” Glowinski suggests.

One of the main French line producers for French-Chinese productions is Bayoo TV.

Bayoo’s Yves Cresson comments: “France’s locations, its ‘art of living, romanticism’ and the ex-pats’ lives all interest Chinese producers.”

Pierre Buffin’s Buf won a Golden Horse award for best visual effects on Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” and French DP Philippe Lesourd has been nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for the pic.

Finally, the link between Paris and Chinese producers has been further cemented by French sales agents. Per Priot: “In last year’s Golden Horse awards in China, four out of the five films that were nominated for Best Film are being sold internationally by French sales agents.”

If current trends persist, Chinese productions are sure to occupy a rising proportion of international productions in France, soon surpassing German productions and moving closer towards the level of U.S. shoots.