In terms of international visibility, France benefits from the fact that it’s the world’s leading tourism destination. Landmark monuments such as the Eiffel Tower benefit from instant recognition amongst billions of people around the world.
This means that when foreign shoots are looking for maximum marketing synergies from their foreign production spend, scenes shot in France, in particular Paris, are sure to be included in both the film itself and in the trailer.
In an exclusive interview with Variety, Film France’s COO, Franck Priot, explained how Gaul can use its in-built strengths to attract a rising number of foreign productions.
The seven-strong team at Film France has two main fields of activity – helping foreign productions shoot in the country and liaising with Gaul’s 41 regional film commissions, in order to ensure maximum assistance to domestic and foreign productions.
Film France is responsible for analyzing all dossiers applying for the TRIP tax rebate scheme and determining whether they comply with the cultural test. It is also a facilitator for visa requests for non-E.U. crews who are travelling to Gaul. In both cases, Priot considers that the French system is particularly easy to tap into. He describes the TRIP cultural test as being “next-generation,” since it’s one of the easiest to trigger. All E.U. tax rebate schemes have a cultural test – a requirement under E.U. rules.
One of the biggest challenges in this regard is how to evaluate projects that do not have an evident French setting or other key French ingredients. Given that many major international products are VFX-driven films, featuring alien worlds, monsters or digitally-created creatures, this often poses a problem in terms of classifying the citizenship of the characters and the nationality of the settings.
For certain projects, this problem has been resolved when the respective VFX work is based in France – since the cultural test for VFX/animation work is particularly flexible. But even for live-action shoots, the generic setting of some films may make it easier for them to satisfy the cultural test, using a classic Cartesian logic.
In the case of “The Hunger Games – Mockingjay” that shot in France under the TRIP scheme, the fact that the story is set in an unidentified future world simplified the analysis. Since the film is set “nowhere,” it’s also set “everywhere,” and everywhere therefore includes Europe. On this count “Hunger Games 3” was able to satisfy the location aspect of the cultural test, even though the story doesn’t include any visible French landmark or cultural icon.
“Our international tax rebate system is particularly flexible,” explains Priot. “We’ve never had an international shoot that satisfied the minimum €1 million [$1.1 million] spend needed to trigger TRIP, and which wasn’t then approved under the scheme.”
Foreign productions lensing in France also benefit from other key advantages which Film France helps facilitate. Notwithstanding recent terrorism scares, Paris and France remain safe filming locations, and benefit from an extremely film-friendly outlook from Gaul’s public authorities.
For example, the capital’s labyrinthine streets can pose logistical nightmares for bringing in heavy film and lighting equipment, but the dual filming permit process, granted by Paris City Hall and the Prefecture de Paris, can make miracles on happen. Film France advises international productions in this process.
Film France works in coordination with Gaul’s 41 regional film commissions and oversees a massive database containing 20,000 locations and 100,000 photos. Locations are linked to key words that facilitate thematic searches. Priot explains that the next step is to ensure that the database is also integrated with other internet tools and apps, thus further facilitating online location searches.
In conjunction with the online database, Film France contacts regional film commissions whenever a location request is received. Priot cited the example of an upcoming project by Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) in which the helmer requested an “abandoned village.” A series of possible locations were identified, using the online database and by contacting the staff of Gaul’s local film agencies. “We had a team of 100 people looking for the best possible locations,” Priot explained.
Using proprietary software developed for Film France, the national database also includes information on crews throughout the country, wherein technicians regularly update their CVs to include their latest credits.
“These digital tools are increasingly important to attract both domestic and international productions,” suggests Priot. “New players are entering the market such as Amazon and Netflix who come from a digital business environment. These tools make it easier to ensure that projects will be greenlit.”
Amazon funded Whit Stillman’s ex-pat comedy pilot “The Cosmopolitans,” which lensed in Paris under the TRIP scheme. Priot says that the relationship with Amazon is excellent and he hopes that the company’s upcoming production “Casanova” will also shoot in Paris.
Film France also works in conjunction with Gaul’s regional film commissions in terms of representation in key film markets. For example they operate a large booth at Cannes – featuring 30 film commission and 25 regional funds.
“There’s no other film commission in the world that operates with the same breadth as we do,” suggests Priot. “We co-ordinate a national database, offer proprietary software, organize booths in key markets, develop training initiatives and facilitate dialogue between international productions and local film agencies.”
Over the past three years Film France has made a major commitment to attracting Chinese productions to Gaul. This is already paying dividends, including two major Chinese productions in France in 2014: VFX work by Buf Compagnie on “Black & White 2” and the action comedy, “Wine Wars,” which lensed in St Tropez and a French chateau.
Since 2011, Film France’s staff includes a Chinese team member and the agency’s website and key production manuals are also offered in Mandarin. Film France also organizes an annual showcase in Beijing in April, in tandem with the Beijing film market and festival. France is one of the world’s most open film markets, with 700 films released per year. This also facilitates international coproductions, including with China.
France has 56 co-production treaties and is involved in over 100 co-productions per year. In 2014, the French box office was divided equally between US films (46%) and French films (44%) with a further 10% of the box office for films from other parts of the world. Priot suggests that this 10% figure is one of the highest levels in the world.
The interest amongst French audiences in films from other countries, means that a Franco-Chinese coproduction, for example, can attract significant theatrical admissions and TV ratings and gain access to Gaul’s extensive system of subsidies and incentives.
As part of this open outlook, Film France coordinates a fast-track visa-granting process for film technicians from eight key foreign territories – China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Lebanon, Turkey and Mexico. The number of productions approved under the TRIP scheme –around 15 per year – is only the tip of the iceberg.
Around 300 foreign productions shoot in France each year – including commercials, TV series, music videos etc. The majority don’t have the minimum €1 million ($1,3 million) production spend that is necessary to qualify for TRIP, but they still benefit from Film France’s logistical support.
In 2014, China was the third biggest source of foreign film productions in France, including all types of production. A recent example was a three-week shoot for a Chinese TV series, “Family on the Go,” broadcast on CCTV 1, that returned to shoot in Marseilles for its second season.
Priot summed up by highlighting the attraction of Paris and France for Chinese viewers: “Viewers in countries such as China are extremely interested in stories linked to romance, luxury, fashion, celebrities, which is where France has a particularly strong brand image, developed over many decades and reinforced by tourism. China has produced several hit TV series shot in France, with ratings in excess of 100 million viewers.”