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French Film Hub in Search of International Franchises

France is the U.K’s closest rival as a leading international film hub

PARIS — The Paris-Ile de France region is increasingly positioning itself as Europe’s premier film production hub, while simultaneously building synergies with its closest rival, London, and also with production centers in Belgium and Luxembourg.

In recent years there has been a sea change in the way the local industry works. Since the Nouvelle Vague, France has charted its own distinctive path in the film world, including a strong emphasis on auteur films. But this underlying commitment to the “Art et Essai” — broadly, arthouse — films is complemented by a new generation of directors interested in integrating VFX and animation work within their projects.

In the wake of the digital revolution, all areas of French film production have gone digital, including subtle use of “invisible” VFX on auteur films. Recent examples include VFX work by Mikros Image on Michael Haneke’s “Amour” and Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” and Buf’s VFX work on Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.”

France has always been a staunch advocate of cinema and new technology in general, and the digital environment has opened up new lines of creative development exploring both invisible VFX work and also high-profile effects-driven pictures.

This basic creative thrust is complemented by the country’s massive public support system and one of Europe’s strongest film infrastructures. France’s extensive network of film commissions provides access to key filming locations and helps minimize the red tape associated with shooting in France.

The opening of Luc Besson’s nine-studio facility, Paris Studios, in 2013 has enabled the country to offer soundstages comparable to those in the U.K. and Germany. And the country’s vibrant animation and VFX industry is delivering growing synergies between production shoots and subsequent post-production work.

The Paris-Ile de France region is also the headquarters of pan-European media groups such as pay TV giant the Canal Plus Group and hosts many of Europe’s leading international sales agents, centralizing market knowledge and distribution links. Finally, the region has significant economic muscle – it’s Europe’s second-biggest economic region and generates 5% of Europe’s total GDP.

France and the U.K also house the biggest animation and VFX sectors in Europe, which act as magnets for all stages of production in the digital world. Major French media groups such as Canal Plus, Gaumont, Pathé and EuropaCorp are increasingly committed to developing English-language international productions that can tap into the global film market.

Universal’s creation of Illumination MacGuff, whose Paris-animated “Despicable Me 2” grossed about $970 million worldwide, has been one of the most visible reflections of Gaul’s international expertise in this arena.

The recent decision by London-based VFX shop MPC to set up a base in Paris also reflects the growing perception of the city as a leading production hub, due to the wealth of local talent, strong domestic demand and favorable fiscal regime.

The U.K continues to be France’s biggest rival, especially in terms of attracting major Hollywood productions. One industry professional quipped that the “U.K. is the gorilla in the cage, it’s the key benchmark against which all other countries have to compete.” But the U.K.’s production hub has been built in less than two decades and is extremely dependent on inward investment films that represent over 90% of total film investment in the U.K.

French professionals are convinced that they can reinforce their own production hub, especially given the strength of the domestic industry.

Tax rebates played a key role in developing the U.K. hub. This is also why France introduced in 2009 its own TRIP international tax rebate program, which will be upped to 30% as of Jan. 1, 2016.

But the success of the U.K. film center  is also linked to the development of internationally successful franchises shot and sometimes originated in the U.K., most notably the mega eight-film “Harry Potter” franchise, for which J.K. Rowling included a contractual clause whereby the films had to be shot in the U.K.

French line producer Raphael Benoliel suggests that France has to make an even greater effort in attracting such major film franchises: “People come to France because the script means that it makes sense to shoot here, but they don’t come otherwise. By contrast, the U.K. in particular, plus countries like Germany, can attract big studio shoots solely on the basis of technical facilities and tax incentives. We have the technicians, locations, incentives and a strong vfx industry, with growing synergies between all these elements. But we can go much further. In the case of the U.K, the tax rebate scheme combined with the massive ‘Harry Potter’ franchise, made a huge difference to the local industry.”

Julien Meesters, of Mikros Image, emphasized that he is looking for VFX-driven projects from France – but few such projects are being developed.

Companies such as Studiocanal and EuropaCorp are on the lookout for movie franchises and, over the past two years, have been involved in international projects that have benefited from the TRIP program – including “Three Days to Kill,” “Our Kind of Traitor,” “Bastille Day” and Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic “Icon.”

Studiocanal has also been investing in projects such as “Paddington” and the Aardman animation feature “Shaun the Sheep,” which bows this Friday in the U.K., with the same goal in mind.

The ambitious 10-hour TV series, “Versailles” produced by Capa Drama and sold by Zodiak Rights, is another example of a project aimed at building a worldwide franchise: It’s a French production that benefits from the domestic tax rebate but is shot in English.

Recent EuropaCorp productions such as “Lucy” and the three “Taken” films are other examples of homegrown productions aimed at the international markets.

The strongest recent example of a worldwide franchise produced with French involvement is perhaps the “Despicable Me” films.

The million-dollar question is whether France’s VFX-savvy creative talent, backed by domestic media groups or foreign partners, can come up with new movie franchises that can tap into the country’s attractive public support schemes and enable Gaul to take a decisive step forward as Europe’s key film production hub.

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