Representatives of French production company Capa Drama – Guillaume de Menthon, managing director, Capa Drama – and of two key locations: the Palace of Versailles (Olivier Josse and Jeanne Hollande) and the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte (Alexandre de Vogue) attended a round table chaired by Olivier Rene-Veillon, prexy of the Ile de France Film Commission, during the Paris Images Location Expo (Feb. 3-4) to discuss one of France’s most ambitious TV series in recent years :“Versailles” – a €27 million ($30 million) 10 hour English-language Franco-Canadian co-production, sold internationally by Zodiak Rights.
Capa Drama’s De Menthon explained that the maximum financing level that can be raised in France for a major TV series is €11 million ($12,5 million).
This led Capa to produce the series in English because they calculated that if the series was shot in English the potential international sales would be ten times higher than if it were a shot in French – based on experience from the sales of Capa’s French-language TV series “Braquo”, now in its fourth season.
However, this initially posed a major problem in terms of eligibility for Gaul’s domestic tax credit rebate scheme, because under the prevailing rules, a French production had to be shot in French in order to benefit from the scheme.
The only way round this obstacle seemed to be to shoot the series in Eastern Europe or to structure it as a non-French international TV series, and then apply for the TRIP international tax rebate scheme.
Either scenario would have been a major embarrassment for the French authorities, given that Versailles is one of France’s most iconic landmarks.
After lobbying by numerous bodies, including by the CNC and the Ile de France Film Commission, Gaul’s domestic tax rebate scheme was modified as a consequence. It now enables non-French language domestic productions to also benefit from the scheme. “Versailles” was the first major TV series to be approved under the new rules.
The Ile de France Region also provided a direct €175,000 ($200,000) production grant to the series.
“Versailles” has been created by Simon Mirren (“Criminal Minds”) and David Wolstencroft (“The Escape Artist”), who also serve as showrunners and exec producers on the series, along with Claude Chelli (“Braquo”) at Capa Drama and Anne Thomopoulos (“Rome,” “Borgia”). It’s co-produced by Fabrice de la Patelliere at Canal Plus Creation Originale, Capa Drama, Zodiak and Canadian production company, Incendo.
The first series was shot by four different directors, including “Yves Saint Laurent” helmer Jalil Lespert. It is due to bow on French paybox Canal+ on Nov. 1, 2015. Shooting began in Aug. 2014 and is due to be concluded by the end of this month. 50% of the shooting took place in the studios of Bry-sur-Marne, in two sound stages covering a total area of 1000 m2, where the royal apartments were recreated.
Preparations for the second series are already underway and the Bry-sur-Marne studios have been pre-booked for this purpose. 20 locations in the Ile de France region were used for the series, including, inevitably, the Palace of Versailles itself and the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte.
The TV series tells how the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, transformed a relatively modest hunting lodge in Versailles into a majestic palace that became the envy of Europe. This implied significant VFX and green-screen CGI work, plus careful choice of locations and studio sets that could convey the notion of a palace under construction.
The production involved a 300-strong crew and a similar-sized cast and extras, thus implying huge wardrobe requirements. The palace and gardens of Versailles have supplied the backdrop to more than 180 films over the last 110 years. Some of the big-name pictures filmed at the palace include “Midnight in Paris,” one of Woody Allen’s biggest commercial hits, Benoit Jacquot’s “Farewell, My Queen” and Sofia Coppola’s “Marie-Antoinette.”
But “Versailles” is by far the most ambitious project to occupy the Palace, and is the first TV series to be filmed there.
This posed a major logistical headache – since filming inside the Palace is only possible on Mondays, when it’s closed to the public. Further headaches were caused by the fact that a major contemporary art exhibition occupied part of the palace and the gardens and Mondays is also the only available day for delivering art works and other major supplies to the buildings.
Nonetheless, Versailles’ reps, Josse and Hollande, emphasized that the series constitutes a major opportunity to increase the palace’s worldwide recognition.
Josse explained that eight million tourists visit the Palace every year, and 12 million visit the gardens. But film/TV works such as “Versailles” enable the Palace to enter the homes of billions of people around the world.
Alexandre de Vogue emphasised that the involvement of the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte in the production also constituted a risk-taking venture, but that he was sure that it would inspire film-related tourism flows, like those associated to other major international TV series such as “Game of Thrones” or “Downton Abbey.” Vogue also said that it was magical experience to see the Chateau come to life through the historical recreation of gala dinners with lavish costumes, illuminated by candlelight.