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Netflix Series Builds Buzz for Marseille

The city council of Marseille, the large port city in the South of France, was keen to host Netflix’s “Marseille” series as part of a broader strategy to develop a global digital footprint.

When the U.S. streaming service negotiated its entry into the French TV market — one of the world’s most highly regulated, with powerful incumbent players — its commitment to produce an original French-language series was viewed as an olive branch.

The Council wanted to expand its international visibility and whet the appetite of other VOD platforms.

The eight-part series — produced by Pascal Breton’s Federation Entertainment, directed by Florent Siri (“French Cuisine”) and penned by Dan Franck (“Carlos”) — bowed worldwide May 5.

Marseille deputy mayor Didier Parakian estimates that the show has been seen by more than 100 million viewers — far beyond the 770,000 Netflix subscribers in France.

The series underwhelmed in France, but with reviews more positive abroad. Netflix commissioned a second season in June. Netflix declined to comment.

Critics of the show said it focused on a clichéd image of Marseille, including political corruption, drugs, and crime, but the series also portrays the city council’s goals to modernize the city.

In the opening, Gerard Depardieu, as the fictional mayor, declares: “I want Marseille to become the capital of Southern Europe.”

With spectacular aerial images, the city is one of the main characters and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has described Marseille as “one of the world’s most vibrant and fascinating cities.”

Season one was budgeted at an estimated $12.3 million, with 115 shooting days in Marseille.

Getting a strong local feel for the series was vital for Netflix. Line producer Sabrina Roubache of Gurkin Films played a decisive role in finding the locations. Franck also helped with location scouting during the nine-month pre-production phase.

“Netflix’s choice of Marseille was a calculated decision,” Roubache says. “This is a tough city, but it has a strong, sulphurous identity. It’s very different, not like anywhere else. That’s what interested Netflix. And the Marseille City Council opened its doors to us.”

Roubache says despite the corruption and crime backdrop, the series offers a message of hope.

“People understand that it’s fiction, and as with other series, we see good and bad characters,” he says. “But the series has transported our city to the four corners of the world. The local avant-premiere was like an electroshock. It really inspired people.”

Season two is to start shooting in November.

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