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The French film industry is at a standstill as all film and TV shoots have stopped since the country went into full lockdown mode March 17. Due to the coronavirus crisis, 23 film shoots and 58 films in pre-production were halted, according to Jean-Yves Mirski, the managing director of Ficam, syndicate of French technicians.

The country’s main studios and soundstages, including Bry-sur-Marne, Epinay, Cité du Cinema, La Victorine and Provence, have also shut down, and filming in public places is banned. However, some major post-production and VFX companies, including McGuff, Buf and Mikros have been able to maintain some activity during the lockdown, thanks to work being done remotely. Yet, nearly all crew members — between 130,000 and 150,000 people — are out of a job. The government has announced it will cover 70% of unemployment indemnities for freelance workers.

Discussions are taking place between Ficam and several other film guilds, as well as government bodies and insurance companies, to draft guidelines for film shoots that would allow productions to restart. Some of the measures that are being brainstormed include limiting the number of people on set, with at least one meter between each person; having crew members wear specific outfits to prevent a virus infection and having actors apply their own makeup under the supervision of a makeup artist, Mirski says.

He predicts that lensing in France will be more expensive, while productivity will decrease because of these measures.

The lockdown will be partially lifted in France on May 11 and the idea is to have film shoots begin again at the end of the spring or early this summer. So far, insurance companies have refused to provide coverage for shoots during the pandemic, but the French government has stepped in to help find an agreement between producers and insurers.

“We are aiming to lay down the foundations of how filming will have to be carried out in France going forward, based on the assumption that this coronavirus crisis is not going to disappear in a couple months,” Mirski says. “This is a structural evolution for our industry.”
With dozens of shoots halted during the lockdown, there will inevitably be a flood of productions scheduled during the second half of the year, leading to a shortage of crew members and facilities, on top of the issue of talent availability.

Producer and guilds are well aware of this looming problem and are also discussing with funding bodies and film commissions to set up some rules in order to regulate the flow of shoots during the second half of the year.

Most likely, priority will be given to film productions that were stopped, says Valérie Lépine-Karnik, the head of the producers’ guild UPC. This will create a domino effect with shoots that were scheduled later this year pushed to early next year, but it seems inevitable.

Top French pics in the pipeline:

“Arthur Rambo”

Director: Laurent Cantet

Sales: Playtime

Drama from Cantet (“The Class”) chronicles the rise and fall of a French-Arab journalist from an underprivileged background who becomes the darling of the Parisian literary elite before falling from grace after racist tweets he had written under his pseudonym surface. The film is based on a true story.

“The Ties”

Director: Daniele Luchetti

Sales: MK2

Drama follows married couple Aldo and Vanda over the course of 30-plus years and examines the ties that keep them together despite the absence of love.

“Bergman Island”

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve

Sales: Kinology

Hansen- Løve’s English-language supernatural melodrama follows a couple of American filmmakers who travel to the Swedish island of Faro to write their respective films and get lost between fiction and reality amid the island’s mysterious landscapes.

“The Drover’s Wife”  

Director: Leah Purcell

Sales: Memento Films Intl.

Feature is based on Purcell’s successful Australian stage play, a 1983-set feminist reimagining of Henry Lawson’s classic short story “The Drover’s Wife.”

“The Macaluso Sisters”

Director: Emma Dante

Sales: Charades

Dante adapts from her play, a Palermo-set drama about a tightly knit family of five sisters whose lives are altered by the tragic death of one.