French studios - overbooked and overlooked
Although Parisian film is rich in history, the hegemony of Hollywood and the prohibitive cost of Paris itself mean that its film industry is a complicated one. A cursory glance at two of the city’s biggest film studios, Studios de Paris and Studios d’Epinay, however, shows that some very interesting work is happening in the French capital…
Studios de Paris, a new build which opened in 2012, boasts nine soundstages, including the jewel in the crown, a 2000 sq mt studio. The studios share their site with Cité du Cinéma, with which they are often confused. Luc Besson (Leon, The Fifth Element) is the majority shareholder in the studios, and an active advocate for them.
Contrasting with the youth of Studios de Paris is Studios d’Epinay, owned by equipment company TSF. The historically significant site dates right back to the golden age of French cinema. Smaller in scale, the site houses four stages, between 200 sq mt and 1500 sq mt.
Studios de Paris was initially regarded as a giant white elephant, but for its president, Didier Diaz, their importance is clear: “[France is] a country where we make lots of films – we need at least one studio that matches up to our film output. French people love complaining about things before they have even started, but I think that this studio will have a long life”.
Indeed, de Paris has certainly seen an impressive number of films made there already: it was used for Taken 2 (2013), Alain Resnais’s final film Aimer and Boire et Chanter (aka Life of Riley, 2014). Diaz describes the work they have achieved so far as “never enough for the shareholders, but interesting”.
Studios d’Epinay, meanwhile, has recently been home to the TV mini-series version of Rosemary’s Baby (2014), starring Zoe Saldana; the Spielberg-produced The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), and Les Vacances du Petit Nicolas (2014). Michael Haneke’s Oscar-nominated Amour (2012) also filmed entirely at the studios.
Studios de Paris
Compared to the USA and the UK, for instance, France’s film studios are a small concern, which can pose problems, “We don’t have the [same] volume of studios here in France”, asserts Diaz. “We are easily overbooked. It is difficult because we want clients, but then we cannot always have them.”
Much of the studios’ revenue comes not from film but from adverts and television programmes. TSF sales manager Eric Moreau notes that this is now the case with all film studios, in France at least: “Before it was 80% cinema, 20% adverts. Now commercials and television are actively using the studios. Television is becoming more and more powerful, seducing more and more viewers. There is also a technological aspect; advertising increasingly uses green screen”.
For Diaz, these are something of a compromise: “At the start we saw the studios being used purely for film, but now our opinions have changed. We need to be polyvalent. We have the Star Wars expo [Star Wars Identities, currently taking up two sound stages until 30 June], a film in production [Taken 3] and a TV series coming up.”
2012 saw the introduction of a tax break for filmmakers in France, but with films planned far in advance, the results aren’t clear cut as yet. Diaz isn’t certain that the effect will be dramatic: “Things might change, but when you look at the budget of American films, it is clear that we are not in the same league. US producers go for the sure thing, the proven thing. We have worked a lot with Americans, but only ones who come to film in France for the chateaux or Paris”.
Even if foreign investment remains relatively scarce, Moreau points to an advantage for the locals: “I still haven’t seen much of an interest from international filmmakers – for me it is more for French producers. Producers are preparing to shoot the sequel to La Tour Montparnasse Infernale in France – two years ago they would have gone elsewhere”.
As to whether the Parisian film studios will ever be able to provide viable competition for the likes of Pinewood, both Diaz and Moreau are realistic. “We will never be true competitors for Pinewood or Shepperton,” says Diaz. “The problem is that American companies like to have their offices in London, so it makes sense for them to film nearby. We might eventually see film production come from London if they are overbooked”.
“Here [at Studios d’Epinay], we don’t have that ambition – we haven’t really thought about it,” says Moreau, “The heart of our job [at TSF] is the provision of equipment – the studios are there to keep clients interested in our group. We aren’t a studio company”.
In practical terms, the proximity of the studios to the centre of Paris (both are close to Metro and suburban rail stations) means that there is an advantage in terms of cost saving when it comes to transporting actors and crew.
Both studios have a number of projects in the pipeline. At d’Epinay, the TF1 television series Pep’s (Parents, Eleves, Profs) will commence filming on its second season there soon. There is also the possibility of a film says Moreau. “We hope to make a film about the Kerviel affair – we are in open discussions with producers and we have the perfect studio for what they need. The question is whether they will want to film in a studio…”
At Studios de Paris, pre-production work is currently in progress on Taken 3 (filming is currently underway in the US), and a new television series, Oligarchs, will begin filming there soon too, taking up three stages.
Paris remains something of a distantly glimpsed but not fully exploited place. As Diaz puts it, “what we really need to do is sponsor American screenwriters to set their films in Paris, but we haven’t managed it yet!”