France has one of the most sophisticated production ecosystems in Europe in terms of national and regional support as well as the quality of its crew and studios. This comes with a high price tag but that is largely offset by the Tax Rebate for International Productions (TRIP). Created to make the territory more competitive, it offers up to 40% on eligible French spend to a rebate cap of $32m (€30m). In mid-June, it was bolstered with a new measure offering an extra 10% for live-action productions generating at least $2.2m (€2m) in VFX-related costs.
In 2019, the National Cinema Centre (CNC) gave TRIP approval to 55 film and TV projects, with a planned provisional spend of $353m (€318m), up from $207m (€186m) in 2018.
Stephan Bender, interim CEO of Film France, the state-backed agency charged with supporting international productions, says the jump in spending is due to two developments: a rise in animation projects coming to France, which creates lots of longer-term jobs, and “the global phenomenon of more TV series”.
High-profile features touching down in early 2020 included Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Comer and Adam Driver, which spent a month in the historic town of Sarlat-la-Canéda and Chateau de Beynac in the Dordogne region of southwest France.
While the country offers a wealth of natural backdrops, historic settings and urban landscapes, Paris is by far its most popular shooting destination, followed by the south of France. Including music video clips and advertising, there were 1,066 individual shoots in the capital in 2019.
Features hitting the city over the last 18 months include Simon Kinberg’s female-led spy thriller 355, starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger and Penelope Cruz, and Chinese director Leo Zhang’s action thriller The Hunting, which spent nine weeks shooting in and around the capital.
The south of France housed Ben Wheatley’s Netflix film Rebecca for a week in Nice in June 2019, while Tom McCarthy spent late August through to October in the grittier location of Marseille with Stillwater, starring Matt Damon as a tough US oilrig worker who travels to the city to connect with an estranged daughter.
Around 20 international TV series shot recently in France, including the BBC’s adaptation of David Nicholls’ novel Us, Darren Star’s Paramount Network comedy drama Emily In Paris, and season three of Sky Atlantic’s Riviera. French-language productions for the US platforms also qualify for TRIP, such as Netflix’s crime drama Arsène Lupin, starring Omar Sy as the gentleman thief, and Amazon’s Voltaire, Mixte.
Shoots ground to a halt in mid-March but sets were beginning to reopen for local productions, with stringent hygiene protocols in place, by the beginning of June.
“Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel wrapped as planned as the lockdown began,” said Bender. “A number of productions booked in for the early summer were able to postpone. We’ve been busy throughout the lockdown fielding enquiries and we’re expecting it to be busy from late-August to September.”
When they return, they'll have a variety of incredible locations to choose from, whether it’s the cobbled streets, fountains and stylish cafes of the capital; old-world villages like Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val (where The Hundred-Foot Journey was filmed), or the rolling fields of Provence, where A Good Year was shot.
“The wealth of locations France offers any filmmaker is as breathtaking as its sublime and diverse scenery. With epic mountains, vineyards, lush countryside, wild coastlines, white beaches, to abundant lavender fields, (not forgetting all that tasty cheese, wine, and bread) France has a cornucopia of backdrops that lends itself perfectly to any film format, within spitting distance of the UK, right in the heart of mainland Europe,” Jill Officer, a fixer and line producer at Filming in Paris, tells KFTV.
Renata Pepper of Renata Pepper Locations highlights the overall appeal of France as a filming destination, citing companies that return regularly to utilise the locations, crew and infrastructure. She tells KFTV: "It’s also a fantastic place for all luxury and high-fashion brand shoots: Ralph Lauren, Vogue, Adidas, etc.
"These brands come back every year because France’s landscape is varied and yet also unique. Authentic Paris can only be found in Paris, for example. Of course in France you can find all types of landscapes, from beautiful cities to mountains and beaches."
France has a good supply of skilled crews and production staff with more than 250,000 people working regularly in the sector.
A number of studios in and around Paris are expanding. Backlot 217, which was launched in 2018 on the site of a former airbase some 30km south of the city, was used initially for the creation of large-scale exterior sets, such as for the upcoming period drama Eiffel. Its growing popularity has encouraged service company TSF, which oversees the site, to construct half-a-dozen indoor soundstages, which will be ready for late 2021.
TSF’s older facility Epinay-sur-Seine is due to be refurbished while Bry-sur-Marne studio, which had been slated for closure, has been resurrected. Studios de Paris, spearheaded by Luc Besson, remains Paris’s most central facility.
Elsewhere, an alliance of studios in the south of France — uniting Victorine Studios in Nice and Studios de Provence in Marseille — has announced the construction of a 3000 square metre soundstage in Nice. The alliance has ambitious plans to attract big international productions.
France is the largest territory in Europe at 551,500 square kilometres. It has good air, road and rail networks and getting around is straightforward. The 750-kilometre journey between Paris and Marseille takes three hours via high-speed train. From Paris it is a one-and-a-half-hour train ride to Brussels, eight hours to Milan and two-and-a-half hours to London. It is a 10-minute taxi ride from Les Studios de Paris to the major hotel and shopping districts in central Paris, while Studios de Bry-Sur-Marne is a 30-minute train ride from central Paris and lies 35 kilometres from Charles de Gaulle airport.