A press release to announce the start of shooting in early May of the second season of Netflix’s Emily In Paris had special resonance for the country’s locations sector. Filming in the French capital, St Tropez and other locations across France, it was one of the first major international productions to touch down since Covid‑19 hit the country in March 2020, prompting a three-month national lockdown and then start-and-stop restrictions into the summer of 2021.
“There is a sense we’re getting to the end of the tunnel,” says Stephan Bender, interim CEO of Film France, the state-backed agency charged with supporting international productions.
Starring Lily Collins as a budding marketing executive coping with the cultural shock of being posted to Paris from Chicago, season one of Emily In Paris was one of the streaming hits of 2020. While some French viewers lambasted its depiction of France as cliché-ridden, locked- down audiences around the world lapped up the slice of Parisian life at a time when travel to the city was impossible.
Like its predecessor, season two will also shoot on location and in the studio in France in what is becoming a growing trend for incoming productions. Until recently, most only shot scenes in France requiring real-life French backdrops to then head off to studios in more competitively priced territories.
The decision to film all of Emily In Paris mainly in France (outside of its US scenes) came about after local producer, and go-to figure for international shoots in the country, Raphaël Benoliel said he was able to show it was cost-effective.
The calculations, he explains, were based on savings from not having to double up on crew hire, lower travel costs, the speed and efficiency of the country’s skilled and experienced technicians and the Tax Rebate for International Productions (TRIP), offering 30% on eligible local spend to a cap of $36.7m (€30m).
The TRIP was launched in 2009 to take the edge off France’s reputation as an expensive place to shoot and encourage back international productions. It was bolstered last year with a measure offering an extra 10% for live-action productions generating at least $2.4m (€2m) in VFX-related costs in France.
A second major production arriving in late spring was The Serpent Queen, Lionsgate Television and 3 Arts Entertainment’s eight-part series for Starz about the 16th-century historic figure of Catherine de’ Medici. Samantha Morton stars as the ruthless Renaissance noblewoman with other cast members including Amrita Acharia, Charles Dance and Ludivine Sagnier. The series is following a similar strategy to Emily In Paris, basing both locations and studio work in France. It is shooting on location in the south of France department of the Vaucluse and the chateaus of the Loire Valley and in Provence Studios on the Cote d’Azur from April to September.
“They found everything they need in France, in terms of locations and stages,” says Bender. “It’s exceptional for Provence Studios, which has done work on its site to welcome the series.”
Boasting more than 9,500 square metres of studio space and two backlots of 18,000 square metres each, as well as workshops, production offices and dressing rooms, Provence Studios has hosted plenty of big feature productions but The Serpent Queen is its biggest series to date.
Further productions due in France from late spring to early summer included the third and fourth series of Donald Glover’s comedy-drama Atlanta for FX, which is also due to shoot in London and Amsterdam; mountain-climbing drama Summit Fever by UK filmmaker Julian Gilbey; and Indonesian series Bali Mon Amour.
After a busy 2019, in which 55 international productions spent $389m (€318m) in the country, 2020 was a patchy year due to the pandemic although final data on numbers and spending has yet to be released.
A handful of smaller productions managed to duck in for short shoots in the autumn. These included France’s Canal+ and Fox Networks Group’s War Of The Worlds, Danish director Niels Arden Oplev’s feature Rose and two German TV movies from the Ein Tisch In Der Provence franchise (literally, ‘A Table In Provence’), produced by Germany’s Polyphon Pictures for broadcaster ZDF. The latter spent 45-days shooting in the villages and countryside outside the historic medieval town of Aigues-Mortes in the southern French region of Occitanie.
The fourth season of UK drama The Syndicate by Kay Mellor, produced by Rollem Productions for the BBC and BritBox, spent a month shooting in Monaco in November.
Films visiting France before the pandemic included Tom McCarthy’s Marseille-set drama Stillwater, starring Matt Damon as a tough US oil-rig worker who travels to the city to connect with his estranged daughter, and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. The latter was the last major international production to touch down in France before the national lockdown was enforced in mid-March 2020. It spent a month in the historic town of Sarlat-la-Canéda and Chateau de Beynac in the Dordogne region of southwest France before moving to rural Ireland.
At the same time, it has been full steam ahead for France’s homegrown film and TV production sector since May 2020, thanks to the speedy implementation of industry-wide Covid-19 protocols, and a government-backed $122m (€100m) indemnity fund to cover losses if a shoot is forced to shut down due to the coronavirus. This means international productions coming into the country will be working with technicians and on sets where shooting under pandemic conditions has become second nature
First person to contact
Laurie Ades, head of producers’ liaison and TRIP expert, Film France
There are a wealth of 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."
She also points to how locations are being utilised in the current climate: "At the moment it is much easier to film in large spaces so that hygiene regulations can be respected in the way possible. In smaller locations crew numbers are reduced to stay as safe as possible. Exterior locations are also preferred, if not crowded, and studio spaces are often chosen because of their flexibility and the fact they are already treated to be Covid-compliant locations."
Films 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 30 kilometres 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 Studios, 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 Provence Studios in Marseille — has announced the construction of a 3,000 square metre soundstage in Nice.
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.