The French capital may have been out of bounds to international travellers during much of 2020, but millions of viewers around the world have lapped up its iconic sites and café life vicariously thanks to Darren Star’s Netflix series Emily In Paris this autumn.
The show spent four months shooting in Paris over the summer of 2019, filming against the backdrop of famous sites such as the Palais Garnier opera house and the Trocadéro, and lesser known locations the Musée des Arts Forains and L’Atelier des Lumieres. It also headed out of the city to shoot in Chateau de Sonnay in the Loire Valley.
Unusually, the series also shot its interior scenes in the French capital, at Studios de Paris, after local producer and production manager Raphaël Benoliel convinced the production team it was the most cost-effective way to organise the shoot.
“When they first approached me, the plan was to the shoot the exteriors in France and the interiors in New York, which made sense because of the New York tax rebate and the fact post-production was going to happen there too. I showed them that shooting the entire thing in France was less expensive,” he explains.
Benoliel, whose recent credits also include Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Patriot and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is one of France’s go-to production managers for big international shoots.
“It was the same with Patriot. Amazon had planned to shoot two weeks in Paris and then the rest in Prague, but I showed them it made more sense financially to do the shoot in its entirety in France,” he adds, referring to season two of the spy comedy drama.
As well as not doubling up on crew and the proficiency of local technicians, a key element boosting affordability of shooting in France in recent years has been the Tax Rebate for International Productions (TRIP) incentive, offering a 30% rebate on eligible local spend to a cap of $35.5m (€30m).
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 this year with a new measure offering an extra 10% for live-action productions generating at least $2.4m (€2m) in VFX-related costs.
Emily In Paris was among 55 productions accessing the incentive in 2019. They had a combined planned provisional French spend of $376m (€318m), up from $220m (€186m) in 2018.
Further productions hitting the capital in 2019 included Simon Kinberg’s spy thriller The 355 starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger and Penelope Cruz,
Chinese director Leo Zhang’s action thriller The Hunting and the BBC’s adaptation of David Nicholls’ novel Us.
France’s second-most popular shooting region is the south of France. The area has recently hosted Ben Wheatley’s Netflix film Rebecca in Nice, 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 an estranged daughter, and the third series of Sky Atlantic’s Riviera.
Ready and waiting
However, Covid-19 has put the country’s international production sector on hold for much of this year. Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel was the last major international production to touch down in the country in 2020. It spent a month in the historic town of Sarlat-la-Canéda and Chateau de Beynac in the Dordogne region of southwest France at the beginning of the year, wrapping just days before France went into a national lockdown in mid-March.
Stephan Bender, interim CEO of Film France, the state-backed agency charged with supporting international productions, expects activity to start up again from spring 2021. “We are getting a lot of enquiries and more and more teams coming in to scout,” he says.
Travel restrictions for film and TV professionals from outside of the EU are subject to regular updates in relation to the evolution of Covid-19 in the country. Bender advises professionals to contact Film France, which can advise on the latest regulations and potentially help with entry to the country when it is not under full lockdown.
For now, big international productions remain elusive, although a handful of European productions have landed for short periods. These include France’s Canal+ and Fox Networks Group’s War Of The Worlds, Danish director Niels Arden Oplev’s feature Rose and German TV series Ein Tisch In Der Provence (literally, ‘A Table In Provence’). Big productions reportedly lining up to shoot in France in 2021 include an untitled Apple production directed by Agnieszka Holland, which was due to shoot in September but was put on hold.
In the backdrop, the local film and TV production sector is working at full-tilt, following the rapid implementation of industry-wide hygiene protocols as well as a government-backed indemnity fund offering protection from coronavirus-related risks as the lockdown lifted slightly in May.
The sector has also been exempted from the country’s restrictions such as a 9pm to 6am curfew introduced across half of France in October as well as a full lockdown that came into force on October 30 for at least a month.
In spite of the local activity, Michel Gomez, head of Paris City Hall’s Mission Cinema department, expects there to be 30%-40% less shooting hours in the city in 2020 due to the absence of big international productions.
Film France’s Bender, however, suggests that France’s successful track record in getting shoots safely up and running against the pandemic could be an added draw for international productions, when they finally get back on the road in the coming months.
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."
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. 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.