‘Emily in Paris’ and ‘Monsieur Spade’ Lead the Charge For France-Focused Shoots

A competitive tax rebate, combined with public and private initiatives to revitalize the local infrastructure, has substantially boosted the number of international productions shooting in France

Published Time: 08.05.2024 - 19:31:37 Modified Time: 08.05.2024 - 19:31:37

A competitive tax rebate, combined with public and private initiatives to revitalize the local infrastructure, has substantially boosted the number of international productions shooting in France.

Last revamped in 2020, Gaul’s Tax Rebate for International Production scheme now supplements a 30% across-the-board rebate with an additional 10% — applicable on all eligible expenses — for productions that spend $2.2 million with local VFX and post houses.

And once the tax incentive put France back on the map, the country’s flourishing production ecosystem has kept projects on site longer than ever before.

“The preconceived idea that France was too expensive clearly has changed,” says line producer John Bernard of Peninsula Film. “Projects with strong French DNA have very much embraced the whole process, basing themselves in France from beginning to end, using local crews and amenities. We’ve grown our crews, facilities and availability, and trained new craftsmen and set builders, altogether putting much on the table for producers to benefit from.”

Returning titles such as Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” (which is currently shooting Season 4), limited series such as AMC’s Clive Owen-led “Monsieur Spade” and mammoth biographical dramas including Apple TV+’s “The New Look” and “Franklin” all seized on Franco-centric narrative elements to take full advantage of the country’s production infrastructure. Together with wholly locally shot films like Warner Bros.’ “The Nun II,” such projects sent international shooting soaring to record highs in 2022, seeing 2,200 production days and more than $1 billion investment commitments.

Last year’s Hollywood strikes delayed a number of transatlantic greenlights, while forcing others that were already rolling to go dark for several months. For all that, 2023 still saw 89 projects approved for the international tax credit (a number that has almost doubled compared with 2019, which saw 55 approvals), among them 52 live-action productions. Indeed, the dip was hardly severe, down only 11 or so titles from the high of 2022.

More recent shows to hit France include Pablo Larraín’s Maria Callas biopic “Maria” with Angelina Jolie; the FX on Hulu espionage thriller “The Veil,” created by Steven Knight and starring Elisabeth Moss; Amazon MGM’s dance drama “Etoile,” from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino and toplined by Charlotte Gainsbourg; and John Woo’s Peacock-produced “The Killer,” which finds the action auteur reimagining his own 1989 Hong Kong film as a Paris-set (and gender-swapped) homage to the no-nonsense gangster classics of Jean-Pierre Melville.

Bernard had a hand in a number of those titles, which nearly all set up production in Gaul due in part to what the producer labels “French DNA.”

Setting up shop overseas was an obvious choice for Apple TV+’s “Franklin,” as the biographical series narrows in on the U.S. Founding Father’s diplomatic work in the court of Louis XVI. Over the course of 118 production days, the project’s bi-national historical import lent producers “a lot of pull” with the French ministry of culture, Bernard tells Variety, easing access to heritage sites in Versailles, Paris’ Palais Royale and the castles of Ormesson-sur-Marne more than, say, a contemporary action movie might be granted.

But then, Bernard is particularly enthused about all that he’s pulled off with the contemporary films on his recent slate. He put the LED-backed virtual production stage at Martigues’ Provence Studios to fine and cost-efficient use on “The Nun II,” and managed to re-create the look and feel of a Parisian summer on a studio set once production finally resumed on “The Killer” this February.

Most tantalizing of all is his work on “Heads of State,” a globe-trotting action comedy, now lensing, that has used locations in and around Nice to re-create far-off international locales. “We’re no longer shooting France for France,&rdquo -

; says Bernard. “We helped the producers get the most value for their money, shooting for four weeks with not a single location actually based here. This is a new trend, and I think we’ll continue to see France used for many more European locations.

Gaumont Television president Isabelle Degeorges has sung a similar tune on the international stage. Last year, Gaumont launched its own production-services and line-producing banner, hiring veterans of “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” and “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” to prospect and proselytize, touting the benefits of the local industry for projects not initially threaded with French DNA.

“We want to work with producers and creators, showing that by modifying this or that aspect, all of a sudden they’ll have access to a high-quality international tax credit,” Degeorges says.

“Producers mustn’t get the impression that we’re going to alter the work in any way,” she continues. “On the contrary, the idea is to find solutions that enable them to take advantage” of all that the French system has to offer “while creating a better overall project. We must now go out and find series and films that could have been made elsewhere, and bring them back.”

Tax credits aside, access to sufficient studio space remains international producers’ key requirement. With that in mind, the local industry has undergone a series of physical infrastructure expansion and modernizations projects — the most recent and far-reaching of which is the Great Image Factory initiative, which is part of president Emmanuel Macron’s wider France 2030 infrastructure project.

Degeorges was part of the selection committee armed with $376 million in public funds (and matched with an additional $2.15 billion in private investment) that bolstered 68 overall projects, among them 11 production facilities mostly split between the Paris region and the South of France. When all is said and done, the plan should double indoor capacities, making for 37.8 acres in studio space, while yielding 46.2 acres in outdoor backlots.

The first of such spaces will go live very soon, with the TSF Backlot 77 set to open this summer. Taking over a one-time airbase 38 miles east of the nation’s capital, the facility will offer up to 4.9 acre of outdoor use and will feature a sprawling Paris cityscape, rife with Haussmannian street facades and standing sets that run the gamut of various urban and architectural styles.

After hosting the “Franklin” shoot, Paris-adjacent Montjoie Studios was then formatted with a scale apartment complex that hews a similar Haussmann style, and that features working elevators, detailed exteriors and a full, 2,690-square-foot apartment. That set is already open, and will be in use all summer to ease congestion during the Olympic Games.

Additional backlots are planned for Bailly Studios — an 84-acre complex still under works and not far from Disneyland Paris — and at Terralab Solutions in Reims and Pics Studio just outside of Montpellier. On the virtual front, Dark Matters offers ample digital facilities and a large motion-capture set within the Paris region, while down south, Provence Studios will bolster its virtual stage with new soundstages in Martigues and a new facility in Marseille equipped for underwater shooting.

Now, as construction continues on these myriad new sites, and as international producers and local facilitators work towards what promises to be an even busier 2025, the Gaumont chief would like to reel in projects without that presupposed storyline hook.

“There are no rules,” says Degeorges, evoking space operas and flights of fantasy. “When you’re working fully in studio, there’s no need” to bring the storyline closer to France. “Anything is possible.”

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