Weapons Of Mass Seduction: Trying To Turn Paris Into An International Movie Star

While the movie world descends on Cannes, there are those up north who note that there is no more glamorous French face than that of the capital herself.

In 2012, 988 films were shot in Paris
In 2012, 988 films were shot in Paris
Véronique Groussard

PARIS – A corpse in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, another by the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde, a third one under the Eiffel Tower – the series Jo, with Jean Reno playing a veteran detective, was shot in Paris.

It’s hard not to notice: each murder is tied to one of the French capital’s most famous monuments. If the series’ producers are using Paris as a weapon of mass seduction, it’s because they want to be picked up and exported.

They are using an old American recipe. How many films or series open with the inescapable view of Manhattan or the Hollywood sign that is so emblematic of Los Angeles?

Until now, French directors – except the most international of them, Luc Besson – seemed to prefer the old 1850s buildings, working-class neighborhoods, paved streets to the postcard image of Paris. But Michel Gomez, a representative of the Mission Cinema initiative launched by the Paris city hall to promote the city as a destination for filmmakers, says a new trend is appearing.

To set themselves apart, French TV channels will need exclusive high – international quality – content. This will be very expensive, and to pay off these huge budgets, they will need them to sell them abroad.

This is the case with Jo, which cost 2 million euros per episode but was bought by 130 countries. Unfortunately, there are only four French cities that foreigners instantly recognize, according to Olivier-Rene Veillon, head of the Ile-de-France Film Commission: Paris, Saint Tropez, Cognac and Bordeaux. And the last two are less know for the cities themselves than for their alcoholic beverages.

“Paris has such an impact that, in certain Asian countries the posters for the movie The Intouchables, featured an image of the city hall, which is never seen in the movie," says Bruno Julliard, Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of culture.

Les Intouchables was a hit all over the world. Photo: Athrun

There is an increasing quantity of films being shot in Paris – in every genre (ads, films, fictions, shorts...) – totaling 988 last year.

A recent survey showed that the audiovisual and film sectors were one of the biggest-grossing economic sectors in the region. It concentrates 71% (more than 5,000) of production and post-production companies and 87% (121,000) of entertainment workers in France.

Paris, the film star has not shown her full potential yet. The numbers of days when films and TV movies were shot in Paris decreased by 20% last year. To reverse the trend, the city will have to try and convince production companies not to yield to the temptation of Belgium, or the Czech Republic, which provide financial incentives. They will also have to convince foreign productions to come and shoot here. A new tax incentive, which the French Parliament voted recently, should help in that regard.

No one is happy when the circus comes to town

Veillon was hoping for such tax incentives to be implemented. A graduate from the elite Ecole Normal Superieure university and a diplomatic socializer, he defines himself as the "manager to France’s greatest stars," meaning the iconic monuments of Paris and its outskirts. His competitors are formidable: London, Prague…

Mandated by Jean-Paul Huchon, the president of the Paris region, who is a movie fan, he visits film studios in the U.S. twice a year, and attends the Hong Kong Film Market. And, while admiring the view of the Annecy Lake, in the French Alps, he takes advantage of the International Animated Film Festival and Market, to tell Hollywood producers about the beauty of France and its expertise in the animation industry, which has already been acknowledged by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai and by the Universal studios.

When these producers come to Paris, he invites them to the Fontaine Gaillon, Gerard Depardieu"s restaurant, where Alfred Hitchcock shot a few scenes from Topaz. "And if Gerard arrives, than it’s like we’re giving them a bonus scene," says Veillon. His new targets are the Chinese and Indian producers. The Asian market is so important that he managed to convince the Eiffel Tower to give him a huge discount on their rate.

"Our best calling card? Film crews leave happy," says Sophie Boudon-Vanhille, a representative of Paris Film, the city hall’s office that issues film permits. "Location and production managers are spreading the word,” she says. This has not always been the case, quite the opposite. When Bertrand Delanoe was elected mayor of Paris in 2001, he decided to make it easier for film crews to shoot movies in Paris. "Films shot in Paris do not make the city much money, and they mostly cause annoyances,” says Julliard. “But it would be short-sited to be against, or to consider them as a nuisance,” he says. Elected representatives of the most popular neighborhoods complain, locals gripe. No one is happy when the circus comes to their neighborhood. Semi-trailers, cafeterias, polluting generators….

Julliard has a few new technical ideas to make things easier for locals. But whatever political actions, and even if Paris does not charge tax on outdoor film shoots, these remain expensive and complicated. Parking fees and making sure there access to park the trucks etc involves a cost of at least 300,000 euros a day, says Andre Bouvard, the production manager for Jo.

It is also complicated because each project needs to get permissions from two different departments – the city hall and the police. The police department can refuse to allow a high-speed chase on the banks of the River Seine, for instance, or to limit the number of police cars present on a crime scene to five, instead of the normal 12 a real crime scene would entail, on the Place de la Concorde.

"The city is extremely dense, which complicates things," says Gomez. But when Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris opens the Cannes festival, it is priceless advertising.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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