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.
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 TheIntouchables, 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.
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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.