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
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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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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