France is luring international film and high-end TV productions for lengthy shoots and sizeable spending, with an enhanced financial incentive and a national strategy that is seeing a huge investment in facilities.

The Widow Clicquot-CD-19_BTS_Credit is Caroline Dubois

Source: Caroline Dubois

‘The Widow Clicquot’

France is positioning itself as a one-stop shop for international production, expanding its studio spaces and bolstering its financial schemes in order to woo major productions.

The territory offers a highly competitive Tax Rebate for International Production (TRIP), a rebate of up to 30% of the eligible production spend to a cap of $33m (€30m). The rebate rises 10% when VFX expenses surpass $2.2m (€2m) spent on local soil.

Despite the 2023 writers and actors strikes in Hollywood that delayed projects filming in the US or with US writers or actors internationally, 89 projects were approved for the TRIP in 2023, nearly double the 55 that qualified in a pre-Covid 2019, up from 62 in 2021, though down from 2022’s 100 productions.

In 2023, five of the top 25 films at the US box office filmed at least partly in France: The Super Mario Bros Movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3, John Wick: Chapter 4, Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.

In Cannes Competition this year, Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance is an English-language, US-UK production shot entirely in France and accessed the TRIP; and Jacques Audiard’s musical crime comedy Emilia Perez is a French production that shot in a French studio, doubling for Mexico.

CNC — the country’s national film organisation — is multi­plying its efforts to not only attract international projects to France, but keep them there. In 2021, it integrated the formerly separate national film commission into a new “attractivity service” known internationally as Film France by CNC, within the state film organisation.

In larger-scale efforts, the France 2030 project labelled ‘The Great Image Factory’ has a $380m (€350m) investment from the government that is being spent on constructing more soundstages and virtual facilities. It is designed to double the surface area of film sets and nearly quadruple the surface area of backlots by 2030.

Pauline Augrain, director of digital at CNC, is charged with spearheading the organisation’s efforts to lure more blockbuster productions to the territory. Augrain believes such investments, also extending to VFX,animation and education, will “structurally strengthen the entire French ecosystem and enable us to welcome even more international productions, including American independent productions”.

She adds: “International streamers are now integrated into the French financing system and are investing more and more in local productions.” This is creating more demand for production and employs local crews.

Symbolic of France’s efforts to meet that demand is the launch of Gaumont Production Services by one of France’s most venerable film studios — primarily to work with incoming international production companies.

Recent high-profile projects filmed in France include Apple TV+ series The New Look and Franklin; John Woo’s English-language remake of his own 1989 Hong Kong action flick The Killer; James Hawes’ espionage thriller The Amateur; Hulu spy series The Veil; Amazon Studios’ action movie Heads Of State, Alex Breaux’s The Commoner, and The Super Mario Bros 2, now in production at Illumination.

When the story demands it, “then there is nowhere else you should be looking to make a movie”, suggests John Bernard, producer and CEO of Jake Productions, who has worked with the Peninsula Film Group on a slew of high-profile projects for more than two decades. His credits include Dunkirk, The Nun II and Inception. France’s attractive financial incentives “make [France] an absolute go-to decision”, he says.

This is particularly the case when the below-the-line costs are a significant part of the budget. “You can only truly recreate France if you’re still in France,” he believes.

Capital attraction

The Count Of Monte-Cristo

France’s ability to compete for entire productions has been helped by the UK’s departure from the European Union. According to Bernard, US studios and international producers “are realising that costs of creating other hubs and any amount of travel involved in getting there are high, and specifically with the UK. Brexit makes it complicated to pop in and out of the UK from Europe, so we are increasingly holding on to more projects here in their entirety.”

The New Look and Franklin both shot in France, each for upwards of 100 days of shooting. “Emily In Paris was the first true American TV show that came to shoot the whole show in Paris; now everybody is doing it,” says the series’ casting director

Juliette Ménager, founder of Joule Casting Studio. “[Emily In Paris creator] Darren Star really put Paris on the map as a financially viable location with top crews and talent,” claims Ménager, who has cast Franklin, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and Etoile. The latter was set in Paris and New York, but filmed entirely in France.

In the coming months, Catherine Hardwicke’s A French Pursuit, starring and produced by Toni Collette and her Vocab Films, New Sparta Productions and HanWay Films, is planning to shoot entirely in France.

“Shooting in the Cévennes [in the south of France] was a non-negotiable because the location is a character in the film,” explains Katie Ellen, head of production at HanWay Films, of what she describes as “a true international creative collaboration”.

According to Film Paris Region, 70% of filmmaking in the country takes place in and around the capital, and there are typically 15 to 30 shoots on any given day. However, productions are now opting to shoot on location in different regions and in French overseas territories such as Réunion Island, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana and New Caledonia.

Here in Cannes, French titles in selection are illustrative of such regional diversity. Julien Colonna’s Le Royaume (Un Certain Regard) and Thierry de Peretti’s In His Own Image (Directors’ Fortnight) are both set and shot in Corsica, featuring mostly local casts. Agathe Riedinger’s Wild Diamond(Competition) was shot in the south of France in the working-class town of Fréjus, juxtaposed with generous scenes from the Riviera.

Louise Courvoisier’s Holy Cow (Un Certain Regard) is set in a village in the Jura mountains and showcases a region that is also the setting for Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu’s Jim’s Story (Cannes Premiere). Alain Guiraudie’s Misericordia (also Cannes Premiere) takes place in a small town in the Massif Central, while Emma Benestan’s Critics’ Week closer Animale, a genre-bending western, was set and shot in Camargue.

“The territory is non-inter- changeable and the story could only take place there,” Benestan says of the coastal region south of Arles.

A growing number of films with scenes set outside France are also opting to shoot in the country. Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man recently filmed in France for Croatia, while Audiard’s musical melodrama Emilia Perez shot entirely in Studios de Bry for Mexico. The facility also recently hosted Cannes’ Out of Competition title The Count Of Monte-Cristo, Pathé’s epic De Gaulle and Apple TV+ series Careme.

The south of France is becoming a major production hub thanks to its sunny exteriors and infrastructure, including Studios de Provence in Martigues and Vendargues near Montpellier. Both are expanding thanks to France 2030 funding.

Varsity, a New Regency and Scott Free co-production for Apple TV+, filmed the south of France for the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. “We found an old industrial site and turned it into a Baghdad thoroughfare,” explains Mark Huffam, head of production at New Regency. “It made good production sense and good financial sense. The tax credit is a great incentive and definitely an attraction for us.”

The series shot for several weeks of exteriors in the Marseille area and interiors at the nearby Provence Studios in Martigues. Olivier Marchetti, founder and president of the facility, explains: “Marseille is a very cosmopolitan city, so we found real Iraqis [as extras]. You can find all types of extras and different ethnicities, depending on the project.”

Marchetti also believes feeling at home during long shoots is a major draw. In the south, “rent is less expensive than in Paris, the weather is more co-operative, the lighting is better and many crew members have left Paris to settle in the region”, he says.

The south has also seen the opening of several film schools. “There are more and more crew members who speak English,” adds Marchetti.

The Burgundy region of east-central France was the location for Thomas Napper’s 19th-century champagne drama Widow Clicquot, set during the Napoleonic Wars. It shot in a chateau in Chablis, which resembled Champagne in 1805 complete with its own vineyard. It did all production at the location, and thus qualified for the TRIP.

“We made the chateau our studio,” explains the film’s US producer Christina Weiss Lurie. “Shooting in one place minimises our carbon footprint and makes the production as green as possible.”

Viable alternative

The Substance_Dir Coralie Fargeat

Source: Cannes

‘The Substance’

France is also an increasingly good option in terms of cost and competence for European production overspill. “When the UK and America are overbooked, studio projects overflow to us in France,” Bernard explains.

The TRIP is also helping the territory compete with the budget-friendly locations of Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. “The French government really stepped up and responded well,” says international line producer Benoit Jaubert of the revitalised financial effort. Jaubert is a veteran French producer who has shifted his focus to international titles filming in France. He is now working with the PICS Studio, which is being built as part of the France 2030 funding and is set to open in 2026.

PICS and Provence Studios are both responding and adapting to the requirements of US and UK producers. For example, Provence Studios is building an “American village” on site with outdoor trailers, instead of the more common indoor trailers for French productions, which, Marchetti says, “the Americans love.”

Nicolas Royer, founder of Voulez-Vous production services, who has worked on films including The Substance and The French Pursuit, suggests: “We know how to adapt to a film’s budget. Even if it seems ‘too expensive’ on paper, we find creative ways to make it work.”

Royer says Voulez-Vous’ aim is to treat each project as its own bespoke experience. “It’s a flexibility particularly unique to France, a country of cinema where we know how to adapt,” he adds.

Produced by Working Title Films, The Substance shot at Studios d’Epinay in north Paris from May to October 2022 — in addition to select exterior shots in the south of France. “The Substance is proof of this adaptability,” adds Royer. “It doesn’t look or feel like a French film, yet it was completely shot in France.”

Indeed there is evidence the entire French ecosystem is shifting to adapt to the influx of international shoots and more ambitious local titles. “There are new ways of working that are much more Anglo-Saxon,” says Béatrice Bauwens, head of studio France and Belgium for MPC VFX, who most recently wrapped post-production on Emilia Perez and worked on Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel.

She points to the example of an increased number of in-house supervisors responsible for co-ordinating production between different studios and VFX houses on productions: “There is a level of production follow-up that has been upgraded since the arrival of more international productions.”

The major international productions opting for VFX work in France has also led to a butterfly effect whereby “French talent who left to work in the US or UK are coming back because there are more interesting projects,” says Bauwens.

France is also known for its strong animation talent and technology, and is home to the headquarters of Illumination Studios, TeamTO, Mikros, Xilam and Zagtoon.

“France has the potential to become a hub of international production, with studios, animation and VFX,” asserts Bauwens. “It’s a virtuous circle. The more films that come to shoot here means that more films will come to shoot here.”