An oft-heard lament in the French film industry has been the lack of incentives for foreign productions considering a shoot in the territory. Since 1998, when Steven Spielberg told a crowd at the Deauville film festival he had chosen not to shoot Saving Private Ryan in France because it was ‘too expensive’ (he shot in the UK), France has scrambled to spruce up its image as a locations destination.

But, in 2005, after considering a four-week shoot of Munich in France, Spielberg again decided against it, this time heading to Budapest.

European studios shoot to thrill: click here

Although France has high social charges (levies on local salaries), the country has attempted to market itself as a territory with easily accessible locations and technicians with know-how and artistic commitment.

Productions set in France such as Universal Pictures’ The Da Vinci Code and Columbia Pictures’ Marie-Antoinette have shot in Paris in recent years. Still, tax rebates have remained elusive.

Now, Film France, the body responsible for attracting international film-makers, has succeeded in securing a tax rebate with (seemingly) few strings attached. The new system will give qualifying foreign productions a 20% rebate on their local spend with a cap of $5.7m (EUR4m.)

Films will be eligible providing they meet a list of criteria - some of which are yet to be determined. Projects must spend a minimum of $1.4m (EUR1m) in France and must shoot for at least five days.

This rebate is aimed squarely at non-French producers; the new law dictates eligible films do not have access to any CNC subsidies. However, films must pass a cultural test requiring, for example, a French character, French source material or the use of French technicians.

The law came into effect on January 1, 2009 while the remainder of the criteria will be revealed soon with the hope the measure will be available as of March 1. In all likelihood, retrospective applications will be possible.

This is good news for international producers. It is also good news for France which has been challenged by a strong euro and the introduction of similar incentives in neighbouring countries such as Germany, the UK and Hungary.

According to Film France’s Patrick Lamassoure, since news of the rebate broke just before Christmas, he has been fielding several calls a day from producers interested in shooting in France.

‘We knew that as we are surrounded by other countries with tax rebates once we got one, it would make noise,’ he says.

Spielberg’s next project, Tintin, is set in Belgium but shooting in New Zealand at Peter Jackson’s visual-effects outfit, Weta. But high-profile projects understood to be circling a France 2009 shoot include an animated feature from Universal and director Chris Meledandri; a live-action Disney comedy and a UK TV series.

Woody Allen has also said he wants to set his next project in France using the tax scheme, should it make sense for his budget.

‘The raison d’etre of this measure is to convince foreign producers to shoot films in France whose action has a French element but which are often shot in foreign countries - as is the case with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds for which a large part of the script happens in France but which is being shot almost entirely in Germany,’ says Film France president Nicolas Traube.

Lamassoure says the Tarantino example is emblematic of the problems France has faced, as ‘95% of the film takes place in France but because (Tarantino) got a tax credit from Germany, he shot 95% of the film in Berlin’.

In the end, Tarantino did shoot for less than a week in France but as Lamassoure explains: ‘Generally what happens is that we get two or three days instead of 10 or 15.’

He points to Paramount’s GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra which includes an important scene involving the Eiffel Tower but which chose to shoot only a handful of images locally.

In announcing the total shooting days in Paris for 2008, the mayor’s office noted: ‘The drop in shooting days in 2008 seems explicable in part by the absence of financial incentives at the national level. Parliament’s adoption of the international tax credit should help to bring us to an increase next year.’

Film France estimates that direct economic impact from the new rebate could reach an annual $264.4m (EUR200m) by 2010.

‘The new rebate is not a revolution that will see everyone suddenly come here but it does put us on a level playing field with everyone else. Of major Western countries, we will no longer be the most expensive,’ says Lamassoure.