After one false start in 2006, Woody Allen has finally made a film in Paris, which has been selected to open Cannes this year. Melanie Goodfellow discovers how the master film-maker shot all over the city last summer

Woody Allen’s Cannes opener Midnight In Paris, starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as a young couple on a romantic break in the French capital, fulfils the director’s long-held dream to make a film in the city.

Shot over seven weeks from the end of last July, the production visited more than 30 locations in and around the capital, ranging from the luxury Bristol and Le Meurice hotels and Maxim’s restaurant to Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny and the Palace of Versailles.

“Woody loves Paris and knows it well. He’s a regular visitor to the city. He was here only last weekend with his jazz band,” says line producer Raphael Benoliel, alluding to an April performance by the director and the New Orleans Jazz Band at the Grand Rex in Paris.

‘I suggested making it like a typical French film, applying scaled-down working methods’

Raphael Benoliel

“He had clear ideas about where he wanted to shoot — he had written a lot of scenes with certain locations in mind — but was open to my and art director Anne Seibel’s suggestions too,” continues Benoliel. “He knows what he wants but he’s not over-demanding. He wasn’t into blocking the traffic on the Champs-Elysées for the sake of a certain shot.”

Benoliel, who divides his time between Paris and Los Angeles, is a key contact for international productions pitching up in the capital. His Paris-based Firstep has worked on a long list of foreign shoots including Stephen Frears’ Chéri and Working Title’s Mr Bean’s Holiday and, most recently, Fernando Meirelles’ 360.

As might be expected, the shoot last summer generated reams of copy and galleries of paparazzi pictures in local celebrity magazines and entertainment pages of the national newspapers.

However, this had less to do with the presence of Allen, Wilson, McAdams or local Oscar-winning star Marion Cotillard, who is also in the cast, and more with former top model and French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy appearing as a curator of the Rodin Museum.

“Thirty-two takes to buy a baguette,” claimed the headlines after a scene in which Bruni-Sarkozy walks into a bakery and asks for a well-cooked baguette had to be shot again and again.

“There were not 32 takes but 12, and it had nothing to do with her performance but rather that there was so much noise. The pavements were packed with people taking photos and shouting. The next day, we shot a scene in a park and she did it in two takes,” clarifies Benoliel.

Such inconveniences aside, Paris has become a much easier city for international productions to shoot in over the past two or three years.

This is due in part to the efforts of the Paris region’s Ile de France Film Commission, Mission Cinema’s Paris Film Office and Film France, which co-ordinates the activities of the country’s 41 film commissions. Between them, they simplify logistical issues such as obtaining access to landmark locations such as the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre, as well as helping them to obtain permits to shoot on the street.

A Paris match

“Some 110 feature-length films, 19 of them international, are shot in Paris each year. Our job is to help directors to shoot in the best conditions possible,” says Michel Gomez, delegate general of Mission Cinema.

Sophie Boudon-Vanhille, general manager of Cinema Mission’s Paris Film Office, adds: “Midnight In Paris was a long and fairly complex shoot but Woody Allen is well-liked in the city which made it easier to fulfil certain requests.”

More international films are now shooting in Paris thanks also to the introduction of the Tax Rebate on International Production (TRIP) at the end of 2009. It offers foreign productions a 20% rebate on what they spend in France. This incentive has taken the edge off euro-dollar-sterling currency fluctuations and high social charges associated with employing people in the territory.

International productions to have benefited from the rebate include Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret and it was thanks to TRIP that Allen was able to make Midnight In Paris in the French capital. A previous Allen project scheduled to roll in the city in 2006 was abandoned due to the high production costs.

“Like any European capital, Paris still is not cheap but the rebate makes it at least feasible,” says Benoliel.

Locally sourced crew

Not revealing an exact figure, Benoliel describes the budget of Midnight In Paris as “comfortable if not large” and “in line” with the budget of Allen’s previous Europe-set films. Benoliel also reined in production costs by insisting the crew was entirely local.

“There are some 200 French films made a year on budgets far smaller than the average international production. I suggested making Midnight In Paris like a typical French film, applying the scaled-down working methods of the French film industry,” explains Benoliel.

“Thankfully, Woody was very open to working with people he didn’t know. We ended up with a crew of some 60-70 people,” says Benoliel. “Not all international productions can shoot in this way, especially if they’re only touching down in the city to shoot part of a film. But where possible it is always more cost effective to work with local crew rather than flying international crew in, not least because it avoids doubling up.”

The relatively small crew, notes Benoliel, was ideal for the shoot which was constantly on the move, often visiting more than one location in a day, and sometimes changing the shooting schedules at short notice.

“In many respects the film was more complicated to shoot than, say, Vicky Cristina Barcelona because of certain elements of the script,” explains Benoliel. “Though we had the same budget, we had to do more with it. But we came up with solutions and the result is artistically very beautiful and everyone is happy.”