Film tax breaks bring Scorsese, Allen back to France

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Quentin Tarantino shot his movie about wartime France in Germany to save money but now directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are returning to glamorous Paris thanks to generous tax breaks.

The city has just got a major cinematic outing with the worldwide release of the partly Paris-set sci-fi blockbuster "Inception" and is now set for more celluloid exposure with 20 feature films being shot here this year.

The frenzy of film-making comes after a lacklustre 2009 and is in large part due, say industry officials, to a new 20 percent tax rebate offered for foreign features and television productions.

The rebate, of a maximum four million euros (5.2 million euros), was brought in last year to match a similar scheme in neighbouring Britain and other European countries that made them more attractive locations than France.

"The tax rebate has fully achieved its goal," said Franck Priot of Film France, a state-financed body that seeks to attract international film projects.

That goal is to "generate economic activity and enable foreign filmmakers to film France in France and no longer simulate it elsewhere," he said, without directly referring to Tarantino's 2009 war film "Inglourious Basterds."

Last year, the only major American movie to be shot in Paris was "Inception," whose English director Christopher Nolan filmed in the French capital for just a week in the summer.

But this summer alone, three major US projects are planned.

Allen began shooting his latest work last week, with French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy taking her first major film role in a movie set in the 1920s.

Despite a starry cast including Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and American talents Owen Wilson and Kathy Bates, pre-publicity for "Midnight in Paris" has focused on the supermodel-turned-singer's big screen debut.

Next month, Scorsese, the Oscar-winning director who made a star of Robert De Niro with "Taxi Driver," begins shooting "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" about a boy who secretly lives in the walls of a 1930s Paris train station.

And pop star Madonna will spend three days here in August to shoot part of her film "W.E.", about Britain's king Edward VIII and the American divorcee for whom he abdicated in 1936.

The major US production company Paramount has meanwhile outsourced special effects for "Thor," a live-action film based on a comic-book superhero, to the French company Buf.

Twenty-two productions have taken advantage of the tax incentive already, resulting in 330 days of shooting and 100 million euros spent on crews and sets, according to industry figures.

Thierry de Segonzac, who heads the French cinema industry trade organisation FICAM, said he believed that the tax break could soon be generating 200 million euros a year in spending by foreign production companies.

Priot of Film France argued that the new tax inventive was merely icing on the cake for what he said was an ideal country in which to make a film.

"In France you have international stars, crews that are admired across the world, a country that fascinates the entire planet ... and special effects and animation studios on the same level as Pixar or Dreamworks," he boasted.

He did however concede that France was lacking a large-scale film studio like Berlin's Babelsberg or Pinewood near London.

That gap is to be filled when France's first modern megastudio, launched by director Luc Besson, opens its doors in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis in 2012.

© 2010 AFP

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