Forget the Eiffel Tower, France tells Hollywood

Forget the Eiffel Tower, France tells Hollywood

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France hopes to lure in film projects by wooing writers and directors with exotic countryside trips, fine cuisine and romantic experiences.

PARIS -- France has more to offer the silver screen than the Eiffel Tower: that is the message being sold to a dozen Hollywood writers invited this month to sample the delights of provincial French living.

Organised by Film France, a state-financed body that works to attract international film projects, the tour is the third of its kind, dubbed "France -- Unlimited Access" and lasting a week from 19 September.

Stuart Beattie who scripted the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean"; John Brancato, screenwriter of "The Game"; Peter Buchman who is behind the recent "Che" opus; and "Terminator" writer Michael Ferris are among those enrolled this year.

From the Loire Valley, the writers will be whisked to the eastern Lorraine region, where the city of Metz boasts a heart of historic winding streets -- potential setting for a street chase or romance scene in a future blockbuster.

"The more scripts there are circulating in Hollywood that feature France, the more chance there is that films will be shot here," said Film France's managing director Patrick Lamassoure.

Part of a film set for "The Invention of Hugo Cabret", directed by US Martin Scorsese at the Athenee-Louis Jouvet Theater in Paris.

Last year France brought in a 20 percent tax rebate for foreign features and television productions, to match a similar scheme in Britain and other European countries that made them more attractive locations than France.

Directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are already returning to Paris thanks to the tax breaks, and the capital just had an important cinematic outing with the Paris-set sci-fi blockbuster "Inception".

A major US production translates into EUR 250,000 of local spending per day -- EUR 1.5 to 2.0 million per week, half of it in jobs.

But not just anyone gets invited onto the French scheme, whose overt aim, says Lamassoure's deputy Franck Priot, is to catch a big fish.

"Everyone in Hollywood is writing a script: the hard part is getting it read and produced. Those who come here have all already made a film that grossed 150 to 200 million dollars. "These people have a lot of options -- so we need to get them excited, and to offer them something that corresponds to their needs."

"We have to feed their imagination," said Priot. "And suggest situations and landscapes that let the viewer know we are in France -- wherever he is in the world, not just in the United States but in Guatemala or India since these are films that are going to reach tens of millions of people."

US director Woody Allen talks with French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and US actor Owen Wilson (C) in Paris during the shooting of "Midnight in Paris".

The 2008 batch of screenwriters spent a day with a Michelin-starred chef, visited the giant wholesale market at Rungis and met a former top French police boss, before heading south to the Mediterranean port of Marseille. The following year Film France took the writers to French Polynesia.

"This time, we are going to take them to see a real princess in her chateau on the banks of the Loire," said Priot.

"She will tell them about what it's like to own and maintain such a building in 2010, we will spend a day at the grape harvest and we'll visit the massive shipyards in Saint-Nazaire."

Film France is giving itself three years to measure the financial impact of the scheme, which cost an estimated EUR 100,000 said chairman and producer Nicolas Traube; which is roughly the time it takes for a Hollywood project to get off the ground.

According to Priot, a script set in Marseille is already doing the rounds.

"It is too soon to give the name of the project -- but it was clearly fed by the atmosphere from the Marseille trip."

Anne Chaon / AFP / Expatica

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