Jan 26 2015

France, Birthplace of Cinema, Is Losing Film Production to Its Neighbors

Published by at 01:47 under Industry

SOURCE: http://mobile.nytimes.com

By CLAIRE BARTHELEMY
JANUARY 24, 2015

LUXEMBOURG — “Can you cover for me? I trust you,” whispers Marie-France, a scheming receptionist played by Nathalie Baye, to a co-worker in a small, brightly lit office.

As she walks out of the frame, a leather handbag slung over her shoulder, someone shouts “Coupez!” and the set of “La Volante,” a psychological thriller directed by Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri, becomes busy with crew members preparing for the next take. A large lighting balloon hovering in the lobby is lowered a little, and Ms. Baye’s hair-ends are adjusted.

“La Volante” has all the qualities of a French thriller: a twisted story line, intricate character studies and a cast led by Ms. Baye, a star of French cinema since the 1970s. But this scene, like most of the film, was not shot in France.

The office where Marie-France is plotting revenge is in a converted town hall in Mondorf-les-Bains in Luxembourg, a short walk from the French border.

Because large parts of the movie were shot here, and a Luxembourg-based producer is involved, “La Volante” managed to obtain a public grant of over 1 million euros, or about $1.2 million, from Film Fund Luxembourg, enough to cover more than a third of the movie’s costs.

The project is one of the many French movies relying on foreign financing, a trend that poses one of several threats to the industry in the birthplace of cinema. France’s National Center for Cinema, which distributes millions of euros in subsidies to movie productions with a budget drawn from different taxes, has been hurt by successive levies to help pay for the public debt.

Broadcasters, who are required by law to invest in domestic productions, are struggling with low revenue and are doling out less money. Less willing to take risks, they tend to invest in big-budget crowd pleasers that guarantee a large audience. This often leaves smaller productions like “La Volante,” a movie with a budget of about €2.9 million, scraping for money.

“La Volante” was acquired by a smaller French pay television station before filming began, and it received subsidies from the French region of Lorraine. But the film required €575,000 from a Belgian program that offers tax benefits to companies investing in local film production, and the contribution from Film Fund Luxembourg, to come to fruition.

“’La Volante’ is a movie with stunts, different sets, hospitals, cemeteries,” said Philippe Roux, its director of production. “It’s a rich film, and there is a lot of travel involved. If we had made it with France only, we would have fewer means.”

Twenty-two percent of filming for French movies was completed beyond its borders in the first nine months of 2014. In 2012, a particularly devastating year in terms of production flight, the rate was 50 percent for projects with budgets between €10 million and €20 million, and 21 percent for films under €10 million, according to the French Federation of Cinema, Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries, or Ficam. This prompted the government to raise its tax credit for films under €4 million to 30 percent, from 20 percent in 2013.

Sébastien Deux was the assistant director on the set of Sandrine Bonnaire’s “Maddened by His Absence,” another coproduction in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. It was supposed to be shot in France, but when money came in from abroad, the lineup of the crew changed because the funding system usually requires some use of local resources. This often means that French technicians are replaced by Belgian or Luxembourgian ones.

“I had to drop a few of the collaborators with whom I usually work,” Mr. Deux said.

Heads of departments, who work closely with directors and are considered indispensable to the movie, are usually less affected. Mr. Deux said that although he had to work with new people, this change did not affect the end product. This worries many in France, who fear that the flight of movies means that the expertise in creating them will be lost to its neighbors, too.

“We don’t have any problems with co-productions which need to film in Belgium and Luxembourg for reasons related to the story line,” said Laurent Blois of SPIAC-CGT, a union representing professionals of the audiovisual and cinema industries. “But if it’s only for fiscal purposes, then that poses a problem for us, because it means that a number of technicians and laborers find themselves without a job.”

Guy Daleiden, director of Film Fund Luxembourg, does not see what the fuss is about. Co-producing is a give and take, he said.

“You can’t say that you want to receive €2 million from Luxembourg and then expect that the whole crew is hired in France or that the shooting has to be in France, too,” Mr. Daleiden said.

Nicolas Steil, president and chief executive of the Iris Group, a production company based in Luxembourg with offshoots in France, Belgium, Germany and Britain, said productions with budgets between €4 million and €8 million, which are generally more experimental and risky for investors, depended on foreign financing.

Without offshoring, “those movies wouldn’t be made, or have a much smaller budget and lower quality compared to their competition,” he said.

This is something the new generation of producers has accepted, said Donato Rotunno of Tarantula Productions, as he sat at a table covered with movie scripts and administrative paperwork in the town hall of Mondorf-les-Bains, where shooting for “La Volante” was continuing upstairs.

“We are sliding towards Europe — we are involved in the European construction of cinema,” he said.

Foreign financing sometimes turns the planning into a complex puzzle.

“We have an obligation to shoot 51 percent of the film in Luxembourg and also in Lorraine, because we have a grant from that region,” said Mr. Roux, the production director of “La Volante.” “That’s why we shoot in Metz. And because of the Belgian tax shelter, we also need a certain amount of expenditure on Belgian soil, like local technicians and gear.”

This is where the magic of cinema — and talented location scouts — comes in. In “Boule & Bill,” an adaptation of a popular children’s comic strip and one of the few successful French films of 2013, Luxembourg City and the old-town section of Brussels stood in for French cities and suburbs of the 1970s. A Belgian estate was transformed into a New Jersey villa in “Möbius,” a spy thriller starring Jean Dujardin of “The Artist,” and an abandoned building in Luxembourg became a trading room in Monaco, the film’s writer and director, Eric Rochant, wrote on his blog.

When such investments succeed, everyone involved wants to bask in the glory. When “Mr. Hublot,” an animated short co-produced by France and Luxembourg, was awarded an Oscar in 2014, reports in the French news media lauded it as the “French movie that beat Disney.” That caused a stir in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where cinephiles were celebrating their country’s first Oscar.

“Mr. Hublot” was written by Laurent Witz, a Frenchman, who co-directed it with Alexandre Espigares, a Luxembourger. Film Fund Luxembourg financed about 70 percent of the project, and Lorraine handled the rest.

Mr. Witz remained pragmatic.

“I see it as a partnership, an addition of savoir-faire, talent and financing, of course,” he said, in a converted apartment in Mondercange, Luxembourg, which serves as the office for his company, Zeilt Productions.

France’s effort to increase its tax credits for smaller movies has helped bring the runaway production rate down a notch in the first months of 2014. But its offer still lags that of its neighbors, according to a recent study by the National Cinema Center.

Belgium’s tax credits can be applied to up to 45 percent of all production costs, compared with only 30 percent on selected expenditures in France. This has been especially attractive to French productions. In addition, the Belgian credit can be combined with other financing, like the Luxembourg program.

“The Belgian system is a lot more efficient than ours,” concludes Stéphane Bedin of Ficam, which has been lobbying the National Cinema Center to raise tax credits for movies with budgets between €4 million and €7 million to 30 percent, a measure that will be introduced next year.

For Tom Dercourt, the French producer behind “La Volante,” France’s tax credit comes with too many constraints.

To qualify for the tax credit, French films must be shot mostly on French territory, and any filming abroad must be justified by the script.

The flight to neighboring countries is, however, mostly driven by financial incentives rather than artistic preferences, which makes France’s tax credit incompatible with many other financing programs.

In addition, Mr. Dercourt said, a recently adopted labor agreement regulating working hours is driving up production costs. The rule sets minimum wages for crew members, including rates for overtime, and night and Sunday hours.

“For producers, even for entirely French films, this imposes incredible constraints,” he said. “It makes the work of a producer even more difficult.”

A rising demand for Luxembourg’s aid has prompted six local production companies to open the country’s second major studio complex, Filmland, which is courting international co-productions with prices adapted to various budgets.

“We used to make the movies we could,” said Mr. Steil, president of the production company Iris, “but now we can make the ones we want.”

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SOURCE: http://mobile.nytimes.com

By CLAIRE BARTHELEMY
JANUARY 24, 2015

LUXEMBOURG — “Can you cover for me? I trust you,” whispers Marie-France, a scheming receptionist played by Nathalie Baye, to a co-worker in a small, brightly lit office.

As she walks out of the frame, a leather handbag slung over her shoulder, someone shouts “Coupez!” and the set of “La Volante,” a psychological thriller directed by Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri, becomes busy with crew members preparing for the next take. A large lighting balloon hovering in the lobby is lowered a little, and Ms. Baye’s hair-ends are adjusted.

“La Volante” has all the qualities of a French thriller: a twisted story line, intricate character studies and a cast led by Ms. Baye, a star of French cinema since the 1970s. But this scene, like most of the film, was not shot in France.

The office where Marie-France is plotting revenge is in a converted town hall in Mondorf-les-Bains in Luxembourg, a short walk from the French border.

Because large parts of the movie were shot here, and a Luxembourg-based producer is involved, “La Volante” managed to obtain a public grant of over 1 million euros, or about $1.2 million, from Film Fund Luxembourg, enough to cover more than a third of the movie’s costs.

The project is one of the many French movies relying on foreign financing, a trend that poses one of several threats to the industry in the birthplace of cinema. France’s National Center for Cinema, which distributes millions of euros in subsidies to movie productions with a budget drawn from different taxes, has been hurt by successive levies to help pay for the public debt.

Broadcasters, who are required by law to invest in domestic productions, are struggling with low revenue and are doling out less money. Less willing to take risks, they tend to invest in big-budget crowd pleasers that guarantee a large audience. This often leaves smaller productions like “La Volante,” a movie with a budget of about €2.9 million, scraping for money.

“La Volante” was acquired by a smaller French pay television station before filming began, and it received subsidies from the French region of Lorraine. But the film required €575,000 from a Belgian program that offers tax benefits to companies investing in local film production, and the contribution from Film Fund Luxembourg, to come to fruition.

“’La Volante’ is a movie with stunts, different sets, hospitals, cemeteries,” said Philippe Roux, its director of production. “It’s a rich film, and there is a lot of travel involved. If we had made it with France only, we would have fewer means.”

Twenty-two percent of filming for French movies was completed beyond its borders in the first nine months of 2014. In 2012, a particularly devastating year in terms of production flight, the rate was 50 percent for projects with budgets between €10 million and €20 million, and 21 percent for films under €10 million, according to the French Federation of Cinema, Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries, or Ficam. This prompted the government to raise its tax credit for films under €4 million to 30 percent, from 20 percent in 2013.

Sébastien Deux was the assistant director on the set of Sandrine Bonnaire’s “Maddened by His Absence,” another coproduction in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. It was supposed to be shot in France, but when money came in from abroad, the lineup of the crew changed because the funding system usually requires some use of local resources. This often means that French technicians are replaced by Belgian or Luxembourgian ones.

“I had to drop a few of the collaborators with whom I usually work,” Mr. Deux said.

Heads of departments, who work closely with directors and are considered indispensable to the movie, are usually less affected. Mr. Deux said that although he had to work with new people, this change did not affect the end product. This worries many in France, who fear that the flight of movies means that the expertise in creating them will be lost to its neighbors, too.

“We don’t have any problems with co-productions which need to film in Belgium and Luxembourg for reasons related to the story line,” said Laurent Blois of SPIAC-CGT, a union representing professionals of the audiovisual and cinema industries. “But if it’s only for fiscal purposes, then that poses a problem for us, because it means that a number of technicians and laborers find themselves without a job.”

Guy Daleiden, director of Film Fund Luxembourg, does not see what the fuss is about. Co-producing is a give and take, he said.

“You can’t say that you want to receive €2 million from Luxembourg and then expect that the whole crew is hired in France or that the shooting has to be in France, too,” Mr. Daleiden said.

Nicolas Steil, president and chief executive of the Iris Group, a production company based in Luxembourg with offshoots in France, Belgium, Germany and Britain, said productions with budgets between €4 million and €8 million, which are generally more experimental and risky for investors, depended on foreign financing.

Without offshoring, “those movies wouldn’t be made, or have a much smaller budget and lower quality compared to their competition,” he said.

This is something the new generation of producers has accepted, said Donato Rotunno of Tarantula Productions, as he sat at a table covered with movie scripts and administrative paperwork in the town hall of Mondorf-les-Bains, where shooting for “La Volante” was continuing upstairs.

“We are sliding towards Europe — we are involved in the European construction of cinema,” he said.

Foreign financing sometimes turns the planning into a complex puzzle.

“We have an obligation to shoot 51 percent of the film in Luxembourg and also in Lorraine, because we have a grant from that region,” said Mr. Roux, the production director of “La Volante.” “That’s why we shoot in Metz. And because of the Belgian tax shelter, we also need a certain amount of expenditure on Belgian soil, like local technicians and gear.”

This is where the magic of cinema — and talented location scouts — comes in. In “Boule & Bill,” an adaptation of a popular children’s comic strip and one of the few successful French films of 2013, Luxembourg City and the old-town section of Brussels stood in for French cities and suburbs of the 1970s. A Belgian estate was transformed into a New Jersey villa in “Möbius,” a spy thriller starring Jean Dujardin of “The Artist,” and an abandoned building in Luxembourg became a trading room in Monaco, the film’s writer and director, Eric Rochant, wrote on his blog.

When such investments succeed, everyone involved wants to bask in the glory. When “Mr. Hublot,” an animated short co-produced by France and Luxembourg, was awarded an Oscar in 2014, reports in the French news media lauded it as the “French movie that beat Disney.” That caused a stir in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where cinephiles were celebrating their country’s first Oscar.

“Mr. Hublot” was written by Laurent Witz, a Frenchman, who co-directed it with Alexandre Espigares, a Luxembourger. Film Fund Luxembourg financed about 70 percent of the project, and Lorraine handled the rest.

Mr. Witz remained pragmatic.

“I see it as a partnership, an addition of savoir-faire, talent and financing, of course,” he said, in a converted apartment in Mondercange, Luxembourg, which serves as the office for his company, Zeilt Productions.

France’s effort to increase its tax credits for smaller movies has helped bring the runaway production rate down a notch in the first months of 2014. But its offer still lags that of its neighbors, according to a recent study by the National Cinema Center.

Belgium’s tax credits can be applied to up to 45 percent of all production costs, compared with only 30 percent on selected expenditures in France. This has been especially attractive to French productions. In addition, the Belgian credit can be combined with other financing, like the Luxembourg program.

“The Belgian system is a lot more efficient than ours,” concludes Stéphane Bedin of Ficam, which has been lobbying the National Cinema Center to raise tax credits for movies with budgets between €4 million and €7 million to 30 percent, a measure that will be introduced next year.

For Tom Dercourt, the French producer behind “La Volante,” France’s tax credit comes with too many constraints.

To qualify for the tax credit, French films must be shot mostly on French territory, and any filming abroad must be justified by the script.

The flight to neighboring countries is, however, mostly driven by financial incentives rather than artistic preferences, which makes France’s tax credit incompatible with many other financing programs.

In addition, Mr. Dercourt said, a recently adopted labor agreement regulating working hours is driving up production costs. The rule sets minimum wages for crew members, including rates for overtime, and night and Sunday hours.

“For producers, even for entirely French films, this imposes incredible constraints,” he said. “It makes the work of a producer even more difficult.”

A rising demand for Luxembourg’s aid has prompted six local production companies to open the country’s second major studio complex, Filmland, which is courting international co-productions with prices adapted to various budgets.

“We used to make the movies we could,” said Mr. Steil, president of the production company Iris, “but now we can make the ones we want.”

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