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Hollywood will always have Paris (and is being offered the rest of France)

Free annual trips to different regions of the country aim to inspire the writers in their work as France tries to lure more movie production away from other European countries.

December 05, 2010|By Eric Pape, For the Los Angeles Times
  • Part of the film set for "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," directed by Martin Scorsese in Paris.
Part of the film set for "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," directed… (AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Paris

Some things are just done differently in France. Take the invitation of 10 successful Hollywood screenwriters on an eye-popping, all-expenses paid, eight-day trip to rural France in exchange for, well, nothing.

The guests were suspicious from the get-go. Why, after all, would anyone offer them a dream trip to two regions of France that they knew little, if anything, about? Still, the iPad-toting writers accepted a welcoming glass of wine or two and boarded a hot-air balloon outside of the eastern town of Metz in early autumn. They later stepped into a helicopter that offered them a striking perspective on the Saint-Nazaire shipyards. Screenwriter Anya Kochoff-Romano forgot such questions as she and her contemporaries stood, slack-jawed, alongside a giant water-spewing mechanical elephant that she referred to as one of the "tools for the imagination" being placed before her.

Such experiences got many of them wondering when they would be killed off, one by one, as in Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None."

And that's exactly what the French were hoping for: the introduction of a little Hollywood drama into non-Parisian France. More concretely, the tour aimed to inspire France-based scripts that will circulate around Hollywood and result in more big-dollar productions landing on French soil. The calculation is that a major U.S. production means more than $2 million a week in spending, with about half going to salaries here.

With such payoffs, the third annual screenwriters' trip — which brought the pens behind "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Game," "Che," "Terminator" and "Valentine's Day," among others — makes a lot more sense. "Everyone knows cinema generates tourism, but the opposite is also true," said Patrick Lamassoure, the managing director of Film France, which promotes the nation's audiovisual industries and aims to bring international productions to France. "Tourists are writers. Writers tend to focus on what they know, and they tend to know Paris."

The first year involved a trip to Marseille and Paris, a city that gets plenty of attention from Hollywood these days thanks to its position at the perch of global tourism, a 20% tax rebate for international film shoots, simplified bureaucracy and relatively easy access to French film world expertise. The second year involved a trip to Tahiti. This year's eight-day inspiration sejour included visits to the Loire Valley and the Lorraine regions.

The goal is to inspire prominent writers to produce the broadest range of feasible scripts set in France, and as Paris takes care of itself, that now means promoting other parts of the country. That explains the special guided visits to the oppressive war bunkers in the Lorraine region. "I can see a horror/thriller set in the Maginot Line tunnels. They had a spooky feel to them," said screenwriter Peter Buchman (" Jurassic Park III," "Che I and II" and "Eragon").

No one complained about the visit to one of France's new architectural gems, the new Shigeru Ban- and Jean de Gastines-designed Pompidou-satellite museum of contemporary art with its undulating soft-hat roof. Dinner was laid out on what Buchman called "one of the most elegant tables I had seen: a long red carpet, white cloths, flower petals on the tables, and a view of Metz and all of the city lights."

To film producers, there are three basic types of places: those where films are never shot or set because no one knows enough about them; stand-in locations that pretend to be other places, but at lesser cost (the Czech Republic, Romania, Baja California, Vancouver, Toronto, Morocco); and those countries that generally only portray themselves, as is the case with France.

The French capital welcomed a trio of high-profile film shoots late this summer: Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" (with a cameo by French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy), Martin Scorsese's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and Madonna's English King Edward VIII film "W.E.," even as "Inception" — which includes key scenes shot in Paris — dominated theaters here. They followed a flurry of other Hollywood film shoots in Paris over the last year, including "Killers" and Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter." But when you leave the Ile-de-France region, the Hollywood productions tend to peter out.

The City of Light is the historic center of so much of France's economy, history, arts and culture that many visitors, as well as Parisians, are capable of equating the French capital with the entire and quite varied country (much as some New Yorkers do). This also applies to France's own film world. About half of all films made in France are shot in Ile-de-France. French filmmakers also tend to shoot what they know — and most of them live in Paris.

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