France plays film card for tourism at Cannes

From mountaintop Bollywood dance scenes to shoot-em-ups in wartime Paris, France is pulling out the stops at Cannes for foreign filmmakers to shoot on location — and pull in tourists in their wake.
From Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” to the cult “Millenium” film shot in Swedish capital Stockholm, a movie can be a major boon for tourism as holidaymakers flock to discover the real-life sites immortalised on celluloid.
In Britain, films account for 10 percent of the tourism industry’s turnover, a study showed last year, from trips to Harry Potter’s castle, to the London streets of rom-com “Notting Hill” or the Scottish highlands of “Braveheart.”
“Film tourism is a personal way to visit a site, it makes people feel they are not just following the herd,” said Frank Priot, deputy head of Film France, a state-financed body that works to draw foreign film productions.
France already ranks top in Europe and third worldwide as a shoot location, but local authorities have often been slow to spot the knock-on potential for the economy, said Film France head Patrick Lamassoure.
Inspired by the cross-Channel example — where Wales in particular has become expert at wooing production firms — Film France has put together a guide for tourist officials and businesses on how to woo film producers.
Unveiled at the Cannes film festival, the booklet co-produced by Film France and French tourism authority ODIT is packed with facts about the ins and outs of film-making, and practical tips on how to attract productions.
Put simply: discounts or subsidies for a foreign film shoot should be seen as an investment, that can reap handsome returns for tourism if you play your cards right.
Indian superproductions — which fly huge teams around the world to shoot Bollywood’s obligatory Swiss chalet or Caribbean beach sequence — are the world leaders on this kind of “synergy,” Priot said.
Bollywood producers, who account for some 1,000 movie shoots a year, and 20 million daily viewers, will offer ready-made contracts, trading discounts for projected extra revenue, according to Priot.
“The biggest Hindi blockbusters manage to get up to half of their on-site costs paid for,” especially in Singapore or Malaysia, according to Priot.
Similarly in the case of “Australia,” the Australian tourism office handed out themed-holiday brochures at each screening of the film.
As belt-tightening sweeps around the globe, producers are under intense pressure to shop around for the most competitive locations, sharpening the battle among rival destinations.
France was traumatised last year when the producers of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” — set largely in World War II Paris — decided to shoot most of the movie in Germany due to cost considerations.
A few months later in December, the French parliament approved a tax rebate to attract foreign film-makers.
According to Priot the rebate, which brings France into line with European neighbours Britain, Germany and Hungary, has netted its first big success: an Indian mega-production called “Seven Days in Paris.”
Under the new law — which France expects to be approved from Brussels next month — foreign film makers can recoup up to 20 percent of their production budget in France, up to a maximum of four million euros.
Producers can already apply to benefit from the rebate when it comes into force, and several existing projects have upped their budgets as a result of it, Lamassoure said, including Lionsgate’s “Five Killers,” a US action comedy part filmed in the Riviera city of Nice.
Thierry de Segonzac, head of the French film, television and media industry federation, said he expects the rebate to generate 100 million euros (140 million dollars) in direct revenue in 2009 — and up to double that in related tourism turnover.
“But the tax rebate on its own is not enough,” he said. “Regions have to be ready to offer producers incitements on the ground.”

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2009