Q&A with Patrick Lamassoure, CEO, Film France
It's early days for TRIP, France’s enormously successful tax rebate for international producers. Film France CEO Patrick Lamassoure tells Future Vision TRIP is just getting started when it comes to luring international filmmakers to France.
Q. You see things from a unique perspective in your position. What made you decide to go for the management side of the French film industry?
A. I loved film and when I finished studying, I didn’t know what to do but I did know that I wanted to be in the film industry. I became a journalist for Le Film Francais, the French answer to Variety, and then moved over to UniFrance, the international promotional arm of National Centre of Cinematography (CNC). And in doing this, I became enthralled with the idea that I could work for the film community as a whole, rather than for just one individual company.
Q. Clearly it gives you a broader perspective?
A. Absolutely. As an example, my position at Film France gives me the opportunity to see the whole picture and to work with an unbelievable diversity of film professionals and companies.
Q. France has had enormous success with its TRIP. Are the politicians happy?
A. We’d like to think so. The results are undeniably very good but we believe they can be even better. We keep our ministers informed about changes in the industry and the success of TRIP and the feedback we get from them leads me to believe they do very much grasp the overall significance of TRIP and how it helps the French film business as well as the economy.
Q. How much of the original goal or goals have been met, and what would you like to see happen in the future, five to ten years down the road?
A. We have met all the goals that were set before we launched TRIP. As an example, the rebate was aimed at increasing the amount of money spent in France. In the 53 projects that have been supported, expenditure in France from those projects has reached US$284 million [Euro 220 million] to date. That is exactly within the range of our original projections.
Q. But there were a few surprises along the way, right?
A. Oh yes, but good surprises. Originally, we thought we’d reach that projected figure with live action shoots. As it turns out, animation and VFX is responsible for more than half of the $284 million. So this is not only a strong reflection of how fast the industry is changing and the kind of cutting edge talent that France has to offer but it also indicates room for enormous growth in both live action and animation/VFX.
Q. So this is a good argument then, should you feel inclined, to persuade the government to increase the Euro 4 million [US$5.2 million] cap that has been placed on how much can be claimed with TRIP rebates?
A. Absolutely. That’s what we’re hoping for. We’d like to convince the government it is worthwhile to raise the TRIP cap to Euro 10 million (US$12.9 million), instead of the current Euro 4 million. Such a rise would enable us to bring in bigger shoots and now that Cite du Cinema, the new Paris studios, is up and running, that is an ambition that is very realistic, if the political will is there.
Q. One of the big successes of the tax rebate has been a boost in the audio-visual industry (animation and VFX), as an example, through Universal’s partnership with Mac Guff Ligne and the work Buf Compagnie had done on Thor. What percentage of the projects under the tax rebate is in the animation and visual effects camp? How much do you think that will grow in the future?
A. Out of the local expenditure generated by the TRIP, 56% comes from animation and VFX. We anticipate considerable growth in this area in the future, as technology allows more and more VFX in films and TV projects, including replicating entire locations.
Q. But this is a bit of a conundrum for France, is it not? It poses intriguing challenges?
A. That’s putting it mildly. Countries like France admittedly have been used to selling “stones,” if you will. Old castles, old cities, museums, etc. So in the past our biggest competitors were Eastern European countries that could offer “stones” at a cheaper price. Now we have the additional competition of creating virtual locations through digital. For some big sequences, instead of a whole film crew, we simply have a couple guys coming over with high definition cameras. Then they go home, shoot the actual sequence with the actors in front of green screens, and insert the location with VFX based on the pictures they shot in France. Since we’re lucky enough to have extremely talented VFX companies, our job is to find ways to involve them in this new production track, as well.
Q. France has always been heavily involved in film co-production but there are changes afoot, are there not?
A. Some changes, yes. France is involved in about 60 international feature film co-productions a year but the big English language films coming from France keep being developed by the same small number of producers, as an example, Europacorp (Taken 2), Metropolitan (Resident Evil Retribution), Philippe Rousselet (Lord of War, Source Code) and of course, the prolific Studio Canal. But now several French producers have started getting involved in prime time English language TV and mini series such as The Borgia, XIII, Jo, The Tunnel, and these are all aimed at international audiences.
Q. Do you anticipate that the new UK tax breaks could make it more difficult to bring in projects to France?
A. We estimate that UK already grabs 50% of Hollywood production expenditure in Europe. France has, so far, about 3 to 5% so we see a lot of room for us to grow.
Q. There have been a number of recent shoots in France from China, Jackie Chan’s Chinese Zodiac and Jiang Ai’s Eternal Moment among them?
A. Yes. We are seeing a surge of Chinese productions coming to France, in numbers that are growing faster than anything we’ve seen in the past. This is mainly due to the development of Chinese production (both quality and budget wise] and increased opportunity for Chinese filmmakers to travel abroad. Shooting in remote countries is still something new for Chinese crews but France has several things going for it when it comes to luring producers in. To begin with, many Chinese travel to France as tourists. Then also there is the influence of the federal government in the movie industry. Like France, it is tremendous, and that makes it easier when it comes to negotiating an official co-production treaty, such as our two countries did in 2010.
Q. What's the general international reaction to the opening of Besson's new film city?
A. Curiousity … and desire. Curiosity because players want to know just how cutting edge this new studio is, and desire, because it’s a good excuse to come and shoot in Paris. We’ve organized several studio tours for important international producers and we get thumbs up on a lot of categories, among them soundstage design, technology and, of course, the fact that it is just a 15 minute subway jaunt from the centre of Paris.
Caption: Center right: Also under TRiP, Despicable Me. (c) Illumination Mac Guff / Universal Pictures)
Caption: Bottom left: TRIP project Death In Paradise, a Red Planet/BBC series was shot entirely on location in Guadeloupe. (c) Red Planet Pictures