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Tax breaks bring boom in Hollywood films shot in France

New tax breaks have brought a rush of Hollywood productions to France in the last year, with the World War II epic “Dunkirk” among a slew of big-budget movies made there.

Director Christopher Nolan’s epic about the evacuation of British and Allied troops from northern France was shot this summer on some of the same beaches where the action took place in 1940.

The five-week shoot — which involved 1,500 extras — was one of 36 foreign productions drawn to France in 2016 after tax breaks jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of the film.

Parts of the Oscar-nominated “Jackie”, starring Natalie Portman as the late US First Lady Jackie Kennedy, were made in Luc Besson’s Cite du Cinema studios in Paris, and several scenes in “Fifty Shades Darker”, the sequel to the erotic blockbuster “Fifty Shades of Grey” were also shot in the city.

France also hosted the eight-week shoot of the Bollywood romance “Befikre”, and industry insiders have high hopes that it will also capture “Mission Impossible 6”, the next episode in the Tom Cruise vehicle.

Valerie Lepine, of the French film commission, Film France, said spending by foreign film companies “almost tripled” to 152 million euros ($162 million) from 57 million in 2015.

“We have made massive progress this year,” she added.

– Animation leads way –

But some of the most spectacular coups have been in animation, a sector in which France is already a world leader.

DreamWorks forthcoming feature version of the children’s classic “Captain Underpants” — about two children who transform their nasty school principal into a Y-fronted superhero — was made by Mikros Animation in France.

The same studio is making “Sherlock Gnomes” for Paramount, a London-based whodunnit about the mysterious disappearance of garden gnomes voiced by Johnny Depp.

The comedies “Sing” and “The Secret Life of Pets” were also made in Paris for Universal by Illumination Mac Guff, the studio behind the “Minions” and the “Despicable Me” series.

“Up to now it was mostly Illumination Mac Guff (now owned by Universal) which took advantage of the tax breaks,” Lepine added.

“But it’s spreading and we’ve seen a massive entry of Americans.”

And the signs for 2017 are even more promising, she insisted.

This month the French government dropped the minimum film budget requirement to take advantage of the breaks from 1 million euros to 250,000 euros $267,000).

The measure is also aimed at helping boost the country’s special effect industry, which has seen a haemorrhage of talent in recent years, according to a report by the French National Cinema Centre (CNC).

While the special effects budget alone on Besson’s sci-fi mega-production “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” — which will be released in July — is some 100 million euros, the CNC found most young French creators emigrate to find work.

Almost all of the special effects for the film have been created abroad.

– Special effect talent –

French films do not tend to use special effects, the report added, spending only 15 million euros overall in 2015 — and more than half of that work went to foreign studios.

Many of such studios in Belgium and Canada were staffed by graduates of the same French schools which feed its thriving animations industry.

“There is a lot of talent in France and the measure will make us more competitive,” said David Danesi, who heads Digital District, which worked with director Pablo Larrain on “Jackie”.

For its part, the CNC has launched a three-year plan to encourage the local industry — which tends towards traditional naturalistic stories — to use more special effects.

Already the rise in tax breaks has helped create up to 15,000 mostly temporary jobs in France, CNC president Frederique Bredin said, “well above what we had hoped for”.

And domestic productions, which are now offered the same tax breaks as foreign films, have also been staying at home rather than going abroad to save money, the French Cinema Industries Federation (Ficam) confirmed.

Only just over a fifth of French films were either shot or partly filmed abroad last year, the lowest level since Ficam began recording the practice, said its head, Jean-Yves Mirski.

“Foreign films coming to France and French ones staying are all part of the same trend,” he added. “And it is creating a much more favourable climate.”



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