Written by Rowena Carr-Allison on May 28, 2010. Posted in On Location

There's something about Marseille

Visit its buzzing streets or its city beaches and you'll soon see Marseille is an extraordinary place that has its own soul unlike any other. The capital of Provence Alpes Cote D'Azur, it was founded around 600BC by Phoenician sailors and is today France's second city. It boasts over a thousand feature films to its credit and has been flirting with the cameras for years.

Loved by the movie business but sometimes betrayed by it, Marseille's image has suffered on the silver screen, often stereotyped, and not always at its most flattering!

Indeed Marseille goes way back with cinema, claiming the Lumières brothers, its creators, as their own. The brothers started filming on the famous promenade in the heart of the city's historical harbour in 1885 and set up the country's second cinema in the city.

Pagnol, another of Marseille's famous sons, created the Studios Pagnol, adapted his works, such as César for the big screen in 1936 and started a 'French Hollywood' era which thrived into the 60s with classics like Anthony Quinn's Lost Command, Charles Bronson's Adieu l'Ami and Alain Delon's Borsalino. What's more - legendary actors such as Yves Montand and Fernandel, as well as Éric Cantona, were all born and bred in Marseille!

Other big-name productions over the years include Jean-Luc Godart's A bout de Souffle, The French Connection, Hollywood blockbusters such as The Transporter, Richard Curtis' Love Actually and Ridley Scott's A Good Year. Luc Besson's phenomenally successful Taxi series also breathed new life into the city's industry.

Today Marseille is the home of series like Plus Belle La Vie, produced by France 3 since 2004 at the Pôle Medias Belle-de-Mai, which provides state-of-the-art production facilities like Tricam.

The Pôle offers support services in a 30,000 sq m facility including three studios covering 6,000 sq m, with all the trimmings. It also serves as an umbrella organisation for local industry professionals, dubbed 'les Studios de Marseille'. Its aim is simple: keep filming in France!

The Pôle also aims to nurture fresh talent mentoring young companies and fostering innovation, which might explain the successful production of 3D Pollux as early as 2005.

Other current projects include TV films like Merci Papa, Merci Maman for TF1 and Fabienne by Agat Films with Catherine Frot. Also visiting are Productions Phare Ouest who have acquired the rights to the BBC's Who do you think you are and TF1's new series of Masterchef.

Advertising is also big business with Samsung, Adidas, Intermarché and Nissan in town recently.

When it comes to locations, Stéphane Javelle from the Mairie de Marseille knows them all. From the quaint neighbourhoods like the Quartier du Panier with its higgledy piggeldy narrow streets to the picturesque Vieux Port, the avenue du Prado and the cathedral at Notre Dame de la Garde to start with. He adds: "We have so many amazing places like the Îles du Frioul, the Hôpital Caroline, the Palais du Pharo and the Parc Pastré or even the Vallon des Auffes."

There are also unusual locations too like the Stade Vélodrome, the Musée d'Archéologie, the Vaudrans cemetery, the Joliette Docks and industrial sites like the Rivoire et Carret factory. In town, the seafront Corniche Kennedy and the Pointe Rouge offer yet more amazing views, while the natural gems are hidden in the stunning calanques such as Sormiou, where turquoise waters sparkle against the sheer cliffs in hidden bays.

Aside from the locations and logistics, Marseille has other less definable qualities, like its unique warm light, its original spirit and local cuisine.

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