On Location in Marseille with Production Consultant Matthew Parker
Marseille is emerging as France’s next hot filming destination. The capital of the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur Région is experiencing a wave of demand from international productions who are visiting not just for locations, but staying and basing entire shoots in the South of France.
As the capital of the region Marseille is cultivating its reputation as a filming destination. In recent months French filmmaker Julia Ducournau became the second female director to win the Palme d’Or for Titane, which partly shot in Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur, Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater explored the city through American eyes, and Lionsgate’s Serpent Queen became the first international production to choose to base the an entire shoot at the nearby Provence Studios in Martigues.
In recognition of Marseille's burgeoning status as a filmmaking hub President Macron has set out plans to turn the city into the "Mediterranean Capital of the Film Industry". An ambitious programme of investment to regenerate the city announced in September establishes the film industry one of the major pillars of investment.
TLG spoke to Matthew Parker, Marseille based film consultant (pictured right) about what makes the city and region special.
When and how did you become involved with production in Marseille?
I first moved to Marseille in 2012 and worked as a film fixer, so I know the region inside out. I then moved back to London to work for Film London and then to Paris working with Film France, in both cases I was encouraging inward investment from foreign productions.
The reason I’ve come back to Marseille now is that the whole filming scene has exploded in in a very positive sense. The region is beginning to draw in a bigger variety of productions, including more foreign productions. It’s gone from mainly French productions looking for location filming to becoming the second largest filming region in France, after Paris.
What does your role as a production consultant entail?
As a film production consultant I am part of encouraging more productions to come and film in the Marseille region. My role is to create a creative bridge between UK filmmakers and local French creative professionals in the South of France. I represent the South of France as a whole with a focus on the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur (PACA) region in the South East, the second busiest filming region in the country.
People who work here want to get more experience working with foreign productions, and foreign productions are always open to a city that has exciting visuals, diverse landscapes, and is film friendly. For foreign productions having a native English speaker on board it makes things much more straightforward.
What are the main attractions of filming in Marseille and the South of France?
The South of France in general is beautiful but Marseille itself has an intoxicating and strong character. Our usual selling points are that the sun shines 300 days a year on average and the light here is incredible. The city is cosmopolitan, it's a working-class port city at heart and has a lot of soul and energy and life.
The region is easily accessible from the UK and Europe with three international airports, including Marseille and train connections from Paris are under four hours.
On a creative level something interesting is happening here. It has always had its own homegrown creative scene and been a breeding ground for French talent, especially music like hip hop and street art. It was beginning to become more of a destination for filming back in 2012.
It has been propelled even more by the pandemic because young creators are now choosing to base themselves here. Now we have an ecosystem of not only big established production companies that provide studio and technical facilities for productions, but young artistic people which is creating a lively scene.
How has Marseille and the region evolved since you were first based here?
When I first moved to Marseille nine years ago I saw the potential of the city immediately. It has such a diversity of landscapes and looks - it’s not all just noir and crime, it’s a very cosmopolitan and creative. There's a lot to offer here and it’s unique in the league of French cities.
Around the time I arrived the city was kind of emerging from a long period of economic and industrial decline, it had a hefty reputation and negative images were really imprinted in the national consciousness. In 2013 it was the European Capital of Culture and major investment projects were converging which really sped up the city's redevelopment. That really was a key moment for Marseille.
The big difference is that now is that we can encourage productions not only to come for the sun and locations, but to stay and base themselves here too.
What has changed for filming since then?
The big difference now is that we can encourage productions not only to come for the sun and locations, but to stay and base themselves here too.
I've seen an extraordinary transformation in the last four years in how many competent and very experienced crews are based here. Previously would establish their careers in Paris to work on big, juicy shoots but that is no longer necessary. There's a constant turnover of productions in PACA now, that requires experienced crews all year round.
In the past foreign productions that want life to be as straightforward as possible would have gone to Paris and then on to film on location in France and complete studio filming in London or in the US. Now they can come and shoot on location and in studios in the south of France.
Lionsgates’ Serpent Queen is a great recent example. They did the location filming in the Loire Valley further North in Central France and then based the rest of the shoot at Provence Studios in Martigues, near Marseille. That’s an example of an international production that could easily have been in Paris, especially as its geographically closer to the Loire.
On top of the financial incentives that France has on a national level filming in the South is generally cheaper so I'm able to make a persuasive argument to productions to base themselves here for a longer period of time.
There are a number of facilities across the Southern region. Provence studios are about 20 miles outside of Marseille and expanded phenomenally in the last five years and are now hosting their first international shoot and have just opened a new stage with an integrated form of VFX technology.
What facilities are available in the region?
There are a number of facilities across the Southern region. Provence studios are in Martigues, about 20 miles outside of Marseille and have expanded phenomenally in the last five years. They are now hosting their first international shoot and have just opened a new stage with an integrated form of VFX technology.
Within Marseille, the Belle de Mai centre is a former tobacco factory which now includes a mix of film studios, production companies, VFX, digital and new media start-ups as well as cultural venues. Under Macron's plans it will be modernised and there are plans for a new film studios in a district of north Marseille as well as a water filming tank in the sea.
There are also big studio facilities in Nice live studio La Victorine because the Riviera is a popular destination too.
How does Marseille and the region support filming?
We've got a very good and well-developed film office in Marseille, and for the region as well. Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater worked closely with them from start to finish to facilitate exactly what he wanted. He had been to the city and wanted to film in the Calanques National Park which is a series of fjord like cliffs on the edge of the city. That is a protected natural space but the film office was there to kind of facilitate and to negotiate access to these very difficult, heavily protected places.
Cannes 2021 Palme d’Or winner Titane filmed in the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur and made use of what the region has to offer in terms of facilities and regional incentives. Region Sud, which encompasses the whole of the southeast of France, helps productions in in many stages from the screenwriting process to providing development funds. Those are on top of what you can get if you're if you're a French production from the CNC the centre of cinema, which helps French production.
What does the future of filming in Marseille and the region look like?
The future is certainly looking exciting for filming in Marseille.
In early September President Macron was in Marseille to announce an ambitious programme of investment to help regenerate the city. In recognition of the city's burgeoning status as a filmmaking hub and the value that it brings to the regional economy, the film industry is featured as one of the 4 major pillars of his investment plan. Macron wants to create in Marseille the 'Mediterranean Capital of the Film Industry'.
These plans include the modernisation of the Belle de Mai media centre, a former tobacco factory which now includes a mix of film studios, production companies, VFX, digital and new media start-ups as well as cultural venues. A site in Saint-Louis district in the north of Marseille has been earmarked to accommodate a brand new film studio, and there are plans to create a filming tank in the sea. Finally, a "Cinefabrique" film school for 18-25 year olds has been established.
We have a very supportive film office too and the whole economic development team understand how much cinema is part of boosting the image of the city. Everyone here is aware that filmmaking is really good for the city. It's good for the city's image, but it's also fantastic for the local economy. The local government has just negotiated access to a new plot of land to expand Provence Studios which is adjacent to the site is in an industrial area, so there is a lot of space around that that's ripe for expansion.
Image Credits (c) Matthew Parker
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