PARIS – The upcoming film VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017) has a bang up cast (Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan and Clive Owen), will employ a twelve-hundred-person crew, take six months to shoot (with principal photography starting in January) and has been in the preparatory phases for two years.
From a Frenchman’s viewpoint, at least, it’s a big deal. And yet, instead of being able to shoot on hometurf, its director and producer Luc Besson (this French filmmaker is at the helm of Europacorp, one of Europe’s biggest studio lots), may have to take his movie to Hungary to obtain better fiscal conditions. Besson has a très grand problem: as an English-language French film VALERIAN is eligible for no tax rebate at all. And yet, without these fiscal kickbacks Besson cannot make his film.
According to WIKIPEDIA “Valérian,” the comic book on which the film is based, is a French sci-fi series created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. It was first published in France’s Pilote magazine in 1967 with a the final chapter published in 2010.
French tax incentive law was supposed to help stimulate made in france productions by offering rebates to small-budget French productions and attract foreign films (read: American) by refunding some tax incentives money. Under those conditions, i.e., under a certain budget line, the tax rebates are a win-win for everyone. But mega-budget English-language French-produced films like the ones Besson makes get stuck in a blind spot–they fall outside the fiscal law, so to speak.
The lack of tax incentives for Besson is probably not an involuntary occurrence. Refunding upwards of 30% in tax revenues likely isn’t something that France is willing to do, in spite of the benefits associated with it. It’s too costly. The argument that jobs are created and other forms of revenue generated when a film production comes to town doesn’t always hold water: jobs that are created from movies being made are temporary ones. Here in France, artists (this could include crew or a CGI effects person) are eligible for a special unemployment status. Whenever they’re not working, they collect unemployment insurance which is why you never see out-of-work actors waiting tables here.
So again, in all likelihood, the French tax incentives system is mutually beneficial only in the case of smaller productions which is why it could not be applicable here, even if the laws were changed.
Aside from Besson’s own films there aren’t any mega-size budget French-made productions, which is also partly why the French tax laws was never properly expanded. Tax rebates exist elsewhere in old Europe, where they range between 35 and 50%.
During a recent interview with French radio RTL, Besson suggested that he could’ve applied as a foreign production for the incentives, except that, the film’s producer—himself—is French, which again shuts the door on any tax rebate advantages.
Unless negotiations with the Culture Ministry and the Elysée lead anywhere, Besson will take his film to Hungary, where he can expect a 35% tax rebate to land in his till. As much as I’d love to see VALERIAN being shot here instead of elsewhere (this is a digression but Hungary, particularly, is a country that has distinguished itself for all the wrong reasons lately–see that country’s policies on immigration and the generalized xenophobia that prevails), my take is that VALERIAN will be a lose for France and Besson will have to go abroad. (Ali Naderzad is ScreenComment’s founder. He is based in Paris. Follow him here @alinaderzad)