The Studios de Paris, the vast studio facility where Netflix’s hit show “Emily in Paris” has been filming on the outskirts of the French capital, has been put to market by its shareholders, including “Valerian” director Luc Besson.
After several weighty offers from U.S. funds such as Oaktree Capital Management and TPG Real Estate came in, French-Tunisian businessman Tarak Ben Ammar — who co-founded the Studios with Besson and owns a 25-percent stake — decided he didn’t want to sell his stake anymore and instead opted to use his pre-emptive right as shareholder to take full ownership of the Studios de Paris, Variety has confirmed. The news was first reported in the French magazine Capital, based on a court document obtained by Variety.
As per the shareholders agreement, Ben Ammar’s company Bleufontaine, which is presided over by his son Jad, had the right to make an offer matching the terms and conditions of the €30.5 million bid which came from TPG Real Estate.
Besson, who masterminded the Studios de Paris a decade ago to compete with the U.K.’s Pinewood, Germany’s Babelsberg and Italy’s Cinecitta, owns a 9.9% stake in the complex through his holding company Frontline. EuropaCorp, Besson’s former production banner, has a 40% stake in the studios and is reportedly driving its sale, along with Euromedia, a broadcast facilities provider who has a 25% stake. Back in March 2020, the Studios de Paris was placed under court protection for its debt, which will be paid by the acquisition.
Bleufontaine will finance the deal with Ben Ammar’s Eagle Pictures, Italy’s leading independent distribution company, which boasts a library of 2,800 titles and has distribution deals in place with MGM, Paramount and Sony. Eagle is also involved in Spyglass, which has partnerships with Lionsgate and Warner Bros.
Boasting nine sound stages across 120,000 sq. ft., the Studios de Paris failed to be profitable for most of the last decade mainly due to its high rates, an insufficient tax incentive and EuropaCorp’s financial woes. However, the Studios de Paris is cash flow positive in 2021, as it began hosting the shoots of a flurry of series and movies, said an insider. Over the last couple years, streaming services have started ramping up the volume of original content shot in France, including notable titles like “Emily in Paris.” A key factor behind this uptick is the French tax rebate, which has been significantly increased in recent years, partly thanks to Besson’s intense lobbying. Even during the pandemic, as much as 56 projects tapped into the international tax scheme in 2020, 36 of which were produced for streamers, according to the CNC (National Film Board).
It’s not just the streamers. “The total volume of French content being filmed in Paris this year has increased by 30% compared with 2019, and we have a shortage of studio facilities to accommodate the demand,” said Helene Dudragne at Film Paris Region, the organization that coordinates all shoots in the French capital. Roughly 70% of all shoots in France take place in Paris, but the city only has two facilities that are big enough to welcome such big shoots: the Studios de Bry-sur-Marne and the Studios de Paris.
Ben Ammar told Variety that he and his U.S. partners forecast that this production boom will continue growing, as streaming services now have to invest 20% of their annual turnover in France on local content under a new decree stemming from the E.U.’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS). Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus have indeed recently signed a pact with France’s broadcasting authorities (CSA) to begin investing a fifth of their annual revenues on French content. The CSA expects the investment to be between €250 million ($282 million) to €300 million ($330 million) on average per year.
Ben Ammar pointed out that France was the first country to set these new regulations, but other countries within the E.U., including Italy — where Eagle operates — are following course, which will inevitably lead to a rising demand for non-American content across the continent. Owning the French studios will give Ben Ammar’s company the leverage to lure filmmakers, co-produce and co-finance content being shot there, and ultimately co-own IPs.
Saint-Denis, the suburb where the Studios de Paris is located, is also poised to go through a major overhaul. The region has been chosen to host the Olympic Village during the Paris 2024 games, with the Cite du Cinema serving as a main backdrop. This means the facility won’t be able to shoot there for roughly a year, but Ben Ammar, who sees the Olympics as a fabulous marketing opportunity, isn’t worried. “Paris will always be Paris, and filmmakers will be back when the games are over in the fall of 2024.”
In fact, sources tell Variety that next to shoot at the Studios de Paris is a large-scale Apple series about a famous French designer. The show, with a prestige showrunner and American stars, will begin filming in May 2022.
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