Names: Anne Robert and Sonia Gacic-Blossier
Roles: Operation and Communication Director Paris-Charles de Gaulle and PR Director du groupe ADP
Notable Works: Taken, 15;17 Paris, Bird People, Un + Une
A little bit more about Paris Airports
As the airports of Paris combinine a vintage atmosphere and a modern decor, Paris Aéroport continues to attract filmmakers. Every year, Paris Airport welcomes numerous production companies, and carries out a goldsmith’s work to ensure that filming go well while maintaining airport activity.
We had the opportunity to interview Anne Robert, Head of Operational Communications at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, accompanied by Sonia Gacic-Blossier, Press Relations Manager for the ADP Group, on the issue of filming in Paris airports.
What variety of shoots does Paris Airport host and how often are film shoots held? Is the number of requests for filming greater than the number of films actually shot?
We host as many feature films, television series, short films, commercials and documentaries for illustration purposes in roughly equal proportions. During a ‘normal’ year, like last year, we hosted about ten feature films and five television series throughout the year, or equivalent to one or two film/series shoots per month. Productions filmed at the airport therefore represents a fairly persistent cycle for the team, especially since productions tend to require long preparation times, so we have a busy period with what we call big shootings of about 150 people!
We have a lot of requests, which we can’t always accept. But we are fortunate at Paris Airport to be able to offer alternative locations for a set with a different atmosphere when it doesn’t suit a director’s vision. When I refuse a shoot at Charles de Gaulle airport because I don’t have the set that the director wants, I can instead offer them Le Bourget airport or Orly airport. Very often, the productions ask us for a vintage set that we cannot provide with the Charles de Gaulle airport since it was built in 1974 but Orly airport on the other hand, has very vintage corners that is more suitable! For a more modern decor, both airports are appropriate. We are fortunate to have a lot of sets in various locations that can easily meet the expectations of filmmakers.
What conditions must be met by a film and the production teams in order for their application to be accepted?
After doing several locations scouts and agreeing with the production on the set that will be used, we ask what the atmosphere and the tone of the film are. We don’t want to interfere in the creation, but we want to read the script because there are some limits that we refuse to cross. For example, if the film is a film against the airlines, we will refuse the request. Or if the subject is about an attack that would undermine the credibility of the airport on the security aspect, we wouldn’t accept that either. Shooting isn’t our main activity; we do it to fulfil the production companies’ visions and to promote the image of the airport, so it’s important the scenes being shot doesn’t tarnish that image.
The most important constraint for the acceptance of the application concerns security, which is essential for airports. We do a lot of training to brief the production teams on the logistical part so that they respect all the security standards and constraints that we impose on them. There are a lot of them, but the productions companies in general respectfully adhere to the security measures. We really try to work a lot on this aspect so that everything runs smoothly from the day filming begins.
First, we start by checking the identity of each member of the production team, technicians and extras, and then we issue specific passes for shooting. Then, all loads must be inspected (X-rayed, inspected by dogs…). We make sure that everything that enters the reserved area of the airport is perfectly secured. For example, we ask for all licenses and permits for dummy weapons and police or army uniforms used for certain film scenes. The Prefecture of Police also asks me to produce technical files with the installation of cameras, materials brought into the terminal… It’s my team’s job to put all this in place with the police, the prefecture and the air transport gendarmerie. This does bring major constraints for the productions, but they are essential to guarantee the security of the airport. Once filming is finished, we make sure that everything is properly inspected so that everything that has come in from the airport area goes out. This whole process requires 2 to 3 months of preparation, so it is essential that the productions contact us well in advance for a shoot!
Not forgetting that sanitary measures will also be another measure for future shootings with the wearing of masks and hering to safe distancing.
Does the airport have a specific security team or is it the production team that has to manage this part?
Production is required to go through an airport security team. When we sign a contract with a production company, I employ airport agents to come and supervise the filming, in addition to our crew, to guard the doors and thus ensure the safety of the crew and general travelers for the duration of filming.
Shooting a film within an airport (which isn’t the ‘primary function’ you could say), is a real challenge for airport teams. The safety of the public and the crews, the guarantee of a calm environment whilst the camera is rolling, the blocking of certain areas and so much more are all important aspects. What are the conditions for filming? Is the public able to see the scenes from a distance? Or are areas usually blocked off so the general public can’t see?
It depends on the shooting! Most of the time, for feature films, we try to shoot in areas where there are no passengers… It’s not always easy, but we manage to find suitable locations or time slots. This is indeed necessary because the production brings extras so the audience shouldn’t be too close, and above all, our passengers being our priority, we don’t want them to be disturbed by filming in the middle of the airport. Nevertheless, last year, we did made an exception for the film “Le meilleur reste à venir” with Patrick Bruel and Fabrice Lucchini where the two actors had to wander through a terminal in the middle of the airpoirt crowds!
As an airport is an international zone, what are the customs regulations and how does it work in terms of customs protocol?
There is no real customs protocol in the sense that we work with the police more than the customs. The police inspect and control everything that comes into the airport. Just like a passenger whose suitcase will be checked on arrival at the airport, every truck and every piece of equipment in the production team is carefully inspected to ensure that it complies with airport security standards. We make sure that no one from the production team goes alone in the airport, even to go to the bathroom! If there’s a security incident at the airport, not only does our normal flights/travel schedules suffer, but also the production as the filming will have to be stopped. Many productions are extremely serious on this subject; the main person responsible for this is the stage manager, who acts as an intermediary between the production and our teams.
How are negotiations conducted to satisfy both the needs of the film and the obligations of the airport?
If our work is well done, everything is planned in advance so that at the time of shooting there aren’t any problems. We’re always in contact with the director, who typically comes back to us to tell us the wants and needs of a production. This allows us to discuss it and see what we can/can’t do. There can be negotiation, but it’s very rare to improvise at the time of shooting, strictly for safety purposes.
The hazards that I accept on the big day will be the problems that you can’t foresee like an escalator breaking down. But everything concerning directing and safety is settled in advance, because this organisation involves the work of a whole chain of sub-contractors! We always find that the production companies are very well organised too and we usually don’t have any last-minute requests. On the other hand, if the teams of a film are not rigorous, it can go very badly, but this is very rare.
You were talking about scouting visits with the production team. How long before shooting do these visits take place?
It varies according to the size of the film, but for a feature film, we usually start 3 months before! The file must be sent to the prefecture 5 weeks before the start of shooting giving us time to draw up a retro schedule. Usually, production companies are aware of the deadlines and it’s very rare that we’re contacted at the last minute for a shoot. We’ve even been approached as early as the time of writing the film!
What’s the most surreal request you’ve ever had?
A production company had asked us if it was possible for a lion cub to run into one of the airport terminals after escaping from a cage! In the end, the film didn’t make it, but maybe we would’ve managed to make this scene if it was required! We did manage to do the scene from the film Taken at Charles de Gaulle airport with an impressive waterfall – It was ambitious, but we did it!
What is the average length of a shoot?
It really varies since it all depends on how many scenes are planned in the airport for the film. For example, we hosted the film “Le doudou” by Philippe Mechelen and Julien Hervé for 3 weeks but for some feature films, even half a day’s work is enough. To give you an idea, the average duration is 2 to 3 consecutive days for a feature film where the airport is important in the script. What’s very interesting for productions is that the airport is not only made up of terminals but also road networks, car parks, offices… We even shot scenes at the ADP group’s headquarters!
Are there areas in the airport that are more used than others?
Terminal 1 is very much desired by directors looking for a 1970s/early 1980s setting. The hall M is also in high demand as it’s a large and very modern boarding hall where all the airport codes can be found. We also have the emblematic taxi drop-off areas, where Charles de Gaulle Airport is clearly visible and easily recognizable.
Can you tell us a little more about the rate charged to production companies for a shoot?
If a production stays for 3 weeks, for example, we’ll offer a flat rate fee based on the number of hours of shooting. However, for a small scene of a few hours, we’ll propose an hourly rate. We have a public grid that allows us to determine this rate… Sometimes it’s even possible to achieve economies of scale for production companies. The packages also depend on the type of support (short film, feature film etc.) and the number of people involved in the project too.
Which project was the most challenging for the airport teams and why?
Two years ago, we hosted “Le doudou” with Kad Merad and Malik Bentalha. It was a real challenge because we were shooting every day of the week at a steady pace. Our teams were really immersed in the film and genuinely enjoyed participating in such a project, despite the exhausting pace of work.
We also had the pleasure of receiving some popular film shoots or welcoming iconic personalities such as Clint Eastwood, who came to shoot his film The 15:17 to Paris about the attack in the Thalys. We were all impressed by this man of almost 90 years old, very simple with his team. It was a great gift for our teams and ourselves!
I also have a noteworthy memory with Claude Lelouch, who came to film “Un plus une” with Jean Dujardin and Elsa Zylberstein. It was absolutely incredible to share 3 days with such a renowned and highly-respeected director. These were unforgettable moments. What’s great is that, they are great directors, but they also are people who return to childhood when filming in an airport, like Jacques Audiard whom we welcomed last year.
We welcomed the shooting of Pascale Ferrand’s film “Bird People” too, which is behind closed-doors in the Charles-de-Gaulle airport! Among other things, we were able to see the director filming the control tower from a helicopter. This film is artistically fabulous, and the shooting remains a beautiful memory for us
Are airport employees required to be extras for production purposes?
When working at the airport, it is not possible to work in parallel on the set. However, if staff want to be extras, it is possible to do so on a day off. Whilst we don’t act as an intermediary for this, we’ve have seen employees we know on the screen!
Given the current context, are there any shoots planned for the remainder of this year or do you plan to host more productions in 2021 instead?
I don’t have any requests at this stage because we’ve had a flood of cancellations since lockdown, and production companies need time to recover from such a sudden shutdown. In addition, we have very little information to date on the resumption of activity.
Productions that had started shooting before lockdown are now in a position to continue shooting, but projects that were still in the process of being funded have had to suspend their projects entirely. The business recovery will hopefully take place in the autumn.
Traditionally, we don’t shoot much during the summer because we need the terminals to accommodate the summer tourists. This year, of course, the situation is different, but productions companies don’t usually film at the airport during this period anyway. We’ll soon be going back to the production companies because we still want to host productions even with the newly introduced sanitary constraints. At Charles de Gaulle airport in particular, there are terminals that are still closed to passengers because there’s not enough traffic so this could make filming easier, as the premises are currently empty! Now’s a good time for production companies to secure locations in these complicated and special times!