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Tourism slump prompts pitch as movie backdrop

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, August 25, 2009) - Since Tahiti is having problems attracting visitors to these islands during the global financial crisis, the Temaru government has decided to change its promotion tactic by promoting Tahiti as a destination for making movies.

And Hollywood is giving Tahiti a helping hand. Universal Studios is going to bring some 50 journalists to Tahiti, and more precisely Bora Bora in the Leeward Islands, from September 20 to 30.

This is but one of two upcoming events connected with the movie-making industries in Hollywood and France that the French Polynesia Tourism Ministry and GIE Tahiti Tourisme are helping to organize during September.

During the same month, filming will wrap up in Tahiti on a 3D IMAX movie due for a February release and eight Hollywood scriptwriters will be chosen to visit Tahiti on an all expenses paid trip that Tahiti is hoping will result in more movies being filmed in French Polynesia.

The potential economic importance of attracting the movie industry to Tahiti was emphasized by GIE Chief Executive Dany Panero. She noted that a 2004 study by the Film Exporters Association found that 62 percent of foreign tourists in France were influenced in their travel destination decision by what they saw at the movies.

Foreign and French journalists are no strangers in Tahiti. But they are usually travel writers that routinely visit Tahiti and Her Islands to write about the destination for newspaper travel sections and specialized tourist-oriented magazines.

But Universal Studios is bringing the journalists to Tahiti to launch its media coverage of the movie "Couples Retreat". Some 75 percent of the comedy was filmed last fall on French Polynesia’s "pearl of the Pacific", otherwise known as Bora Bora, which is better known as a destination in some parts of the world than Tahiti.

The producers rented out the 100-villa St. Regis resort to make the movie, which opens in U.S. movie theaters on October 9 starring Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis and French actor Jean Reno.

Nearly US$7 million (€4.89m) was spent locally during the filming, said the GIE’s Ms. Panero. That included, she said, airline tickets, lodging and the hiring of 80 people and 35 extras.

Universal Studios is picking up the tab for the entire media promotion -- from the flights to and from Tahiti to the hotel accommodations. The Temaru government is paying for two Air Tahiti flights to and from Bora Bora.

The GIE Tahiti Tourisme is working with Universal on the movie’s promotional campaign in France, the U.S. and Australia.

Also in September, filming will be wrapped up at Tahiti’s peninsula for the 45-minute 3D IMAX movie "The Ultimate Wave 3D" that focuses on the legendary "Teahupoo" surfing site as well as the people, culture and beauty of Tahiti and Her Islands. Filming began in August. One of its big attractions is eight-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater taking on the world famous waves at Teahupoo off the peninsula.

Also on the September agenda is a seven-day visit by eight "A-List" movie scriptwriters chosen jointly by the French Embassy’s Los Angeles Film and TV Office and the Writers’ Guild of America.

This is being billed as an "Unlimited Access Tahiti Mission" trip to allow the Hollywood scriptwriters to check out the movie scenario possibilities in French Polynesia.

The criteria for qualifying for the trip to Tahiti includes having had one scenario made into a movie that has earned a minimum of US$100 million (€69.9m) for the film studio during the past three years.

Tahiti is counting on the chosen scriptwriters coming up with eventual film ideas from their visit that will make the rounds of Hollywood film producers and perhaps result in more movie-making business for Tahiti.

The scriptwriters will travel to four islands during their visit from September 16 to 23. On Tahiti they can discover a cultural theme through "Ori Tahiti", or traditional Tahitian dancing. On Bora Bora, the theme will be romance and sports fishing. On the Leeward Island of Huahine, they will be able to discover the Polynesian sky and its constellations. In the Marquesas Islands, the themes for the visit to Hiva Oa will be Polynesian history and living in harmony with nature.

The GIE Tahiti Tourisme is organizing the scriptwriters’ stay and handling the cost of accommodations, meals, transfers and excursions. Air Tahiti Nui is offering business class seats from Los Angeles. The other local tourist partners are InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, Tahiti Yacht Charter and SPM Hotels, Resorts and Spa.

The final choice of which scriptwriters will travel to Tahiti is in the hands of Film France, which bills itself as "the first stop for foreign production companies and individuals preparing to film in France. A network of 40 local film commissions throughout the country offers from information on locations, crews, labor rates and facilities."

In French Polynesia, an overseas French government collectivity, there is the Temaru government’s Tahiti Film Office, which is working with Film France. The Tahiti Film Office is also working with the French Polynesia Finance Ministry to come up with a tax rebate proposal similar to what exists in France.

The French Parliament enacted a law in December creating a new credit for foreign films shot in France. "The law is designed to promote actual film production as well as prost-production services of movies whose ‘dramatic content’ has links with the ‘culture, heritage or territory of France,’ to quote the text of the law," Film France explains on its Internet Web site.

"The rebate, worth 20 percent of all eligible costs, is capped at €4 million (US$2.8 million). Eligible costs include authors’ rights (through French contracts), crewmembers’ salaries, actors’ salaries (up to the minimum rate of the collective bargaining agreement), technical costs (rentals and purchases), locations fees, transportation, food and all fringes." The Tahiti Film Office is reportedly considering a rebate of around 15 percent.

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