Toulouse to Star As Hollywood-sur-Garonne

If the plans of a 36-year-old Toulouse architect and film buff work out the French aerospace city will soon be ranked up there with Hollywood and Mumbai as a world capital of cinema.

Bruno Granja, a Toulouse architect seeks to convert Francazal into a new Hollywood.

(Read more online here)
Bruno Granja who hails from Cugnaux, and his US partners Raleigh Studios which manages 230 000 m2 of studios in California, Louisiana, Georgia, Michigan and Budapest, Hungary, are seeking to raise some 80-100 million euros to refurbish a 45-ha, decommissioned military air base at Francazal in the suburb of Cugnaux, 13 kms south of Toulouse. The hope is that by 2013, France’s 4th largest city could rank high among the world’s capitals of cinema.

Bruno Granja told La Dépêche du Midi why he was keen on the former military base: “I was always struck by the architectural similarity of Francazal to that of Warner Bros studios in Los Angeles. When I heard that the air force had left the airbase, it was a turning point for me”.

In an exclusive report earlier this month La Dépêche spoke with Michael Moore, chairman of Raleigh Studios, who confirmed his company’s interest in putting Toulouse  –France’s 3rd biggest university city — onto the map as a major film producing location. Moore confirmed Raleigh’s interest in the Francazal proposal saying the venture would take Toulouse to the same level as Paris in terms of  full filming services for the French and European film industry.

Moore was full of praise for the vision and foresight if his French partner: “This is first and foremost Bruno Granja’s project. He initially had the inspiration to see how this former military base could be turned into a site dedicated to the film industry. He contacted us and he convinced us.”

Discussing the project’s impact in terms of jobs, economic diversification, and international promotion he said: “This is an important project, and the stakes, especially in economic terms are very high. This is why it must be supported locally by public and private sectors. Together with Bruno Granja, the head of the French company which will operate the site, Raleigh has spent much time and energy on the Francazal project. We really hope our efforts will be successful.”

Asked if Raleigh’s involvement in the operation was part of a growth strategy for the studios in France and Europe he said: “I want to clarify our intentions and to clear up any misunderstandings. The first beneficiary of this project, if it transpires, will be the French cinema industry. Francazal studios are designed to support your film industry– certainly one of the best in the world – more than the economic development and expansion for Raleigh studios.”

He went on to describe how Toulouse could become strategic to the film industry: “First there is the opportunity that has opened up with the departure of the air force from Francazal Cugnaux. The site, its surface area and the infrastructure it offers are an interesting opportunity. Then there is Toulouse’s location as a gateway to southern Europe.”

He said not only would the studios provide some 5000 new jobs in a field that offered a diversification from the region’s current aerospace focus, but the University of Toulouse film school could gain valuable leverage from cooperation with the studio complex. Raleigh Studios hopes local authorities will reach a quick decision on the dossier currently under consideration by the local prefecture and regional administrations but Moore acknowledged that because of a need for national and EU funding, the final decisions will have to come from the Ministry for Culture.

The former airbase could look like this if the Hollywood plan succeeds – Image: Dépêche du Midi

“However I can tell you that if we do get the green light: our goal is to create the best business facilities to allow French and European filmmakers to work in excellent conditions. We have an undeniable expertise we want to bring to the service of the French film industry and that includes production of TV films, and French and European co-productions.” He added that services industries such as hotel and catering, lighting technicians, carpenters, costumers, set designers were among the types of jobs the studios would create.

An earlier Raleigh Studios announcement

Despite local euphoria a number of obstacles lie ahead. The response to the formal Raleigh proposals by Toulouse municipal authorities, the prefecture and the Midi-Pyrenees regional administration has been surprisingly mixed and cautious.

The project’s lawyer Jacques Lavergne told Variety, the US film industry trade magazine that while Martin Malvy, chairman of the Midi-Pyrenees regional authority and various regional bodies have joined forces to urge the Haute-Garonne prefecture to give the proposal priority, “the heavy bureaucracy in France tends to slow down matters, and in this case, there is a clash of calenders between the prefecture and my clients from Raleigh Studios who are ready to move very fast”.

The idea he told the magazine, is to “position Raleigh half-way between China and the U.S., develop international and European co-productions, allowing them to benefit from qualified French crews.”  The site with its vast hangars, a runway on which planes could land bringing the major stars and producers, proximity to the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Pyrenees, and a considerable historical heritage, all made for a site of scenic attraction offering privileged filming locations, he said.

France 3 interviews the architect Bruno Granja and his legal adviser Me Jacques Lavergne:

Despite the formal tone of the initial responses — the prefecture reportedly told one reporter: “their project is being studied with the same interest and attention that we give to other applications made to use the site “, there are many who hope France’s ‘cultural imperative’ will win the day.

Bruno Granja stresses the importance of the project for regional employment , a key issue in the current global recession. “My project is primarily economic and industrial, with hundreds of jobs in play. Most of these jobs would be open to men and women previously without career prospects in the area. “The movie studios rely on different craft and artisan skills. In this region, not everyone has the skills to get a job in aerospace, university research labs and advanced technologies,” he said, “this project offers an emergent new industrial sector to Midi-Pyrenees”.

The state however has made clear there are no plans to sell a facility currently administered by SNC-Lavalin which in turn rented space to Air Atlantic Industries, on a temporary two year license last June for aircraft maintenance operations.

While Pierre Cohen, Toulouse Mayor and chairman of Greater Toulouse has not ruled out a change of plan for the former airbase, Cugnaux Mayor Philippe Guerin is fully supportive  saying the studios offer “a great opportunity to diversify”.  He is also under pressure from local residents who oppose the noise nuisance that the former airbase has caused and have set up a national campaign to stop it being converted for over-spill from Toulouse-Blagnac.

The 'collectiv-francazal' wants assurances that the airport will now be permanently closed to noisy aircraft

Story: Ken Pottinger

Raleigh Studios is the largest independent studio operator in the US.
This is the official facebook page for Raleigh Studios.

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