By Vivienne Walt
FORTUNE -- Parisians cherish le cinéma and, come Oscar season, relish watching their city play backdrop to award winners. It's a pity that many of the scenes are not, in fact, filmed in Paris. In Martin Scorsese's Hugo (five Oscars in 2012), the 12-year-old hero lives in Montparnasse station, but the set was erected at Shepperton Studios, near London. In Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (one Oscar, 2010), Nazi leaders perish in a Paris cinema conflagration. Tarantino's cinema was built in the Studio Babelsberg near Berlin.
Now, deep in recession, France is finally courting Hollywood. First came a 20% tax rebate for foreign directors, similar to Britain's and Germany's, which Parliament rushed through in 2009 after Woody Allen told a journalist that with no tax break, he would film Midnight in Paris somewhere else. And last December Parliament upped tax-deductible expenditures for foreign productions from about $5 million to about $13.5 million. France is estimated to have lost around $676 million a year from directors shooting big-budget movies elsewhere, particularly in Eastern Europe.
"Now we will be able to get back the productions from these other countries," says Christophe Lambert, CEO of the French film company EuropaCorp. Lambert is sitting in Paris's new Cité du Cinéma studio, which EuropaCorp opened last September in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. The $245 million complex, a converted 1930s power station, houses nine sound stages. Director Luc Besson, the company chairman, dreamed up the project after spending a year shooting The Fifth Element at Pinewood Studios near London.
In December, Robert De Niro shot a Mob film in Cité du Cinéma. Lambert calculates that it needs one such Hollywood production a year to be profitable. He is confident. "It is easy to convince a Hollywood star to spend four months in Paris," he says. "It's irresistible."
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