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Metro Porte de Lilas-Cinema: a ghost station used solely for filming
You’ve already seen it on the big screen, but no one has taken it since 1939: the Porte des Lilas-cinéma metro station is a “ghost” station that is closed to the public, but popular among directors, who use it to breathe the life of the Paris metro into their films.
Each day, thousands of passengers travel through the Porte des Lilas metro station without suspecting that, behind a gray door, another station is hidden within, an actual movie set where an average of 5 films are shot per year.
Sophie Marceau as a member of the French resistance, pointing a rifle at an SS officer in Female Agents, Meryl Streep aboard a 1960s metro car in Julie and Julia, or Matthew Kassovitz gathering fragments of passport ID photos in Amélie: all of these scenes were filmed at the Porte des Lilas-cinéma metro station. “The metro is a source of inspiration for directors. It immediately localizes the action in Paris, it illustrates the daily life of Parisians,” asserts Karine Lehongre-Richard, head of film shoots with RATP.
Across the entire RATP network (metro, bus, tram, and RER), 70 productions are filmed each year, from feature films, TV movies, and TV shows, to music videos.
Directors do indeed have their favorite lines for filming. “The 6 for its view of the Eiffel Tower and lines 10, which is very long, and 3 bis, which is not very busy, where directors can rent out a car during off-peak hours,” explains Lehongre-Richard. From time to time, then, unbeknownst to passengers, a scene is being filmed in the middle car. “But for shoots that require large teams, with a lot of extras, or that take place in large stations, we ask that directors film at night, between 1 and 5 AM, when the metro isn’t running,” she specifies.
Within this network, Porte des Lilas-cinéma, which can be rented out by the day or for several days at a time, is sought after for its convenience. This station, which looks like any other with its big advertising posters and LED lights, has the advantage of being customizable according to the whims of the scriptwriters.
Hang some German propaganda posters and roll in the Sprague-Thomson railway cars, classified as historical monuments, and the station finds itself, for example, plunged into the 1940s, like it was for the filming of Female Agents, where about 200 people occupied the premises for 4 days. The films Outside the Law, by Rachid Bouchareb, Army of Crime, by Robert Guédiguian, Micmacs, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Café de Flore, by Jean-Marc Vallée, and Le Concert, by Radu Mihaileanu, have all also been shot here.
A starting rate of €15,000 per day
A day of filming costs between €15,000 and €18,000, with the RATP providing a staff of about 15 people: conductors, electricians, security guards, railway workers. “They’re quite happy, it changes up their day-to-day,” smiles Lehongre-Richard, remembering an employee “ecstatic” to have met Monica Bellucci.
These shoots bring in about €200,000 in turnover to the RATP each year. “This isn’t an activity that generates a lot of income but it does generate a nice, positive image of the metro,” notes Lehongre-Richard.
Each year, a few dozen people are able to visit the station during the European Heritage Days, around mid-September.