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PARIS (Reuters) - Ever wondered what to do with a revolver, a typewriter and a pair of handcuffs?
Come up with an answer in 20 minutes while the cameras roll and you could break into the movie business -- or that's what participants in a film-making contest were shooting for at a cinema industry event in Paris this weekend.
Films are an obsession in France, which has always considered itself a home of true cinema and where premieres of new films regularly make it onto the television news.
But with foreign movies dominating box office sales, and state support needed to resist domination by Hollywood, the industry has geared up to seduce cinema goers in new ways.
"We have to reach out to the public, since their changing consumption patterns will be deciding the future of the industry," said Jonathan Bryant, one of the events' organizers.
At the Salon du Cinema, a small movie set was a blur of action as 18 teams of amateurs shot two-and-a-half-minute films in a competition judged by professionals.
The set included a street scene, a gritty police office, and props including the handcuffs and typewriter.
"There's lot's of pressure -- we only have 20 minutes to shoot and an hour to edit," said 23-year-old aspiring actress Pauline Sikirdji, who played a cool, raven-haired lead opposite a grizzled police inspector in a 1940s-style 'film noir' movie.
The convention hall was packed with 70,000 visitors.
The fair also marshaled many of France's top professionals to reveal the secrets of set design, sound creation, and digital effects in workshops open to the public.
Organizers say the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the industry will encourage movie-goers since it is more open to the public than superstar-studded festivals like Cannes.
They also hope it will be a place for real movie deals.
In a back room furnished with desks and office cubicles not far from a champagne bar and VIP lounge, dozens of film students pitched scripts to producers, and lawyers were on hand for one-on-one sessions including "how to resolve legal problems."
Often referred to as "The Seventh Art" in France, cinema is revered to the point where independent films are supported by a tax on ticket sales. But domestic productions are competing neck-and-neck against imported U.S. blockbusters.
The National Centre for Cinematography says French films took in 45 million euros ($66 million) at the domestic box office in 2006 compared to 44 million euros for U.S. films, while the United States ranked as France's top export market.
Editing by Tim Hepher and Jon Boyle