French major UGC and 20th Century Fox finally con summated their Gallic distribution marriage when the new joint venture UFD (UGC Fox Distribution) was born on the Fourth of July.

The creation of the distribbery, after an initial agreement late last year, is the second major alliance between a Hollywood heavyweight and a French major, following the successful Gaumont/BVI union. UFD, which is headed by former Columbia TriStar French marketing director Bruno Chatelin, will distribute pics in France produced by Fox and UGC, as well as films involved in Castle Rock’s existing output deal with UGC.

The distribution agreement is one part of a wider and less formal alliance between the duo, which will see UGC gaining a privileged distribution partner in foreign territories

“UGC will have the opportunity to use Fox’s international distribution network for its films if it feels that local distributors have not come up with adequate offers,” noted Jim Gianopulos, president of 20th Century Fox Intl.

According to Alain Sussfeld, No. 2 man at UGC, if his company chooses to distribute through Fox, then UGC will pay prints and advertising while Fox handles physical distribution. “This is a way for us to get access to an international distribution system without having to set it up ourselves,” said Sussfeld.

The third part of the marriage involves co-producing or co-financing projects.

Fox already has acquired certain territories (including the U.S.) for Bernardo Bertolucci’s latest pic “Stealing Beauty,” and has some foreign rights on Claire Peploe’s “Rough Magic.” Both were developed under the UGC roof. According to Sussfeld, “there will also be opportunities for us to invest in films that have been developed and produced by Fox.”

The center of the new partnership, however, is the French distribution deal.

Despite the fact that UGC is one of the big three exhibitors in France, Gianopulos ruled out suggestions that Fox had inked the agreement in order to secure access to UGC screens.

Numbers game

“This isn’t about numbers of screens, Fox has not had difficulties getting its films into cinemas in France. It’s about two companies teaming up to form a critical mass of films which will give us weight with exhibitors. If you are the guys who are providing a variety of quality pictures then you are in a good position (with the exhibs).”

In terms of the numbers of pics released per year, the new UFD will be a market leader. Stateside expansion of Fox’s production capacity will eventually boost yearly film output to around 25, according to Gianopulos. Last year, Fox released just 10 films in France but hit gold with “Mrs. Doubtfire” and to a lesser extent with “Speed.”

On the French side, UGC averages between 20 to 25 releases per year, including pics from the current ouput deal the company has with Castle Rock. Although UFD topper Bruno Chatelin refuses to speculate on exact numbers, it looks like UFD will handle around 30 films in its first full operating year and rise to nearer 40 per year at full throttle.

But many distribution execs in France point out that the success of a company is not related to the number of pics put out. Last year the combined total of Fox and UGC films released was 32. In the key Paris market, admissions for that package was just under four million.

In comparison, market leader Gaumont/BVI put out 22 pics and drew 4.9 million in Paris, while indie AMLF distributed 22 titles and sold 4 mil ducats.

While UFD’s first release was Gerald Dugan’s “Boarding Zone” on July 5, the first major test of the company’s ability to handle a big pic comes on Aug. 23 when “Judge Dredd” rolls out. In October, UFD releases the Mel Gibson swashbuckler “Braveheart,” along with “The Madness of King George.”

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