Bucking the pass

Gaumont bows cheap ticket; filmmakers speak out

PARIS — UGC chief Guy Verrecchia on Wednesday declared himself “satisfied” with Tuesday’s surprise launch by rival chain Gaumont of a cheap cinema pass to compete with his own group’s Carte Illimite.

While UGC’s highly contested $14 per month pass covers all of its venues in France, Gaumont’s Le Pass, which goes on sale Sept. 27 for the same price, will only be valid for Paris theaters. But together, Le Pass partners Gaumont, MK2 and fellow Parisian exhibitor Jean Henoschsberg own more screens and offer a wider range of films than UGC, France’s biggest exhibitor.

But Verrecchia told Daily Variety on Wednesday: “We always imagined that if our card worked, other exhibitors would launch theirs. We’re quite satisfied with the situation.”

And so they should be. UGC has sold some 110,000 passes since the scheme was launched in the spring, and they are still selling steadily at the rate of 10,000 a week.

The scheme’s huge success has taken the French film industry by surprise. And now that Gaumont has taken up the gauntlet, despite reticence from some sectors of the business, there would appear to be no going back.

Opposition speaks

However, French filmmakers opposed to the passes spoke out against their “damaging” effect.

While calling the move by Gaumont and the indies “legitimate commercial self-defense,” the Assn. of Directors and Producers (ARP) said in a statement Wednesday that it “institutionalized tariff practices that damage independent exhibition and the diversity of production.”

Currently a percentage of each cinema ticket sold in France gets plowed back into local production in a vital contribution to the French filmmaking economy.

The ARP’s statement called for an overhaul of the subsidy system that would take into account not just ticket sales but a movie theater’s total earnings, including snack sales and ad revenue.

The association also lamented the emergence of a powerful duopoly pitching UGC against Gaumont and its indie partners.

It said: “In the weeks to come independent theaters will be obliged to ally themselves with one or other pass or they will disappear.”

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