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Indies on the cheap

French exhibs may back UGC monthly pass

PARIS — The overwhelmingly successful cheap cinema pass launched by French exhibitor UGC looks set to revolutionize the country’s entire cinema industry as indie exhibs seem close to coming on board.

Press reports said UGC is about to strike a deal with independents so they can have a share in the UGC carte illimitee, a monthly pass that allows moviegoers to see as many films as they want for $14. UGC has refused to comment on the reports.

Since its launch March 29, UGC sales of the pass have topped 100,000.

The weekly Film Francais reports that in the Paris region, UGC attendance is up by as much as 30% over last year. A UGC spokesman told Daily Variety that it was impossible to determine at this stage whether the increase was due to the card.

Crowd control

But the cheap pass is extremely popular. In the heart of the capital, crowds converging on the UGC multiplex reportedly have forced management to stop the escalators on several occasions for fear of accidents.

In the face of this triumph, Pathe launched its cine a volonte card Aug. 2, followed by Gaumont’s pass Aug. 23. The two competitors have limited the passes to the Atlantic coastal town of Nantes.

MK2, with 44 screens in Paris, has announced the launch of its own pass for mid-September.

Almost every sector of France’s film industry has been opposed to the pass, from angry indie exhibitors, who contend that the card will put them out of business, to distributors, who are worried that they will lose revenue. There is concern that the passes will upset the funding of French cinema production, which gets a percentage of every ticket sold.

Piece of the action

UGC header Guy Verrechia is seeking to calm the waters and reassure the industry by offering to give the indies half of a ticket price, set at an arbitrary 33F ($4.70), for every entry made with a UGC card. The other half of the set price would go to distribs. UGC would make its money off the price of the pass and increased concession sales.

French filmmaker Pierre Jolivet, VP of the French directors and producers association ARP, has expressed concern that the use of the cards will turn the cinema industry into a product of mass consumption.

“I think it is dangerous that a country like France, which has defended its right to protect its culture, treats the seventh art in this manner,” Jolivet said recently.

The indies are keeping mum for the moment over what they will do. Some observers have said that they will not accept exclusivity with UGC and are holding out for deals with the other cards as well. The arbitrary price is another problem, for areas such as Paris, where the average ticket costs $7.10.

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