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France to sequels: moi aussi

Trend indicates shift toward more commercial, producer-led projects

PARIS — Inspired by a recent spate of homegrown box office smashes, France’s more entrepreneurial moviemakers are realizing there are francs to be made by putting a fresh spin on winning formulas.

With some notable exceptions — Gaumont’s “Les Visiteurs” franchise springs to mind — France’s auteur-led film industry has tended to shun sequel-making. Now, however, there are no fewer than seven sequels in various stages of development.

Canny producer Claude Berri is leading France’s follow-up frenzy. Having made a mint with Claude Zidi’s “Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar” which notched 25 million admissions worldwide, Berri is about to unleash “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra” on cinema auds. Miramax will release the picture Stateside.

Boffo B.O.

The incentive to make sequels is obvious. Two recent examples –comedy actioner “Taxi 2” and buddy comedy “La Verite si je mens 2” have stunningly outperformed the films that came before them and even received thumbs-up from critics for being improvements on the originals. “Taxi 2” was France’s box office leader for 2000, grossing $53.8 million (vs. $33.6 million for the first “Taxi”) while “La Verite 2” is this year’s B.O. topper so far at $40.9 million (compared with the first pic’s $25 million).

Not surprisingly, Luc Besson’s new film company, Europa, is frantically gearing up for “Taxi 3,” while Vertigo, which produced “La Verite,” is developing the next episode in that franchise.

Studio Canal has leapt on the bandwagon, too. Its subsid Les Films Alain Sarde is producing Colline Serreau’s “18 Years Later,” a follow up to the original French “Three Men and a Baby.” Studio Canal also is planning to co-produce a sequel to Gabriel Aghion’s gay laffer “Pedale Douce.”

Meanwhile, producer Alain Goldman, in whose Legende Films Studio Canal took a 49% stake earlier this year, has said he will make a follow-up to the actioner “Crimson Rivers,” and independent production company Mandarin is working on a sequel to comedy “Jet Set.”

Says Studio Canal’s Brahim Chioua: “These sequels are linked to the success of French cinema at the moment. A franchise only makes sense if the film has worked, and because there are lots of French movies doing well, producers are motivated to make them.”

The rash of sequels also indicates a shift toward more commercial, producer-led projects, although most of the 160 or so French films made every year are still director-driven.

But Chioua points out that in France, the sequel remains an afterthought, rather than the raison d’etre of an original movie idea.

“We haven’t reached the stage yet where we are intentionally setting out to develop franchises, like the Hollywood studios,” he says. “It is more a case of looking at a film that has worked and seeing if it has further potential.”

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