Scramble for hits reaches fever pitch

France

PARIS — Local pics have made the greatest impact at the Gallic box office of late, driving a B.O. hike, but cash-rich distributors will nonetheless be busy shopping for international fare at Cannes.

A handful of France’s bigger distribs — especially the acquisitive broadcaster subsids TFM, SND and StudioCanal, but also Samuel Hadida’s Metropolitan — will scramble over heavyweight fare capable of grabbing Gallic auds, and as much as $10 million will change hands for the most sought-after titles.

A second tier of indie stalwarts ranging from Pathe to Jean Labadie’s BAC, Ocean and Diaphana, will trawl the market for the crossover gems that are their stock in trade.

“Interest is always concentrated on a small number of films with the right ingredients, because the market is flooded with new releases and, at the end of the day, most of what is released doesn’t work,” says SND’s Thierry Desmichelle. Company recently inked an output deal for French distribution with Summit Entertainment, but before the deal was in place 80% of its acquisitions were already American.

“Failures are much more marked than they used to be,” observes Labadie, giving his take on the French theatrical biz, “and a successful film that (draws) 800,000 admissions today probably would have gone beyond 1 million a few years ago. The market is so much more competitive.”

Labadie’s lineup includes Carlos Reygada’s Cannes Competition title “Silent Light,” which BAC also co-produced.

Meanwhile, TV sales aren’t exactly booming in Gaul. The terrestrial webs have essentially gone off feature films, preferring series instead, and the merger of Canal Plus and TPS’ satellite platforms has shrunk the number of thematic channels by about half.

But in movie theaters, indie pics have been doing OK.

Although the French-language Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose” is the film that has really put TFM in the money this year, the company garnered a healthy 1.8 million admissions with “The Departed.”

Other indie fare to have hit the spot in France includes Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume” and “Saw III,” which garnered more than 900,000 and 764,300 admissions, respectively, for Metropolitan; “The Lives of Others,” distributed by Ocean, which made 1.2 million admissions; and Pathe release “The Queen,” which exceeded 900,000 admissions.

Prices paid for the most desirable titles aren’t going down, but inflationary spending on P&A has halted, per Desmichelle, as distribs reduce the number of prints on the bigger releases.

“Typically 85% of admissions are made at 200 engagements, so you have to think intelligently about the most effective release platform,” Desmichelle says.

SND is also placing more ads in cinemas “where there is a captive audience,” he says.

“The bigger the film, the less the risk,” asserted the topper, “but you mustn’t get it wrong in the way you analyze it.”

BOX OFFICE OVERVIEW

Top film: “Friends Forever” $81.5 million
Total B.O.: $1.4 billion
Total number of releases: 676

Recent Pickups
“In Bruges,” “Hulk 2” (SND)
“Evening,” “Clubland” (Wild Bunch)
“Endgame” (TFM)

“The Counterfeiters,” “Tekkonkinkreet” (Rezo)

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