Gallic fare, arthouse hits dominate local B.O.

PARIS — In general, the local pic biz has enjoyed a buoyant run at the B.O. in 2008 so far.

French pics have improved their marketshare at home, currently at about 44% — an 11% jump compared with last year, according to the French National Center for Cinematography.

B.O. figures were boosted by two blockbusters from Gallic powerhouse Pathe. “Welcome to the Sticks” grossed a record $157 million. And “Asterix at the Olympic Games” took $52 million. Among other boffo local pics were Gaumont’s “Enfin veuve” and StudioCanal’s “Disco.”

But for the smaller French indie distributors, 2008 has been a dark year. They blame the oversaturated film market, skyrocketing P&A costs and fierce competition from vertically integrated distribs such as SND, TFM, Pathe and StudioCanal. 

The Gallic mini-majors usually end up with the top imports, further squeezing smaller distribs. “I’m tired of getting excited about big films that I can’t buy,” says Eric Lagesse, CEO of indie Pyramide, adding that he won’t travel to the AFM for this reason. “Now I look for good underdog indies, like ‘Ciao Stefano’ or ‘Boy A,’ that have been unnoticed by major studios.”

Fourth-ranked in 2007, Wild Bunch dropped to the 17th spot this year with just one breakout, “The Other Boleyn Girl” ($2.7 million). “We had too many genre and horror pictures in our lineup, like ‘Vinyan,’” concedes Wild Bunch buyer Jean-Philippe Tirel.

“The French don’t care so much about high-concept films, they’d rather have a well-known director and a strong cast,” adds Wild Bunch’s sales director Renaut Davy, noting he has high hopes for the fourth quarter with “Two Lovers” and “Largo Winch.”

Cannes winner “The Class” was the biggest B.O. surprise this year — with a budget of E3.2 million ($4 million), pic sold more than a million tickets, which translates to about $8 million. Produced and distribbed by Gallic shingle Haut et Court, pic also beat the box office of Pathe’s big-budget “Faubourg 36,” which opened on the same day.

Meanwhile, StudioCanal’s distribution exec Philippe Desandre notes he had to take on fewer films this year — 16 compared to 27 in 2007 — and focus on savvier programming. “French producers tend to be reluctant to release films during summer, but it’s an excellent time because the market is not as crowded.” Canal’s summer indie performers included “Le premier jour du reste de ta vie,” “Babylon A.D.” and “Parlez moi de la pluie.”

Gallic distribs also see the booming VOD market as a promising revenue source. StudioCanal released “Disco” simultaneously on Blu-ray DVD and on its on-demand service, CanalPlay, on Oct. 2. 

And Wild Bunch teamed up with European digital technology company Arts Alliance Media and French cable operator Numericable last September to launch Filmo TV, a 500-film library of titles from Wild Bunch, Bac Films and Warner Bros.

2008 B.O.

$1.3 billion (to Oct. 14)

Top title

“Welcome to the Sticks” ($157 million)

Recent pickups

“Le Bal des actrices” (SND)

“Broken Embrace” (Pathe Distribution)

“The Burning Plain” (Wild Bunch)

“The Mission of the Human Resources Manager” (Pyramide) 

“Ruby Tuesday” (Europacorp)

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