Fewer films made in 2009 due to recession

All is not cool in Gaul.

While France’s production business is healthier than many other countries, recently released stats suggest the recession has still taken a significant toll.

The year saw 10% fewer movies –158 vs. 2008′s 176 — go before the cameras, according to an annual Metiers/Marches Observatory report from France’s Ficam technical industry trade org.

Investment in films originated in France also plunged 25% to E905 million ($1.32 billion).

Film shoots were also shorter –an average of eight weeks against 9.3 in 2008.

The investment plunge is partly due to the vagaries of big pic production.

Both Luc Besson’s $87.5 million “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard” and $91.8 million “Arthur and The Two Worlds War” shot in 2008, making it a hard act to follow.

Otherwise, blame the production plunge on the financial crisis, says Ficam president Thierry de Segonzac.

Gallic broadcasters are obliged to invest a percentage of annual revenues in French movies. But revenues plunged 13% and 1% at TF1 and M6 from January to September.

TF1, France Televisions and M6 invested less in feature films, says De Segonzac.

Ironically, Gaul’s total 2009 box office was heading for its biggest haul ever: about $1.75 billion from approximately 200 million admissions.

But the major American studios are the biggest beneficiaries.

French pics took a smaller slice of a bigger B.O. pie: 36.8% through November vs. 45.9% in 2008.

“The business was tough for independent French distributors,” Segonzac says. “Generally, they’re putting up smaller distribution advances.”

As crisis-crunched French companies see smaller taxable profits, investment by Gallic Sofica tax shelter vehicles dropped off for the year, he adds.

“The French film industry has been less impacted by the crisis than other countries,” says Serge Siritzky, editor of French trade newspaper Ecran Total.

Eight French distributors saw 16 films gross $10 million or more in France through Nov. 22. That compares to four German and British distributors with 11 and 10 films respectively.

Unlike in Germany and Blighty, most French distributors are also producers: Gallic B.O. can bolster production war chests.

Despite that, Gallic pic budgets are dropping.

Lower budget pics, budgeted (under $6 million), remained fairly stable in 2009.

Midrange movies have virtually disappeared, with four in 2009 vs. 17 in 2008.

Fewer higher-budgeted movies are getting made. Compared with 11 in 2008, only four $32 million-plus pics shot in ’09: Pathe beach comedy “Camping 2,” Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” and two EuropaCorp pics, Besson’s Indiana Jones-ish actioner “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec,” and Bibo Bergeron’s toon “A Monster in Paris.”

“Films going into production have smaller budgets, because they’re more difficult to finance, and foreign distributor and French sales agent minimum guarantees are disappearing,” says Siritzky.

According to Film France managing director Patrick Lamassoure, some French companies started postponing production shoots over the summer.

Though France is now out of recession, its pic production plunge continues to worsen. Only 17 Gallic films started shooting in the fourth quarter, vs. 26 in 2008 and 40 in 2007.

A Dec. 10 meeting between France’s CNC film board, Ficam and producers concluded Gallic production levels will drop a further 10%-15% in 2010, De Segonzac says.

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