Orange subsidiary opens doors for indie producers

PARIS — Even as some parts of the French entertainment sector are pulling out of huge commitments to Gallic films, Orange-France Telecom Group is jumping in.

Through its 2-year-old Studio 37 subsidiary, headed by former indie producer Frederique Dumas, Orange has given French producers “another door to knock on at a crucial time,” says trade mag Ecran Total editor Serge Siritzky, referring to the recession-induced drought among Gallic broadcasters.

The French film biz has traditionally relied on prebuys from Gallic TV orgs, which are required to invest part of their annual revs in French and European pics. But the dire economic times have pushed distributors to lower minimum guarantees, and terrestrial TV networks, hit by plunging advertising revenues, also are likely to decrease their investments.

“Our goal is to prebuy French series, documentaries, shorts and cartoons,” says Guillaume Jouhet, Orange Cinema Series veep. He adds that Orange plans to invest z15 million ($22.1 million) in French production in the next three years.

“We’re also meeting with French producers to develop half-hour dramedies or social satires, in the vein of ‘Californication’ or even ‘Hung,'” says Boris Duchesnay, OCS’ programming topper.

Studio 37 aims to co-produce 10-15 films every year. “We try to have an eclectic slate, but we’re focusing on the young-adult market,” Dumas says.

The company’s lineup boasts several big-budget, English-language European co-productions — including Kirsten Dunst starrer “Upside Down,” a $35 million sci-fi romancer.

“The economic recession has opened doors for us,” Dumas asserts. “For the past year, we’ve been courted by indie producers who can’t raise financing in the U.S. and come to us seeking partnerships.”

“Studio 37 clearly wants to show it’s an important player with a strong financing capacity,” Siritzky notes. “The company is also positioning itself on the international market, partly because the French market’s too crowded.”

In addition, Studio 37 has a preferential deal with international sales outfit Kinology and Paris-based distributor Rezo Films. “We opted for flexibility by not having an integrated sales and distribution arm,” Dumas explains. “Creativity needs independence to flourish.”

Warner Bros. is distributing Studio 37’s “Prodigies,” a $54┬ámillion motion-capture sci-fi thriller set in New York. Another title, the biopic “Gainsbourg, vie heroique,” has been co-produced by Universal, which will handle Stateside distribution.

“Both Orange and Studio 37 have a unique position in the local market,” notes “Gainsbourg” producer Marc Du Pontavice. “One of their major assets for producers is their flexible economic model that allows them to collaborate easily with other entities, whereas classic groups generally take all the mandates.”

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