Producers buck auteur era with genre titles

PARIS — A new breed of Gallic producers is pushing the boundaries of French cinema with films designed to travel worldwide, ranging from toons to thrillers and superhero fare.

La Petite Reine’s Thomas Langmann (“Public Enemy Number One”), Onyx Films’ Aton Soumache (“Renaissance”) and Chapter 2’s Dimitri Rassam (“Trouble at Timpetill”), are leading the pack with big ambitions and a philosophy inspired by the Hollywood studio model.

“We’re part of a new generation of producers who are not scared of taking risks and making films more international,” says Soumache. “Rather than replacing past generations, we represent an alternative, a breath of fresh air.”

The producers seem to gravitate to medium- to high- budget, English-language genre films often based on compelling biographical novels, splashy videogames and French or Belgian comicbooks.

“We want to make visually challenging, auteur-driven films that have a commercial appeal,” says Soumache, who’s developing with Rassam “Upside Down,” a sci-fi romance directed by Juan Solanas. Pic will start shooting in November in Australia.

Rassam and Soumache are also developing “L’Aviseur,” a drug cartel thriller penned by Abdel Raouf Dafri (“Public Enemy Number One,” “A Prophet”), to be shot in French, English and Spanish, mostly in Gibraltar.

La Petite Reine will co-produce, with further Canadian and Spanish companies.

Rassam says the company is in talks with directors including Pierre Morel (“Taken”).

Over at La Petite Reine, Langmann is developing “Fantomas,” a $60-70 million adaptation of the French detective novels. Christophe Gans is co-writing the script and will direct.

At Chapter 2 and Onyx Films, Soumache and Rassam have developed a system of mentoring reminiscent of the Hollywood studio system of the 1950s. They’ve focused on a select group of filmmakers, including Juan Solanas (“Upside Down”), Christian Volckman (“Renaissance”) and Nicolas Bary (“Trouble at Timpetill”), since their first short.

Luc Besson, the godfather of the new generation of producers and helmers, has been mentoring filmmakers like Morel, Xavier Gens (“Hitman”) and Louis Leterrier (“Transporter”) for many years at EuropaCorp.

Chapter 2’s development slate boasts three projects with Bary, who made his directorial debut with “Timpetill”: “Au Bonheur des ogres,” based on Daniel Pennac’s novel; “Soda,” from a Belgian graphic novel penned by Philippe Tome and “Dark Earth,” a big budget pic based on a post-apocalyptic videogame.

Most French films cost under $10 million, but Soumache and Rassam’s $50 million-plus budgets show they have access to deeper pockets.

It’s partly about family ties: Rassam’s cousin, Langmann, backs some of Rassam’s joint ventures.

The duo partner with Studio 37, the production banner of French telco giant Orange, and international sales company Kinology, headed by Gregoire Melin.

For cashflow and development coin, Method Films (Soumache’s toon production company), Onyx Films and Chapter 2 are backed by Gallic banks, which lend heavily to the French film industry: Method and Onyx are aided by Cofiloisirs and BNP Paribas while Natexis Coficine supports Chapter 2.

Rassam’s uncle, Paul Rassam, Pathe’s head of co-productions, and Canadian producer and financier Jake Eberts sit on Chapter 2, Onyx films and Method films’ board as advisors.

As part of their strategy to consolidate their relationships with U.S. studios and agents, Rassam and Soumache have recently opened New York and Los Angeles offices. Rassam oversees U.S. activities.

“We’re invested a lot on our relationships and activity in the U.S.,” says Soumache. “Easy access to British or American talent allows us bigger budgets.”

Other notable new breed producers, such as Fidelite Films’ Marc Missonnier and Olivier Delbosc, have been demonstrating their drive to make genre films for the international market. They’re producing with Soumache and Rassam on the English-language motion-capture thriller “Prodigies,” about five young geniuses who grow up to become serial killers in New York.

Per Rassam, the general perception of what a French film should look like has really been shaken up and redefined by films like Langmann’s high-voltage gangster pic “Public Enemy Number One” directed by Jean-Francois Richet and toplining Vincent Cassel as Gaul’s most dangerous bank robber Jacques Mesrine.

Pascal Caucheteux has also been an influential figure for the new generation of producers. Via his shingle Why Not Productions, he’s had a strong track record with French thrillers, including Jacques Audiard’s “The Beat My Heart Skipped” and this year’s Cannes Jury Prize winner “A Prophet.”

“Caucheteux and Langmann have demonstrated that as producers, we can be daring and creative without being elitist,” says Rassam. “They’ve opened doors for other ambitious producers to have easier access to financing when taking on similar genre films.”

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