French production hit by recession

Investment falls 26% to $1.4 billion

PARIS — The French film industry may be more resilient than its European neighbors, but it isn’t recession proof.

While the volume of production has remained stable at 230 films, investment last year fell to Euros 1.1 billion ($1.4 billion), a 26.3% drop on 2008, according to a CNC report.

The drop isn’t alarming, said Veronique Cayla, CNC prexy, pointing out that last year’s figures were boosted by three big budget films — Luc Besson’s “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard” ($87.5 million), “Arthur and the Two Worlds War” ($91.8 million), and Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud’s “Oceans” ($70.1 million).

But otherwise, Cayla said, the obvious reason for the plunge is the recession.

Foreign sales revenues dropped to $201.48 million, while producers’ own financing decreased to $94.46 million.

Foreign co-production investments, which represented 18.8% of all French films’ investment, dropped by 22.5% to $282.72 million.

In addition, Gallic TV stations — TF1, France Televions and M6 — which are obliged to invest a percentage of their revenues in French movies, cut their investments by 23.1% to $152 million as their ad revenues dropped.

TV pre-buys plunged dramatically by 66.7% and co-production coin decreased by 33.3%.

In contrast, French pay TV giant Canal Plus, a powerful backer of local pics, only slighly reduced its investment by 5.3% to $225 million. The paybox’s coin still finances 66.5% of all French-majority films and 18.5% of foreign titles co-produced with Gaul.

A good reason to remain optimistic, said Cayla, is that Orange Cinema Series is stepping up its investments significantly. In its first full year, OCS invested $9.9 million in 13 films. Some 80% of that investment was accounted for by payments for Gallic first-run, premium pay TV rights.

“It’s impressive,” said Cayla. “We didn’t expect it.”

Another significant fact is the plunge in the number of higher-budget films (costing above Euros 7 million/$9.6 million) and lower-budget pics (below E1 million/$1.4 million). Meanwhile, the report shows that midrange films (from Euros 4-7 million/$5.5 million-$9.6 million) have grown.

Olivier Wotling, director of the CNC film department, pointed out bigger-budget films that rely on international investment — notably toons — were more difficult to finance in time of recession.

Meanwhile, 96 films were co-produced with 34 countries. French minority co-pros were up to 48 films in 2009, four more than 2008.

John Hopewell contributed to this report.

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