‘Artist’s’ kudos boost French plan

Success helps prove merits of funding int'l co-productions

PARIS — The awards triumph of “The Artist” is boosting more than the egos and fortunes of its creative team. The entire French industry is basking in the glow of the Cesar-Oscar winner, which may help maintain the country’s film subsidies. Beyond that, the film is bound to be the shining example of international production, furthering the benefits from last year’s Oscar winner “The King’s Speech.”

“That is a good opportunity for Europe,” says Philippe Carcassonne at Cine@, which, with Gaumont, is producing Anne Fontaine’s yet-to-be-titled English-language debut, with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright.

The trend began before “The Artist,” with big Gallic outfits — Studiocanal, Wild Bunch, Gaumont, Pathe, EuropaCorp — moving into English-language productions with bigger budgets in upscale, audience-friendly films. And while the largely silent “Artist” can’t exactly be called “English-language,” the pic certainly features the global melting pot of talent now in favor.

A U.S. distribution deal may not even be necessary in some cases. Movies made by French companies with budgets below $25 million can be financed and recoup without such a deal. Strong North American B.O. simply reps “a big cherry on the cake,” says Carcassonne.

“French groups and independents will probably keep investing in medium-sized indie American Films,” says Vincent Maraval of Wild Bunch, which backed “The Artist,” pointing to the shingle’s new James Gray film, and Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties.”

Studiocanal financed “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and is co-financing the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” as well as Susanne Bier’s “Serena,” with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

Diving into more mainstream fare, these mini-studios find willing partners among a burgeoning bevy of indie production houses — La Petite Reine, Quad, Les Productions du Tresor, LGM, Why Not, Fidelite, Dimitri Rassam, Aton Soumache — which are making films with artistic and social-issue heft, as well as box office and international sales ambitions.

Paris-based producer Said Ben Said, who is producing Brian De Palma’s “Passion”; Paulo Branco, who is shepherding David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis”; and Georges Bermann, who is producing Michel Gondry’s “The We and the I,” are examples of European producers with global aims.

“‘The Artist’ symbolizes the ability French producers now have to access American talent, raise the financing in Europe and put together high-quality, artistically ambitious movies in the midbudget range for the international market,” says Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky at Quad Films, which produced “The Intouchables,” is developing the English-language remake of “Intouchables” with TWC and casting “Diamonds Dogs,” the first English-language film from “Heartbreaker’s” helmer Pascal Chaumeil.

Adds Quad’s Yann Zenou: ” ‘The Artist’s’ case will certainly become a reference in discussions between financiers and producers pitching unusual projects.”

Underlining Gaul’s growing footprint on the international film biz, 13 of this year’s Academy Awards went to films with French backing. “Midnight in Paris” and parts of “Hugo” lensed in France and drew upon Gaul’s Tax Rebate for International Production. Pathe, France’s second oldest film company, co-produced “The Iron Lady.” And “The Artist,” despite being shot in Los Angeles with a U.S. crew, is — after all — a French film.

“The Artist’s” triumph has even extended into the political arena, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy trumpeting that the pic “demonstrates the exceptional vitality of the French cinema and the (film) policies put in place by public authorities.”

France’s first picture Oscar will bolster the arguments of officials who support the film subsidy system in the face of possible austerity measures that could be put into place following the next presidential election, May 6.

In addition, the pic underlines the growing importance of the Cannes Film Festival in the international awards circuit.

Three of this year’s Academy-Award best pic contenders — “The Artist,” “The Tree of Life” and “Midnight in Paris” — played at last year’s Cannes fest. “Paris” opened the event, “Life” won the Palme d’Or and “Artist” took the actor prize after Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux bumped it up to a Competition slot one week before the fest started.

“The Artist’s” win reinforces Cannes’ award-season role. “Producers and sales agents are looking to position films not just for Academy Awards but for an entire sequence of awards celebration. Cannes is well-positioned and well-timed to be the place where these films premiere,” says Ed Arentz of U.S. distributor Music Box.

With Oscar contenders such as “Inglourious Basterds,” “Mystic River,” “Babel” and “No Country for Old Men,” among others, bowing at Cannes, “The Oscar race can start in Cannes,” says Wild Bunch’s Maraval. “Cannes is today the ce ntral platform for the quality films of the year. The U.S. industry usually prefers Sundance, but recent years proved this is wrong.”

The Weinstein Co. bought “The Artist” around the time of Cannes. “We don’t wait on anything,” says David Glasser, Weinstein chief operating officer. “If we see a film we like, we buy it right away.”

The takeaway: French investment in English-lingo pics could boom.

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