TWC topper honored at Champs-Elysees fest

With Hollywood’s studios having largely abandoned mid- to low-budget production, now is a good time to invest in independent movies, said Harvey Weinstein, guest of honor at the first Champs-Elysees Festival, at a June 7 breakfast roundtable co-sponsored by Variety in Paris.

“I took the U.S. rights to ‘The Iron Lady’ with private entrepreneur Ron Burkle,” Weinstein said. “It was a big payoff for both of us. With private equity going into the independent sector, people are seeing real money.”

Weinstein cited relatively low-budget movies with boffo worldwide grosses, such as “Black Swan” ($329 million), “The Artist” ($133 million), “The King’s Speech” ($414 million) and France’s hit “The Untouchables” ($345 million).

“You see an audience hungry for this kind of entertainment,” Weinstein said, “Thankfully, the studios don’t understand the math: If you make a $15 million movie that grosses $500 million, it’s better than making a $250 million one that grosses $200 million.”

For Weinstein, the Hollywood studios’ focus on $200 million movies “is a curse and a blessing at the same time, because it gives companies like mine the opportunity to work with talent.”

One example: Brad Pitt’s star-turn on “Killing Them Softly,” produced by the Weinstein Co. and Samuel and Victor Hadida’s Metropolitan Films in France.

On June 6, Weinstein was feted at a ceremony attended by French industryites, including Cannes festival topper Thierry Fremaux, “The Artist” producer Thomas Langmann and Cesar Academy president Alain Terzian.

Weinstein is working with a handful of French producers and financiers, notably Langmann, Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval and “Intouchables” producers Quad on some projects.

Weinstein emphasized that Quad is very much involved in the U.S. remake of “Intouchables.”

His close association with French shingles may have encouraged Weinstein to see some issues from the French point of view.

Weinstein also took the opportunity to signal loud and clear that he was committed to lobbying an anti-piracy bill in the U.S. that would emulate France’s three-counts-and-out Hadopi Law. “Round one: The Internet companies won; round two: I’m getting involved, and they won’t win that round.”

There’s fierce competition in France for U.S. indie titles, which can sometimes prove highly profitable for distributors, and French companies are moving more into English-language production.

Daniel Preljocaj, CEO of TF1 Intl., who picked up four American indies at Cannes, said: “We’re interested in being more involved in American independent movies because of their international potential.”

James Velaise, founder of Pretty Pictures, cited Tony Kaye’s Tribeca player “Detachment,” which on a small P&A spend, grossed $1.7 million in France, with distribs earning $2.75 per ticket.

Samuel Hadida, co-founder of distributor Metropolitan Filmexport, which pre-bought key U.S. projects at Cannes, said 90% of his slate are pre-buys, normally inked at the script stage.

The Champs-Elysees Film Festival runs June 6-12 in Paris.

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