World TV Markets Have Big Love for French Fare

The Returned French TV

The new wave of Gallic dramas are being snapped up by countries around the globe, including the the notoriously hard-to-penetrate U.S. market

It’s liftoff time. Powered by a crop of established producers, pay TV giant Canal Plus and a surge of international alliances, Gallic fiction production is slowly but surely taking off and landing in other countries — including the notoriously hard-to-penetrate U.S. market.

The past two years have been particularly fruitful for French drama exports, with a flurry of homegrown shows, including cop skeins “Braquo” and “Spiral” and supernatural series “The Returned,” getting snatched up in major territories and scoring high ratings.

Riding the wave, the French Consulate in Los Angeles and the Ile de France Film Commission have joined forces to bow Direct to Series, a Los Angeles-set showcase of French fiction drama. The Producers Guild and the Writers Guild are backing the event.

“In terms of the culture of moving images, America and France have always inspired each other,” says WGA veep Howard A. Rodman. “For the past 100 years, whenever American culture has bumped against French culture and vice versa, each culture has been enriched by it; it’s time for that conversation to be as robust in television as it has been in film.”

“The timing is right for an event like Direct to Series,” says conference organizer Adrien Sarre, exec director of the Film and TV Office of the French Consulate in Los Angeles. “French fiction production is now much more international-driven than it used to be.”

Among the players boosting the French drama Renaissance:

» EuropaCorp TV, the television banner of Luc Besson’s company, has notably produced the comedy-filled cop drama “No Limit,” which was a primetime hit on France’s TF1.

» Newen’s Capa Drama produced “Braquo,” penned by “A Prophet” scribe Abdel Raouf Dafri; it nabbed a 2012 Intl. Emmy.

» Gaumont Intl. TV, the L.A. arm of the French film studio, has produced two English-lingo skeins, Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal” and Eli Roth’s “Hemlock Grove,” which were picked by NBC and Netflix; it’s also developing Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Barbarella” with Canal Plus.

» Shine France Films has delivered “The Tunnel,” the French-British adaptation of “Bron” for Canal Plus and Sky Atlantic HD.

» Haut et Court, the film company behind Palme d’Or winning “The Class,” produced “The Returned” and enlisted helmer Fabien Gobert to direct a stars-packed cast including such bigscreen talent as Clotilde Hesme and Celine Sallette. Co-producer is Canal Plus.

“French-language fiction is still a niche market in Anglo-Saxon territories but it has greatly expanded,” says Mathieu Bejot, topper of state-backed promotion org TV France Intl.

Drama sales to the U.S. doubled to $4.7 million in 2012 thanks to the Netflix purchase of “Spiral” and the Hulu pickup of “Braquo.” The trend continues in 2013 with the acquisition of “The Returned” by Music Box and Sundance Channel and the pickup of “Bref” by Participant Media’s new cable channel Pivot TV.

Even in the U.K., another territory traditionally resistant to foreign fiction, pickups of Gallic fare have almost doubled, driven by the sale of “Spiral” to BBC4; “Hotel Paradis: The House of Ill Repute” to Sky Arte; and “Braquo” and “The Returned,” which sold to Fox and Channel 4, respectively.

French TV players began to look for ways to revamp their local fiction offering back in 2008. Led by Fabrice de la Patelliere, Canal Plus’s fiction division was the first French channel to put more coin into development and screenwriting. It dived into daring TV series writing in 2005 with gritty drama “La Commune” and “Spiral.” Since then, other French channels, notably Arte, have followed with such shows as the Catholic Churchset “Ainsi Soient-Ils.”

“Braquo” and “The Returned,” sold by Zodiak Rights, as well as the Newen-repped spy drama “La Source” and the cop series “Candice Renoir,” have been optioned for English-language remakes.

One of the goals of the Direct to Series conference is to encourage transatlantic alliances in sceenwriting, talent and production, says Olivier-Rene Veillon, of the Ile de France Film Commission.

Looking ahead, Veillon adds that “French drama series may get even richer and more diverse thanks to the new tax rebate for international co-productions, even those shot in English.”

Hourlong Dramas From France

“The Tunnel”
10 episodes
This thriller from the makers of “Broadchurch” is set against the backdrop of Europe in crisis. When a prominent French politician is found dead, two detectives are sent to investigate. The case takes a surreal turn when a shocking discovery is made at the crime scene, forcing French and British police into an uneasy partnership.
Cast: Clemence Poesy, Stephen Dillane, Jeanne Balibar, Thibault de Montalembert, Joseph Mawie, Tom Bateman, Angel Coulby, Tobi Bakar, Mathieu Carrierre, Jack Lowden
Producers: Fabrice de la Patelliere, Anne Mensah; co-produced by Canal Plus and SkyAtlantic HD, with Shine France Films & Kudos Film and TV, in association with Filmlance
Directors: Dominik Moll, Thomas Vincent
Broadcasters: Canal+ (France), BBC (U.K.), SkyAtlantic
International Distribution: Shine Intl.

“The Churchmen”
16 episodes
Five Young candidates for the priesthood drastically transform their lives in a seminary where ambition and discord cast shadows over their strongest beliefs.
Cast: Jean-Luc Bideau, Thierry Gimenez, Michel Duchaussoy, Julien Bouanich, David Baiot, Clement Manuel, Clement Roussier, Samuel Jouy
Producers: Arte France and Zadig Prods., with Avro, TV5 Monde and BackUp Films
Writers: Vincent Poymiro, David Elkaim, from an idea by Bruno Nahon
Directors: Rodolphe Tissot, Elizabeth Marre, Olivier Pont
Broadcaster: Arte
Intl. Distribution: Film & Picture

“The Odyssey”
12 episodes
The Trojan War has been over for 10 years, and the Greeks have come home victorious, but Ulysses is still missing. Local princes are pressuring his wife, Penelope, to choose a new husband. Ulysses’ son Telemachus doesn’t dare lay claim to his father’s throne. Meanwhile a travelling musician awakens Penelope’s buried feelings.
Cast: Caterina Murino, Bruno Todeschini, Niels Schneider, Joseph Malerba, Karina Testa, Carlo Brandt, Ugo Venel, Alessio Boni
Producers: Matthieu Viala, Stephane Drouet (MakingProd), Jean-Pierre Guerin & Christophe Valette (GMT) (Sunflag, Moviheart, Arte F, RAI Fiction, RTP Radio e Televisao de Portugal, TV5
Writer: Frederic Azemar
Director: Stephane Giusti
Broadcaster: Arte
Intl. Distribution: 100% Distribution

“No Limit”
6 episodes
The series follows an agent from the DGSE, France’s equivalent of the CIA, who’s afflicted with an incurable disease and accepts an offer from a secret organization to perform missions on French soil in exchange for an experimental treatment that might save him. The assignments bring him closer to his temperamental teenage daughter, his ex-wife and his suspicious cop sister.
Cast: Vincent Elbaz, Anne Girouard, Sarah Brannens, Helene Seuzaret, Christian Brendel, Bernard Destouches, Philippe Herisson, Vanessa Guide, Damien Jouillerot, Makita Samba, Veronique
Kapoian, Jean-Marie Paris, Ludivine Manca, Clement Brun
Producers: Luc Besson for Europa Corp. (co-production TF1)
Writers: Franck Philippon, Luc Besson
Directors: Didier Le Pecheur, Julien Despaux
Broadcaster: TF1
Intl. Distribution: TF1 Intl.

“The Line”
12 episodes
During the German occupation of France in WWII, the citizens of a small town on the border between the occupied and the free zones live in a world of fear, hunger and danger. Their fate unfolds over the
course of the occupation as they cope with the conflicting urges to collaborate and to resist.
Cast: Thierry Godard, Fabrizio Rongione, Constance Dolle, Robin Renucci, Audrey Fleurot, Emmanuelle Bach, François Loriquet, Marie Kremer, Richard Sammel
Producer: Tetra Media
Writers: Frederic Krivine, Philippe Triboit, Emmanuel Dauce
Directors: Philippe Triboit
Broadcaster: France 3
Intl. Distribution: 100% Distribution

“Candice Renoir”
4 episodes
She’s blond, has four kids, hasn’t worked for 10 years — and she’s in charge of a crime-fighting organization.
Cast: Cecile Bois, Raphael Lenglet, Mhamed Arezki, Alexandre Varga
Producers: Boxeur de Lune, Caroline Lassa, France Televisions
Writers: Solen Roy-Pagenault, Anne Rambach, Elsa Marpeau, Jean-Marie Chavent, Olivier Laneurie, Marine Rambach, Thomas Luntz
Directors: Christophe Douchand, Nicolas Picard-Dreyfuss
Broadcaster: France 2
Intl. Distribution: Newen (TelFrance)

“The Returned”
8 episodes
In an idyllic French town, a seemingly random collection of people find themselves in a state of confusion as they attempt to return to their homes. What they don’t know yet is that they’ve been dead for
years, and no one is expecting them back. As they struggle to rejoin their families, past lovers and buried secrets emerge — along with a wave of gruesome murders.
Cast: Anne Consigny, Frederic Pierrot, Clotilde Hesme, Celine Sallette, Pierre Perrier, Alix Poisson, Jean-Francois Sivadier, Yara Pilartz
Producers: Caroline Benjo, Jimmy Desmarais, Haut et Court, Canal Plus
Writer: Fabrice Gobert
Directors: Fabrice Gobert, Frederic Mermoud
Broadcaster: Canal+
U.S. Distributor: Music Box Films
Intl. Distribution: Zodiak Rights

6 episodes
This political thriller centers on a tension-filled campaign between two political communications advisers who will do anything to see their candidate win as they vie for top office following the assassination of the French president.
Created by: Dan Franck, Frederic Tellier, Charline de Lepine, Emmanuel Dauce
Director: Frederic Tellier
Writers: Dan Franck, Regis Lefebvre; adaptation and dialogue, Franck
Producer: Macondo/Tetra Media Fiction
Cast: Nathalie Baye, Bruno Wolkowitch, Philippe Magnan, Gregory Fitoussi, Valerie Karsenti, Clementine Poidatz, Yves Pignot, Nicolas Marie
Broadcaster: France 2
Intl. Distribution: 100% Distribution
U.S. Acquisition: Endemol USA


What: Direct to Series: Original French Content for the Global Market
When: Nov. 1-2
Where: SilverScreen Theater, Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood

Direct to Series Agenda

Nov. 1

9 a.m.: “Candice Renoir” screening/Q&A

11 a.m.: Panel: How to brand your series with iconic locations (Vince Gilligan, Michael J. Bassett, Olivier-Rene Veillon, Danielle Gelber, Tony Salome, Joseph Chianese, Franck Philippon, Thomas Anargyros, moderated by Peter Caranicas)

1:30 p.m.: “Spin” screening/Q&A

3 p.m.: “The Tunnel” screening/Q&A

5 p.m.: Panel: Keys to the successful production of a remake (Nora Melhli, Carolyn G. Bernstein, Philippe Maigret, moderated by Francois-Pier Pelinard-Lambert)

6 p.m.: “The Returned” screening/Q&A

Nov. 2

9 a.m.: “Odysseus” screening/Q&A

11 a.m.: Panel: How to teach TV writing (David Isaacs, Neil Landau, Franck Philippon)

2:30 p.m.: “The Line” screening/Q&A

4:30 p.m.: “No Limit” screening/Q&A

6 p.m.: “The Churchmen” screening/Q&A

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  1. Rena Moretti says:

    Why is Variety just doing a copy-and-paste of PR releases.

    This “event” is just a few screening of French shows that their producers smartly hope will be stupidly bought for remakes by the “geniuses” that are running the US TV industry into oblivion.

    French TV is doing better, but there is no “huge appetite”.

    Please stop hyping and start reporting.

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