Top industry players mull changes to star pay

PARIS

Just under a fortnight after Wild Bunch boss Vincent Maraval’s explosive editorial slamming the French star system for inflating pic budgets, the industry is poised to re-examine its sacrosanct film financing mechanism at a confab for top biz players.

The Jan. 23 meet, proposed by Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti, will be chaired by Eric Garandeau, prexy of national film org CNC.

Among other things, it will probe the obligation for broadcasters to invest in local films — the centerpiece of the financing system for decades.

Maraval’s article has been met with howls of protest and more considered reactions from industry figures including “The Artist’s” helmer Michel Hazanavicius and producer Thomas Langmann, “Welcome to the Sticks” helmer-star Dany Boon, and producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam.

They fear that as well as sparking a witch hunt against movie stars, perhaps forcing more to work abroad, Maraval’s article could lead to a backlash against the film financing system.

Maraval’s claim that “French actors are rich on public money and a system that is supposed to protect our cultural difference” has been tough to swallow.

The present system requires free-to-air broadcasters that show more than 52 recent films a year — including TF1, M6 and pubcaster France Televisions — to plough 3.2% of their income into the co-production and acquisition of European films, of which 2.5% must go to French pics.

Pay TV Canal Plus must put 12.5% of its income into Euro films, including 10% into French productions.

In 2011, free-to-air channels invested $189.3 million in all films, while Canal Plus coughed up $240 million.

The rub is, commercial webs are free to invest the money any way they like and are backing higher-budget films to woo auds and advertisers. Last year, TF1 and M6 spent 97% of their investment on films budgeted above $9.2 million.

Maravel blames this for pushing up the paychecks of bankable stars.

That same freedom is not accorded to Canal Plus, which must by law invest 17% of its coin in films with budgets under $5.2 million.

CNC backing — marginal on high-budget films — is made via an automatic support fund fed by a 10.7% levy on cinema tickets.

Garandeau told Variety, “The CNC will work with the broadcasting authorities to incite free-to-air networks to put up more money toward the acquisition and co-production of smaller-budgeted pics.”

He added that the CNC will move to hold in check excessive payments to talent, saying a handful have access to disproportionately high salaries because they have multiple tasks — such as directing, acting, screenwriting and co-producing — on a film. “Maraval singled out Dany Boon, but he’s not the only one in that regard,” Garandeau said.

Producers will have to be more accountable for talent salaries and provide data, the CNC topper said. “That will discourage overbidding on films…and calm down agents who are pushing for ever bigger paychecks for their clients.”

Hazanavicius, who is prexy of ARP, the guild repping writers, directors and producers, said lack of transparency was one of the main causes of the problem.

“The only way to trim above-the-line costs and make cheaper films is to guarantee fair and transparent revenue share to all right-holders,” such as actors, screenwriters, directors and producers, he said.

“A film has to earn a lot of money for everyone to recoup anything. Usually the distributor recoups first and we (directors, actors, etc.) are at the bottom of the food chain. We seldom see any revenue flow back.”

Maraval suggested France should adopt U.S.-style backends for thesps. Garandeau agrees that it’s a viable model for smaller-budgeted, ambitious films, but that it could be a slippery slope.

“That’s what Gerard Depardieu did when he accepted a small paycheck to star in ‘Mammuth’ and took a backend — but all films can’t be financed that way. We’ll end up having technicians working for free,” he said.

Garandeau envisions a more flexible system in which actors receive reasonable remuneration plus a revenue share.

Hazanavicius agreed. “‘The Artist’ was financed like a U.S. independent film with Langmann, myself and Jean Dujardin taking backends. It was a big bet in all aspects…and in the end, the movie sold over three million tickets, so we were able to recoup, but that’s an exceptional case rather than an example.”

Reacting to the controversy, TF1 topper Nonce Paolini told weekly news mag Le Point that the web might reduce its investment in local film, which it could do if it drops below the 52-film bar.

That would be the worst possible scenario for established producers like LGM (Fred Cavaye’s “Point Blank,” Olivier Marchal’s “A Gang Story”), which raise most of the financing for their films from private sources, mainly pay TV and free-to-air broadcasters.

“Maraval’s comments are having alarming repercussions on the entire production chain even if there is some truth in that statement,” said Jean-Baptiste Dupont, co-founder of LGM with Cyril Colbeau-Justin.

John Hopewell in Madrid contributed to this report.

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