PARIS — Attending the UniFrance Rendez-Vous market in Paris, Cecile Gaget, the head Gaumont International since 2010, took the time to comment on the company’s standing within the French industry, its acquisition strategy and evolving business model.
Closely collaborating with Gaumont’s chair Sidonie Dumas, Gaget has been a driving force behind the company’s financial success and global outreach. Last year, Gaumont replaced Pathe as France’s n.1 indie distributor.
Considered one of France’s top sales exec, along with Wild Bunch’s co-founder Vincent Maraval, Gaget is being credited for forging ties with Gaul’s top producers as well as international filmmakers and distributors. She’s also participated in the financing of some of Gaumont’s most internationally driven films, including Fred Cavaye’s $21 million “Mea Culpa,” a Fox pickup; and $32 million toonpic “Ballerina,” from “Intouchables” production shingle Quad.
Variety: How does 2014 look like for Gaumont and what are the new challenges you look forward to tackling?
Cecile Gaget: We ended the year with great surprises. We were rewarded for our original taste and attempt to surprise the audience and that’s what we’ll try to do in 2014. We want strong stories with compelling concepts. Our motto this year is “Stay national to be international.” Gaumont has been very successful for the past three years and in 2013 we’re the n.1 French independent distributor.
2014 will see a diversity of projects, genres and subjects. We’ll continue to bet on concepts and we’re not afraid to work with first time directors. We did very well with Reem Kherici’s “Paris or Perish” and Guillaume Gallienne’s “Me Myself and Mum.” We’re going to get back into genre as well. We acquired “When Animals Dream” from Denmark’s Jonas Arnby. We’re keen on a local genre film as well. And we have the French Connection thriller “La French” which has a very strong script and a promising young director, Cedric Jimenez. It’s produced by Alain Goldman and stars Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche. And we have “Samba,” the new film by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (“The Intouchables”).
We also want to continue doing one or two senior comedies or films targeting seniors, like Volker Schlondoff’s “Diplomacy,” every year. We also have “My Summer in Provence” with Jean Reno — that’s a film for rural audiences, it’s not for Paris; it’s a light comedy for the Summer.
We want to try and come up with great stories; we won’t be doing lazy French comedies or French drama that everyone’s bored with. We gave up doing these kinds of movies two or three years ago. We’re already working on our 2015 lineup right now.
How do you look for films?
At Gaumont we form a team led by Chair Sidonie Dumas and including the head of theatrical, Francois Clerc, and myself. We try to be very grounded, follow the trends, listen, be curious of every genre. We analyze what’s going on, why a film works and why it doesn’t. What matters the most is the target audience of a project. We need to be able to identify that audience from the starting point. When we picked up “Porn In The Hood,” at the time everyone was surprised because it wasn’t a “Gaumont” film, but there’s no such thing as a “Gaumont type of film” anymore. We don’t want labels. We strive to surprise people and have films that click with audiences.
You’ve recently started acquiring smaller films exclusively for international sales. One of them is the Danish coming-of-age warewolf tale “When Animals Dream.” What’s the idea behind this trend?
It’s new at Gaumont. We acquired “Paris Countdown” by Edgar Marie, the remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Pusher” and now “When Animals Dream.” And we’ll do more.
The thing is, when Gaumont is moving on a film, it has to have the potential to draw a minimum of 300.000 to 400.000 people in French theaters. The fact that we’re not taking French distribution rights on a film doesn’t mean the movie is bad, it’s just that we’re too big to do that kind of movie. But it’s a way for us to get in touch with Europe-based international directors that we like and want to follow.
Genre is not particularly popular in France, is it?
It depends. Genre has been deserted in France and I think it’s the right time to get back to it. Wild bunch has one or two every year but I want Gaumont to look into genre in a more significant way. A few years ago everyone was doing very bad genre movies. They didn’t perform theatrically in France because the quality wasn’t there. But now I’m reading some pretty good stuff.
Taking into account the disappointing performances of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” and Anne Fontaine’s “Two Mothers,” are you still looking to encourage filmmakers to shoot in English language? What kind of lessons have you learned?
We don’t encourage anybody to do English language, it has to be a strong wish of the director and has to make sense with the story. To do a film in English just for the sake of it is totally crazy and doesn’t make sense. I think some of the lessons we’ve learned is that genre films and actioners are more appropriate for English language.
I also think we have to find good U.S. partners at an early stage — maybe get them more involved in the creative process. But it’s tricky when you’re collaborating on a big film because you can come across cultural differences, especially when you’re discussing the final cut, the creative elements. In France, the author’s right is very powerful. International directors like Nicolas Winding Refn come to Europe to enjoy the creative freedom. But we have to balance all of this. We want to help great directors find their way when making a film in the U.S. or with U.S. partners, and be able to have everyone sit around a table and exchange ideas, so that an American producer or distributor can understand the wish of a director. You can’t do that with every French filmmakers. You have to work with guys who are open-minded… Fred Cavaye for instance is very pragmatic and has a great attitude. He’s a good candidate.
How do you perceive the U.S. indie sector right now and how open is it to European cinema at the moment? Some say it’s still weak apart from a few exceptions, others say it’s vibrant. What’s your take?
I don’t think the U.S. independent sector has a weak or depressed market. There’s still a very strong model. They really invented some alternative models which saved the industry. We did a big coup last year selling “Two Mothers” to Exclusive in Sundance. It was Exclusive’s first acquisition and it proved profitable. The movie (“Two Mothers”) is doing really well on VOD. Harvey Weinstein is doing an amazing job for the independent sector. What he did on “The Butler” is brilliant. I thought he handled the polemic surrounding the film remarkably well. Who was betting on “The Butler” to make over $100 million at the U.S. B.O.? Nobody.
And of course Cohen Media Group, IFC and Music Box are still around and working well. They’re doing a great job with indies, French movies. They are also micro-distributors concentrating on niche movies.
That said, we don’t sell every single of our films to the U.S. “Me, Myself and Mum” from Guillaume Gallienne for instance. I cannot sell it in English-speaking territories and I understand that it’s matter of political-correctness.
We’re going to announce that the European box office of French films is down in 2014. European markets are having problems. Is that at all altering how you handle films, once you’ve decided to do one? Or does it impact the kind of films you take? Are you thinking more about countries outside Europe?
The box office is declining across Europe as it’s the case almost everywhere except in emerging markets like China, which is booming. We base our decisions on films first and foremost on the theatrical potential of a film in France, then in Europe and in international markets.
When we decide to greenlight a movie, we study the profitability and it’s a balance between France and international. At Gaumont, we’re doing movies for theaters first. – B-movies, or lazy comedies, you know, it’s not gonna go anywhere. Some genres are good for international and other work better in the local market, but in any case, the French theatrical performance is a big indicator. If you’re successful theatrically the bulk of your job in international is done.
For the last three years we’ve been delivering mostly successes and distributors are making money with us. More than ever we need to push the projects and even with work with exhibitors here in France. The markets are changing. Germany is still a strong territory with lots of distributors. TV is bad, but we think it may be getting better in the coming year, hopefully. But all our films have sold to Germany.
UniFrance will announce that admissions for French films outside France are 50 million, compared to an average of 65 million last year. Do you see this decline as a glitch?
The French industry delivered bad movies in 2013. We delivered “Paulette.” It’s the first film in Germany of the year, it sold 600,000 tickets.
We happened to do best with films budgeted below 10 million Euros (for instance Gallienne’s Me, Myself and Mum” and Jerome Enrico’s “Paulette”). There are no rules but it certainly shows that it’s crucial to look for a good concept and the right budget.
Five years ago those films could have cost more money, no?
People are a bit disturbed or upset that we’re working with such contained budgets because they say “Oh, you’re Gaumont, you can spend more on a film.” But we don’t care, we want the right budget. We say “you’re a young director, if you’re not happy with the budget, go somewhere else” but people still want to work with us. Keeping budgets down allows everybody to be in a win-win situation. That’s what everyone working in the French industry — distributors, producers, and actors — is looking for : More upside and more transparency.