While the overseas market for French-language films is becoming increasingly competitive, Gaumont’s international sales team is proving, market after market, that buyers are still game to venture off the beaten path to find gems.
“Our motto at Gaumont is ‘Stay local to be international,’ and we stand by it. Unless you’re handling a franchise, the only factor that can help a movie cross borders today is not a cast but a good local story that people can relate to or a truly original concept,” says Cecile Gaget, who was upped head of international sales in 2010 and brought in Yohann Comte, a cinephile with an auteur-friendly sensibility and background in finance, as deputy head of sales.
Gaget and Comte were later joined by international sales manager Adeline Falampin, a dynamic, well-rounded and highly personable executive. Together they form a complementary team with experience ranging from arthouse shingles to bigger media groups.
Gaumont’s international sales team has become, in many ways, the company’s backbone. Not only is it generating more revenue than theatrical distribution — in 2013, it hit €31.6 million ($43.8 million), but Gaget and Comte, a duo of thirtysomething workaholics with a creative streak, have managed to broaden its scope, elevate its international profile, and attract up-and-coming foreign directors and ambitious producers.
“We have the means of a big studio but we operate like an indie company,” says Comte, pointing out that Gaumont CEO Sidonie Dumas has given them great freedom and flexibility to build a long-term strategy and allow them to bet on new talent, as well as invest in emerging distributors like Germany’s Neue Visionen (with “Paulette”) or Italy’s Notorious (with “Belle and Sebastien”).
“Paulette,” a social comedy about a retiree living in the projects who becomes a drug dealer was 2012’s top-grossing French-language film in Germany, where it scored $4.5 million and helped put Neue Visionen on the map. Meanwhile, “Belle and Sebastien,” based on a children’s series, was a big hit in Italy where it grossed $9.4 million.
“We’re not the kind of sales agent who takes the money and runs. We’re willing to work with backends on some deals and we take into account the profile and dedication of distributors,” Falampin says.
When it handled “Intouchables,” Gaumont worked with Spain’s new A Contracorriente, and Germany’s Senator Film, which at the time was struggling. The phenomenal success of the movie helped jump-start Senator and provided A Contracorriente with a stellar launchpad. The Spanish distrib now releases every major Gaumont movie.
“Gaumont’s team has a sharp vision of the international market and has had the ability to adapt their editorial line to the needs of the business,” says A Contracorriente’s co-founder Adolfo Blanco.
Operating as an autonomous entity within the French major, Gaumont’s international sales team has also recently opened up to third-party acquisitions, picking up smaller, edgier pics like first-timer Jonas Alexander Arnby’s werewolf coming-of-age tale “When Animals Dream,” which bows in Critics’ Week.
“The sales team’s R&D efforts are driving the company’s growth,” points out Jean-Baptiste Babin, co-founder of finance group Backup Media. “They’re part of a powerful French group with a high-quality brand name and at the same time they’ve proven that they could get the necessary leeway to attract and help develop the careers of up-and-coming directors like Arnby.”
Last year, for the first time, Gaumont joined forces with Gallic indie Wild Bunch to co-produce, co-finance and co-sell Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives.” It’s now teaming with South Korea’s giant CJ Entertainment to rep international sales on “The Target,” the Korean remake of Fred Cavaye’s “Point Blank,” set to world preem in Cannes’ Midnight section.
Gaget says her team was also looking to do more in Asia, seeking to pact with Thai, Japanese and South Korean partners on more interesting genre films. “We’ve identified many exciting new directors emerging in Asia,” says Gaget.
“The Target” is one of the various remake deals negotiated by Comte.
“We’ve simplified the process with non-U.S. remakes; that meant selling rights to distributors and producers without going through the option phase, which often leads to nowhere,” explains Comte.
Among the recent remake deals signed: Sunir Kheterpal from India’s Azure Entertainment has acquired rights to Olivier Marchal’s “A Gang Story” and “Les Gamins,” and India’s Sikhya Entertainment, Turkey’s Calinos and Brazil’s Paris Filmes have acquired rights to “The Intouchables.” Comte also sold English-language remake rights to Reem Kherici’s “Paris or Perish.”
Gaget, comte and falampin have also been able to widely pre-sell, at script stage, their French-language films, many of which often don’t have cast or a star director attached, such as “Belle and Sebastien” and “The Chef.”
Gaumont has been upping the ante by co-producing on certain directorial debuts and social comedies for the past three years. Typically these films are tough to sell considering that audiences for foreign-language pics are aging and buyers are becoming more cautious.
But Gaget’s team has risen to the challenge by developing a haute-couture approach to rebrand and market each project at script stage, independently from the French distribution division.
“We always dive very deep into international marketing from the very start. We treat every project, even directorial debuts, like a big movie, promoting them at script stage with mood reels and trailers that stand out,” says Gaget.
“The idea is always to trigger buyers’ curiosity early on and deliver movies with turn-key marketing packages,” adds Comte.
And distribs appreciate Gaumont’s marketing approach.
“We have similar tastes … and derive a lot of our marketing from them: ‘Pusher,’ for instance, was 100% theirs and I bought ‘When Animals Dream’ based on the promo I saw in Berlin,” says Tom Quinn, co-prexy of TWC/Radius.
The promo of “When Animals Dream” lured buyers in other key territories like the U.K. (Altitude Films), Australia (Madman) and Germany (Prokino).
Keeping up with the inventiveness, Gaumont sent mood boxes (comprising a script illustrated by storyboard stills, a music box playing the feature’s theme song and a pair of miniature Repetto shoes) to key distributors before Cannes last year to promote “Ballerina,” an ambitious toon pic developed by Quad (“Intouchables” and “Heartbreaker”).
“The mood box established the project as a franchise-worthy movie and allowed us to pre-sell it to Eastern Europe, Benelux, South Korea, the Middle East, Turkey, India and Indonesia even before the market started,” Falampin says.
This year, Gaumont will be introducing Remi Bezancon’s latest project “Nos Futurs” to Cannes buyers with an interactive script featuring songs from the original score to give distributors “a sense of the atmosphere and mood of significant scenes from the film,” Comte says.
And while “Spivet” under-performed in France, distribs look forward to seeing the movie begin its international roll-out through the second half of 2014.
“We’re very excited to release (‘Spivet’) later this year and cannot wait to find other projects to work with Gaumont in the coming years,” says Tom Yoda, chairman and CEO of Japan’s Gaga.
Gaumont’s indie approach to business also prevails in the way it builds close relationships with distributors, filmmakers and talent.
Quinn is one of Gaumont’s many fans: “I love doing business with Cecile (Gaget) and her team at Gaumont: It’s always fair, constructive, no bullshit and it’s also fun.”