Intl. Film Award 2014: Gaumont Thrives

After losing itself for some time, the legendary 114-year-old French studio Gaumont bounced back to the top of the charts with the box office phenom “The Intouchables” in 2011. Three years later and with more French hits under its belt, the vertically integrated major headed by Sidonie Dumas has proven that the blockbuster laffer wasn’t just a lucky break. The company is thriving on all fronts — French distribution, international sales and TV biz — while keeping its focus on director-driven French films and banking on the next generation of talents.

Variety is honoring Gaumont with its Intl. Achievement in Film Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

While the market share of French films fell significantly in 2013, Gaumont rose as France’s No. 1 indie distributor of Gallic pics with 12.3 million admissions. Its revenue from theatrical distribution nearly doubled to $34 million.

In its post-“Intouchables” era, Gaumont’s annual revenues skyrocketed 60% to $235 million and its profit margin remained high in 2013 at 21%, bolstered by boffo B.O. results, consistently strong worldwide sales and the delivery of Gaumont Intl. Television’s first U.S. series, “Hannibal” and “Hemlock Grove.”

“Scoring a 21% profit margin is a great achievement,” says Jean-Baptiste Sergeant, analyst at Paris-based Gilbert-Dupont. “By comparison, (rival French indie) EuropaCorp reached a record 16.3% profit margin last year.”

In critical terms, Gaumont also has gained momentum in recent years, backing films that have won awards and have been chosen for Cannes. In 2011 and 2012, it provided Directors’ Fortnight with the hit comedies “Camille Rewinds” and Guillaume Gallienne’s “Me, Myself and Mum.”

This year, on top of winning six Cesar awards, Gaumont also has a company record four pics in Cannes: “Grace of Monaco”; “The Target” in a special screening slot; Jonas Alexander Arnby’s “When Animals Dream” and Melanie Laurent’s “Breathe,” both in Critics’ Week.

Its international sales business, powered up by its boss Cecile Gaget, deputy Yohann Comte and manager Adeline Falampin, has been playing an increasingly important role by expanding the company’s horizons and injecting a youthful spirit into the company’s DNA.

Meanwhile, the shingle’s L.A.-based Gaumont Intl. Television, topped by vice CEO Christophe Riandee and run by Katie O’Connell, has broken into the U.S. market. Last year it repped 39% of the company’s annual revenues.

Gaumont has succeeded by keeping its bets on French fare when other film companies — EuropaCorp, Wild Bunch, Pathe and Studiocanal — are turning to franchise pics or English-language films.

Gaumont has emerged as the preferred destination of such Gallic producers as Alain Goldman at Legende Films (“The Roundup”), which it partly owns; Jean-Baptiste Dupont and Cyril Colbeau-Justin at LGM Cinema; Edouard Weil (“Me, Myself and Mum”); Eric and Nicolas Altmayer at Mandarin Cinema (“Kaira”); Philippe Carcassonne at Cine@ (“Two Mothers”); Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun and Nicolas Duval Adassovsky at Quad (“Intouchables”); and Clement Miserez at Radar Films (“Belle and Sebastien”).

Gaumont’s eclectic talent pool includes Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano, Cavaye, Olivier Marchal, Anne Fontaine, Gallienne, Jonas Arnby, Laurent, Remi Bezancon, Nicolas Winding Refn, Franck Gastambide and Cedric Jimenez.

Of France’s big studios, Gaumont is the biggest backer of first and second films. Its highest-budgeted film lined up for 2014, the $27.6 million Jean Dujardin starrer “La French,” is Jimenez’s second.

Most of these films click with both local and international auds.

Jerome Enrico’s comedy “Paulette,” for instance, was a hit in Germany, taking in $4.5 million in 2013, while Nicolas Vanier’s period adventure “Belle and Sebastien” was a major success in Italy, with $9.4 million since its Jan. 30 debut.

So what’s Gaumont’s secret weapon? Comte says it all comes down to the company’s collective leadership style, which is anything but autocratic.

Dupont, co-owner of LGM Cinema, concurs. “Dumas takes into account and values the opinion of people who know best the French theatrical and international markets.”

Gaget says she and distribution chief Francois Clerc “look at everything to find interesting material and talent — from theater, the Web or TV shows — we’re constantly searching for interesting young talent outside of the film world to come up with original movies like Gallienne’s ‘Me, Myself and Mum’ or ‘Kaira.’ ”
“Kaira” was created as a Web short by Gastambide, while “Me, Myself and Mum” was adapted by Gallienne from his own one-man show.

Dumas, the heir to the Seydoux-Schlumberger industrial empire who took the helm of the company from her father, Nicolas Seydoux, a decade ago, has demonstrated her leadership skills over the years and earned a solid reputation.

“I have a soft spot for Gaumont because it’s a studio that has always taken great care of films and I like very much the idea that Nicolas Seydoux gave the torch to his daughter, and to the next generation,” says Thierry Fremaux, general delegate and artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival. “It’s a studio that seems to be working very collectively and openly with many producers within it.”

The gallic major has been able to generate a healthy profit margin by being notoriously rigorous with budgets, seldom producing anything budgeted above €10 million ($13.9 million).

“We don’t want to tell ourselves that for a film to be profitable we need it to sell 5 million tickets because it can get extremely frustrating,” Dumas says. “As we saw in 2013, it’s already a challenge nowadays to sell 1 million admissions with a movie and we managed to have five last year: ‘Paulette,’ ‘Vive la France,’ ‘Les Gamins,’ ‘Belle and Sebastien’ and ‘Me, Myself and Mum.’ ”

All five pics — budgeted between $6 million and $15 million — were profitable and sold to dozens of territories. The $9.7 million “Mum,” for example, grossed $23 million in France.

Gaumont’s venture into English-language films didn’t prove as profitable. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” and Anne Fontaine’s “Two Mothers” underperformed in France, where both Jeunet and Fontaine are marquee names.

Dumas says Gaumont will “think twice before signing onto another French-directed English-language movie.”

Dumas, however, is looking to “Europeanize” Gaumont by “partnering up more often with Italian, Spanish, German neighbors.”

Along those lines, Gaget and her right-hand man Comte have been the driving force behind bringing third-party acquisitions of genre movies like “When Animals Dream” into the lineup.

Basking in the glow of its recent accomplishments, Gaumont is behind some of France’s most-anticipated local films such as Omar Sy starrer “Samba,” the next film by Nakache and Toledano (“The Intouchables”), Jimenez’s debut “La French,” Bezancon’s “Nos Futurs” and Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovery” with Fabrice Luchini and Gemma Arterton.

“In the 1980s, Daniel Toscan du Plantier produced many ambitious arthouse films like ‘Loulou’ by Maurice Pialat or ‘Nostalghia’ by Andrei Tarkovsky, which were not necessarily big commercial hits but gave Gaumont a gloss. Dumas is continuing on a similar path but in her own way, producing crossover arthouse films which are less expensive but as interesting,” says Edouard Waintrop, artistic director of Directors’ Fortnight.

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