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Literary Adaptation Biz Heat Up in France

PARIS– Underscoring producers’ appetite for tried-and-test material,  the French film industry has warmed up to literary adaptations.

Today, one out of five Gallic movies is based on a book, and nearly 40% of the films that sell over 500,000 admission in France are based on books, according to Unifrance, the promo org which hosted a roundtable with author David Foenkinos (“Delicacy”), producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint (“French Kissers”), literary agent Francois Samuelson and editor Paul Otchakovski-Laurens during its annual Rendez-Vous market in Paris.

The spike in popularity for literary adaptations has led many French producers to launch divisions dedicated to scouting for book rights, as it’s done in the U.S., pointed out Samuelson, who added that U.S. execs are more and more inclined to acquire rights to novels before they even get published.

“Deals are done differently in France, however, due to the fact that authors here have a bigger status than American ones,” added Samuelson. That explains why, in most cases, French authors get a bigger split in deals.

Foenkinos, whose novel “Delicacy” was turned into a commercially-successful romantic comedy which he directed with his brother Stephane, said the traditional 50/50 deal with producers was considered not advantageous enough for many authors who seek to obtain a larger cut or keep the rights altogether.

Otchakovski-Laurens said it was also more and more frequent for publishing houses to have a pro-active approach by suggesting book adaptations to film producers.

As France boasts a a rich pool of graphic novelists and artists, local comicbooks have also become popular source material for movies. Per Unifrance, 10 comicbooks were brought to the bigscreen in 2013 compared with only one in 2006.

Toussaint, who produced comicbook artist Riad Sattouf’s feature-debut “The French Kissers” (“Les beaux gosses”), said the line between film and literature is increasingly blurred. Many authors look to direct the adaptation of the work, as Sattouf did with “The French Kissers,” which earned him a Cesar award for best first film.

Foekinos, as another example, has just wrapped the shoot of his second film, “Memories,” based on his novel “Les Souvenirs.” TF1 Intl. started pre-selling the movie to many territories at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous market.

Pics based on homegrown novels and comicbooks are not only popular in France. In fact,  “Intouchables” (the biggest French-language film export of all time), “Belle and Sebastian” (which performed better than “Lucy” in Italy), the “Asterix” and “Little Nicolas” film franchises and more recently, “The Beauty And The Beast,” (2014’s third highest-grossing French export)  are all based on local books.

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning “Blue is the Warmest Color” was also inspired by Julie Maroh’s “Le bleu est une couleur chaude.”

Anticipated literary adaptations due to hit French screens in 2015 include Mark Osborne’s big-budget animated feature “The Little Prince,” Benoit Jacquot’s “Diary of a Chambermaid,” a Berlin competition player, and “Suite Francaise,” a WWII-set romance drama with Kristin Scott Thomas and Matthias Schoenaerts.

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