French Film, TV Execs Debate Industry Challenges, Prospects At ARP Confab

PARIS– Canal Plus Group’s CEO Maxime Saada, Gaumont Intl. boss Cecile Gaget, “The Artist” helmer Michel Hazanavicius and the CNC’s (National Film Board) Xavier Lardou were among the top film execs at the 25th edition of the Rencontres Cinematographiques confab hosted by the ARP (authors, directors, producers’ guild) in Dijon, France.

The conference marked Saada’s first high-profile debate since being tapped CEO of Canal Plus Group, the Vivendi-owned pay TV giant, in July.

Saada, who attended the first debate of the confab on Oct. 23 along with Gaget, Hazanavicius and French producer Mathieu Tarot, said Canal Plus Group and its film banner Studiocanal were to invest more in development to encourage producers to come up with stronger scripts and venture more often into genre, tackle more ambitious projects.

Although Canal Plus Group signed a five-year agreement last May to invest 12.5% of annual revenues in French or other-European films and 9% on Gallic films shot in French over the next five years, the upheaval in top management at the paybox left industryites worried about an eventual change in editorial line to the detriment of arthouse films.

But in Dijon, Saada said Canal Plus was more than even committed to supporting the film industry. “Movies are still the number one motivation for 85% of Canal Plus subscribers, and as much as 90% of our new subscribers.”

In line with its committment to invest in movies at an earlier stage, Canal Plus will soon be organizing talent workshops to develop original stories under the leadership of newly-appointed Studiocanal’s vice president Stephane Celerier, who is also Mars Films’ boss.

“When we look at the lineup of U.S. studios, it’s worrying to see that so many movies are superheros films made for teenagers. Our subscribers are not teenagers, they’re adults who are looking for smart, thoughtful and entertaining movies and they’re also looking for daring films, so we must encourage the production of these kinds of films in France,” said Saada, adding that he’d like to see more French genre films and adventure pics getting made.

Gaget said Gaumont had been making roughly one or two crime thrillers per year, not only because it’s a genre that she personally likes, but also because it’s a type of film which travels particularly well. However, since these films have not had a strong track record at the French box office in recent years, producers are struggling to get them financed. In many cases, the pre-sell to Canal Plus covers as much as half of the budgets. They desperately need larger budgets to get made,” added Gaget.

Piracy was also a hot topic in Dijon. Saada said Canal Plus was missing out on 500,000 subscribers because of piracy, per recent estimates. He also noted pirates’ profiles have evolved. “They’re not just teens anymore, they’re adultes who come from any social background,” argued Saada.

The debates also delved into the limits of the French film financing system and its impact on risk-taking. Hazanavicius said the quality and diversity of Gallic movies would be improved if producers, directors and actors had a greater incentive to see their movies succeed at the French box office and sell in foreign territories.

“The current system allows producers to finance their movies with public funding and pay directors and directors upfront. On top of that, most of the financing is credited on producers’ account once the film is delivered and producers must make another film to access the CNC’s automatic subsidies (which works as a savings account),” said Hazanavicius. Another issue is the role of free-to-air French TV channels – TF1 and M6 — in focusing their investment on big-budget comedies with the same well-known actors.

While these financing schemes have enabled France to boast Europe’s most prolific and richest film industry, they are also indirectly pushing producers to rush through development and launch production too soon. The solution, said Hazanavicius, would be to have a system where French movies get financed more creatively with budgets that more in tune with commercial prospects and getting producers, directors and actors to take less money up front and seek backend remunerations.

Those claims had been made by Wild Bunch’s co-founder Vincent Maraval three years ago. Since then, Gaget acknowledged the fact that more and more movies were getting partly financed with private investment. Budgets in France have also been more contained, and the CNC enacted some guidelines to restrict or suppress public coin for movies with stars who take excessive paychecks.

On a more optimistic note, Gaget, who is constantly in touch with U.S. players, argued that the French market was being energized by digital opportunities and international alliances. “Let’s look at what happened in the U.S. five years ago, when Magnolia and IFC jumped-started indie films by releasing them in their own theaters and innovated with different distribution models, such as day-and-dating,” said Gaget. “Even if in France, the window release schedule doesn’t allow us to day and date, there are new opportunities such as Mubi, the auteur-driven VOD platform which financed and bought Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Junun.’ There are also new e-cinema initiatives in France,” concluded Gaget.

Towards the end of the debate, Saada surprised the crowd by talking about the under-representation of women in the French industry. “Over at our fiction division, we’re looking for female-driven stories, and we’ve started thinking of placing a larger emphasis on women at our movie division. We’re looking to work with more female directors, authors and producers. We want to meet more Maiwenns. And I’m dreaming of working with Julie Delpy if someone knows her,” quipped Saada.

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