French Sales Agents, CNC Join Forces On New Subsidy Plan, Unveil White Paper

DIJON, France– The National Film Board, CNC, presented a long-gestated subsidy fund for international sales agents at the 25th annual confab hosted by ARP, the guild regrouping auteurs, directors and producers on Friday. The fund, which is expected to reach an estimated 15 million Euros per year, has yet to be greenlit by the European Commission.

Addressing a jam-packed audience of high-profile lawmakers, institution execs and other industry figures, Daniela Elstner, president of Paris-based Doc & Film Intl. and ADEF (association of French export companies), unveiled a White Paper put together by ADEF and explained the key role that sales agents play today in economic and cultural terms.

This year at Cannes, French sales outfits repped half of the movies playing in official selection and won six prizes, including the Palme d’Or with Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” from Wild Bunch. Moreover, ticket sales for French films abroad reached 114.5 million admissions in 2014 — its second best performance of all times. Over the last 10 years, French movies have generated 80.5 million ticket sales and 158 million Euros.

Since DVD and TV markets are weakening and theatrical distribution in France is getting highly competitive and unpredictable, international sales are becoming the fastest-growing sector of the local film industry and a significant source of financing. Per Elstner, French sellers invest 100 million Euros per year in French cinema.

Sales shingles are now facing new opportunities with the rise of emerging markets, notably in Asia, as well as new challenges, such as the proliferation of deep-pocketed services like Netflix and Amazon that can offer big minimum guarantees to acquire exclusive first-window rights for the world. So far, these streaming services are acting like regular buyers for sales agents’ traditional clients, but since they’re reaching out to producers and directors directly, they could become at term a threat to sales agents and local distributors.

Two years ago, the CNC launched a loan for sales agents but it has been deemed insufficient: It represents only 0.5% of the CNC’s budget, while subsidies to producers account for 20%, theatrical exhibition gets 13% and video distrib reps 2% of the national film board’s coffers.

Pierre-Emmanuel Lecerf, the head of European and international affairs for the CNC, said the org was initially reluctant to supporting sales agents because the European Commission had not outlined clear rules. “That has changed since 2013 so the CNC is now able to provide financial support to national and international distribution, which today is crucial as the business is becoming increasingly international — nearly half of French movies are co-productions,” said Lecerf, adding that CNC president Frederique Bredin will introduce the subsidy plan in details at the beginning of 2016.

During her speech, Elstner said the new CNC fund would encourage the international distribution of French and European films. Called “compte de soutien,” the fund would be supplied by the CNC and a percentage of foreign sales on French and/or European pics and international ticket sales taken into account on a sliding scale by French promo org UniFrance. The sliding – degressive — scale would ensure the diversity of French companies.

The ADEF is also arguing the fund could feature some incentives for sales agents to invest on directorial debuts and second films, on projects at script stage and on French-language movies. Ultimately, the fund would help sellers be more competitive in putting down minimum guarantees and strengthen the marketing campaigns of each film in overseas markets.

The European Commission’s Europe Creative program also boasts a highly selective fund of 2.8 million Euros for sales agent but it mostly benefits the biggest companies — those which are selling at least eight European movies (including a non-local one) in 10 member states or more.

So far, French sales agents’ biggest ally remains UniFrance, the country’s film promotion org which gets 80% of its 9 million Euros from the government. UniFrance doesn’t give sales agents any coin but it organizes mini-marts throughout the year, notably the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, and rents directly booths at key markets at big festivals and markets, notably Berlin, Toronto, Filmart and the AFM.

The 118-page White Paper comprises interviews from sales agents who successfully handled challenging titles, notably Le Pacte’s Oscar-winning “Timbuktu,” Gaumont’s Yohann Comte with Golden Globe nominated “Intouchables,” Pyramide Intl.’s Eric Lagesse with “Party Girl,” Pierre Mazars’ Oscar-nommed toonpic “Ernest & Celestine,” Doc & Film Intl.’s Alice Damiani with “National Gallery,” Wild Bunch’s Carole Barraton with Oscar-winning”The Artist,” Les Films du Losange’s Agathe Valentin with Oscar-winning “Amour,” EuropaCorp’s Marie-Laure Montironi with “Saint Laurent.” The White Paper also showcases testimonies of film directors and producers such as Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Patrice Leconte, Michel Hazanavicius, Marc Missonnier who comment on how international sales are taken into account at every stage, from development to production and release.

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