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Thriving European Banner Films Distribution Rebrands Into Playtime, Expands Scope (EXCLUSIVE)

Twenty-year old international sales outfit Films Distribution, whose recent hits include Robin Campillo’s Cannes Grand Jury winner “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” and Laszlo Nemes’ Oscar-winning “Son of Saul,” is rebranding itself with a new name, Playtime, reflecting its expanded scope and reach.

The company, which is at Toronto with four films including two Platform players (Barbara Albert’s “Mademoiselle Paradis” and Nabil Ayouch’s “Razzia”), was founded as a Paris-based international sales banner in 1997 by former UGC and Canal Plus execs François Yon and Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, who were quickly joined by Valery Guibal and Sébastien Beffa.

Over the last several years, the outfit spread across Europe through the launch of three subsidiaries, as well as venturing into co-productions, and most recently into upscale TV drama. It’s now one of Europe’s top independent film groups.

“We’re becoming Playtime because our ambition and role in the industry has evolved and we’re no longer limited to handling international sales on films. We want to be identified as a pan-European film and TV group that directors and producers can work with from the ground up,” said Brigaud-Robert.

“The name Playtime gives us the freedom to venture in the future in any aspect of the entertainment industry… and it so happens it is also the title of Jacques Tati’s 1967 masterpiece comedy, one of the first classic films sold by the company,” he added.

The outfit’s geographical expansion kicked off in 2008 with the creation of Films Boutique, the Berlin-based sales agency headed by Jean-Christophe Simon, which has been thriving with critically-acclaimed pics such as “On Body and Soul” (this year’s Golden Bear winner in Berlin), “Divines” (winner of last year’s Cannes Camera d’Or) and “Embrace of the Serpent” (nominated for a foreign-language Oscar).

Films Distribution subsequently set up BeForFilms in Brussels. Managed by Pamela Leu, BeForFilms notably sold “Montparnasse Bienvenue,” winner of the Camera d’Or at this year’s Cannes.

In 2016, Films Distribution stepped into the English-language market with Film Constellation, headed by Fabien Westerhoff. The company notably handled sales on “David Lynch: The Art Life” and “Permission.”

Meanwhile, the banner also started diversifying its business model by coming on board at an earlier stage on projects, co-developing and co-producting select films. It has so far achieved a solid track record with Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In,” Francois Ozon’s “Double Lover” and Campillo’s “BPM,” all of which played at Cannes.

The outfit’s development, co-production and co-financing activities will now be regrouped under Playtime Production, whose current slate includes “Sunset,” László Nemes’ follow-up to “Son of Saul” (set for delivery in 2018) and “Gun City,” Dany De La Torre’s Spanish action-crime film (also set for delivery next year).

Playtime Production also aims at developing intellectual property. It’s currently working on the remake of the Austrian psycho-thriller “Goodnight Mommy,” which played at Venice and Sitges, and earned several prizes, including a European Film Award.

Lastly, Playtime is leaping into the production and sales of TV drama. The banner is already a shareholder in the French TV production company Empreinte Digitale, whose recent successes include the sci-fi series “Missions” (recently acquired by AMC’s Shudder). Playtime has now signed a first-look deal on Empreinte’s several international sales, which are currently in development, and is building up a dedicated sales force to handle TV rights from Empreinte and third-party titles.

Playtime has been financially backed by the national public investment bank BPI since 2015, and the venture capital fund Alliance Entreprendre, which holds a minority stake in the company.

 

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