Year-old Warner starts French ‘Classe’

WB positioned to move into Gallic market

More than a year after Warner Bros. named Francis Boespflug as president of Warner Films France, the Hollywood giant’s unit to coproduce and distribute French films in France is up and running.

Boespflug’s first co-production project, a 20% stake in Claude Miller’s “La Classe de Neige,” is in competition in Cannes. The company’s second co-prod is with Gilbert de Goldschmidt’s Madeleine Films and Gallic pubcaster France 2, on Patrick Schulmann’s $9 million comedy “Comme une Bete” which Warner will release in France in December.

Prior to Boespflug’s arrival 14 months ago, Warner’s attempts to distribute Gallic fare were largely restricted to mining bomb “Le Brasier.”

“Having the Claude Miller in competition is definitely a cause for satisfaction,” enthuses Jim Miller, WB president of worldwide theatrical business operations.

“The idea was to show that we could coproduce,” smiles Boespflug. “I think we have made the point and now we can look forward.” Boespflug wouldn’t be drawn on titles, but confirmed that he is looking at two or three big French projects.

Warner now has offices capable of co-production based in France and Germany “and there is no reason why they couldn’t work on an international co-production together,” Miller says. “We’ve been supportive of independent film production in the U.S., what we are doing in France is a microcosm of what happens in Burbank.”

Amongst the Hollywood majors, Warner has stolen something of a lead in trying to tap into the 35% market share that French films have on their home turf.

Apart from the pics that come from the U.S. for distribution, Boespflug aims to distribute five or six Gallic projects per year, some of which he will have co-produced.

Upcoming French films destined to head down Warner’s French distribution pipeline, but that haven’t got WB coprod coin in them, include Graham Guit’s “Les Kidnappeurs,” which will be launched Nov. 18 and which stars Elodie Bouchez, Melvil Poupaud, Romain Duris and Isaac Sherry.

Currently shooting is Marcel Bluwal’s “Le Plus Beau Pays du Monde,” being produced by Septembre Prods. Pic is a true story about shooting a film about Mermoz in France under the German occupation. All goes well until the lead actor is picked up by the Gestapo for homosexuality and trasferred to a concentration camp.

Non-French-lingo but produced by Frenchman Philippe Diaz, Andrei Konchalovsky’s oft-postponed “The Royal Way” is set to shoot in January 1999 and should be ready for delivery by September.

Wrapping the French pics for distribution is Jean-Claude Brisseau’s “Les Savates du Bon Dieu,” which will be released next year.