Hot French bread

Canal Plus floats co-prod coin past H'wood

PARIS — Marking a dramatic leap in its U.S. ambitions, French pay television group Canal Plus is planning to co-finance the production slates of a string of Hollywood film companies.

Sources say discussions have already taken place with Universal-based Jersey Films, DreamWorks-based Mark Johnson Prods. and Intermedia Films, a London-based company with several American partners, among other entities.

“Our priority is to access ambitious American films,” noted Stephane Sperry, Canal Plus’ exec VP of acquisitions and business development, who is heading the talks for the French but would not comment on specific negotiations.

This upswing in activity for Canal Plus comes as its European rival Eureka (an alliance between Kirch and Mediaset) has stolen the French giant’s thunder by striking deals with Robert Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises, Hyde Park Entertainment and Spyglass Entertainment.

Canal Plus is already an equity partner with Warner Bros. in Bel Air Entertainment, and it has a 12-picture deal with Par-based Mandalay Pictures, giving it rights to Mandalay pics in the U.K. and France.

In addition, Canal Plus, like Eureka, is partnered with Spyglass (“The Sixth Sense”). Canal has inked French-speaking and Scandinavian rights to five pics from the Disney-based producer, and is negotiating on a further five.

As the U.S. studios look to share financing risk by laying off part or all of international, Canal Plus has sought to position itself as a one-stop foreign partner. It regularly converses with the majors about co-financing their pics. Earlier this year, it bought all international rights to the U sub actioner “U-571.”

“What is clear is that we will not be putting together blind output deals,” Sperry said. “We want to have the joint greenlight decision with our partners. After that, we would take most of the international rights, splitting some territories with the studio.”

Of course, while Canal Plus aspires to retain as many international rights as possible, whether it succeeds or not will depend on the U.S. partner. The drawn-out negotiations that are typical of these deals demonstrate how highly prized such rights can be.

Euro angle

Sperry insists that any rights deals will be tailored to suit both partners, but the indications are that Canal Plus will look for European rights as a minimum.

Canal Plus needs Hollywood pics to feed its various European pay television and digital platforms. The group is also planning to strengthen its Euro theatrical distribution, allowing it to fully exploit all rights across the continent.

Working Title prototype

A possible prototype for future Canal deals is its co-financing pact with U in London-based Working Title Films. For the first three years of the deal, Canal Plus gets continental TV rights to all Working Title pics. It also receives theatrical and video in France to every second film. In the fourth year of the deal, that split will be extended across Europe.

Meanwhile, film production arm Studio Canal Plus is fully financing a wad of American films including John Waters long-awaited “Cecil B Demented,” Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Weight of Water,” George Romero’s thriller “Bruiser,” Abel Ferrara’s crime thriller “R’Xmas” starring Forest Whitaker, Annabella Sciorra and John Leguizamo, as well as a new director’s cut of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Blood Simple.”