Gallic distribs soldier on despite beating

Some adopt more modest approaches

PARIS — Embattled French distributors are still reeling from the events of 2002, when the collapse of the pay TV market, spiraling P&A costs and a glut of releases broadsided a number of high profile industryites.

Among those affected were former Polygram chief Jose Covo, Bac’s Jean Labadie and Yves Chevalier of Sagittaire, as pics acquired for top dollar failed to sell on to Canal Plus in time-honored fashion.

While the Gallic indies took a beating, Miramax — long allied with Bac for local distribution — chose to launch its own Gallic distrib arm TFM, a joint venture with French broadcaster TF1.

Today Labadie and Chevalier are still soldiering on but Covo quit the indie biz, segueing into the No. 1 slot at UFD, the joint distribution venture between Fox and the French film group UGC.

“Perhaps we went too far,” concedes Covo about the Gallic distribution bubble. “But today the independents are more and more fragile. They don’t know if they can cover their investments. It’ll take another 18 months before the situation settles down.”

Meanwhile, Chevalier asserts that he’ll be taking a much more modest approach on future acquisitions.

“I’d like to acquire one big film and two or three very small films in 2003,” he says, adding pessimistically, “I don’t see how independents can survive today.”

The few of the better off Gallic distribbers include Metropolitan, thanks to the “The Lord of the Rings” franchise; SND, now part of the M6 broadcasting group; and Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.

But the days when France was reckoned to be worth 10%-12% of a pic’s budget are over for the moment, say industryites, some suggesting it is down to 5%-7%.

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