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Rousselet rustles up ‘War’ coin

French producer banks on more English projects

PARIS With American soldiers poised to go to war in Iraq, it wasn’t the perfect time to be pitching a movie about an arms dealer.

Which is why Andrew Niccol’s “Lord of War” was tossed around Hollywood like a hot potato until eventually landing on the desk of a Gallic film producer.

Philippe Rousselet, who had never produced an American film before, jumped at the chance to team with the “Truman Show” scribe and helmer of “Gattaca.”

“With the way things are in the U.S., it isn’t easy for a studio to commit to a ‘Scarface’ or ‘Goodfellas’-style film about the world of arms dealing,” says Rousselet.

“Look at the fuss there was over ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ It’s a question of timing.” The pic, which stars Nicolas Cage as an international arms dealer and Ethan Hawke as an Interpol agent trailing him, recently finished shooting and is now in post-production.

Film has already drawn attention due to the way Rousselet drummed up $50 million to finance it — without the aid of a Hollywood studio.

Presales by Arclight brought in nearly $30 million, while the remainder is a combination of coin from German tax fund VIP3 via L.A. based Ascendant Pictures; bank debt via Citibank West in association with Endgame; and other equity as well as Rousselet’s own money for bridging purposes.

“Since ‘Lord of War,’ I’ve been inundated with American projects,” says Rousselet, whose dad is Canal Plus founder Andre Rousselet.

“Things happen quickly in the U.S. Once you’ve successfully financed a $50 million film, it means you could do it again.”

“Lord of War” hasn’t got a U.S. distribution deal yet, but Rousselet thinks the arms-dealing subject matter is unique enough to interest American auds.

He and Niccol created Entertainment Manufacturing Co. to produce “Lord of War,” and they are already planning Niccol’s next pic, “Manhattan Brave,” which they plan to shoot in New York and Canada next year. Rousselet pitches it as “a coming-of-age love story about a young man who’s one-quarter native American.”

Company aims to make two or three American films a year and is in talks with possible financiers to create a fund to finance 10-12 pics.

Back in Gaul, Rousselet’s French company Les Films de la Suane continues to carve a niche for itself. The company has produced eight movies, ranging from James Huth’s comedy “Serial Lover” to the flop actioner “Blanche” to “The Little Chinese Seamstress.”

To free himself up for the American films he wants to make, Rousselet recently brought in Etienne Comar to executive produce the French slate.

There are two movies in production, the x5 million ($6.5 million) Alain Chabat starrer “Papa,” helmed by Maurice Barthelemy, and “The Godfathers,” a $15.6 million comedy starring Gerard Lanvin, Gerard Darmon and Jacques Villeret, helmed by Frederic Forestier.

Two more are planned for next year, “The Next Day,” penned by “Podium” scribe Olivier Dazan, described by Rousselet as a French “Groundhog Day,” and the $17 million “The Concert,” an English-language farce starring Jonathan Pryce and Pete Postlethwaite, which will be helmed by Radu Mihaileanu.

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