French producers spread their wings

Gallic outfits make more cross-border deals

Gallic outfits have long been Europe’s leading cross-border co-producers and some of its major co-financiers. And today, as always, they continue to look beyond borders — whether of geography, language or business practices — while France itself becomes a more appealing territory for inward investment.

Franco-British Pathe clearly pulled off a coup in co-financing “Slumdog Millionaire,” taking international rights soon after Brit producers Celador and Film4 greenlit the pic in August 2007.

The gamble “paid off brilliantly because of Pathe’s attitude” in putting major faith and resources behind such an offbeat indie feature, says Olivier-Rene Veillon, exec director of the Ile de France Film Commission, whose regional film fund co-financed the Pathe-produced “Cheri.”

Franck Priot, dep-uty director of national film commish Film France, sees “Slumdog’s” massive global profile as likely to generate “a huge jump in interest” for both European and American players looking to co-finance projects that could see comparable critical and commercial paydays.

And France is well-placed to facilitate projects or finance.

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp also cast caution to the wind in fully financing romantic comedy “I Love You Phillip Morris,” in association with Andrew Lazar’s Mad Chance Prods. The film, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, generated buzz at Sundance.

Smaller Gallic operators are also widening their net for joint production and financing.

La Fabrique de Films is boosting its already solid rep in the horror genre via its sales outfit, Overlook Entertainment, which is selling the Fabrique-produced creature feature “The Home.” Thesp Elijah Wood is one of the pic’s producers, and it’s skedded for a May shoot in New Zealand.

Another Overlook production in development is “City of Shadows,” with “Hitman” helmer Xavier Gens set to direct, in association with Thomas Augsberger’s German-based shingle Eden Rock Media.

For Priot, France’s profile as a major source of production and funding should only rise as revenue streams dry up elsewhere.

French investment in domestic pic production skyrocketed 28.6% to E1.22 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2008, when France, despite the gathering recession, produced 240 films, including 95 co-prods. Of these, a whopping 44 were majority international productions.

On average, 40% of finance on films comes from a mix of TV coin; CNC; and regional or tax-driven funding from Sofica companies (public limited companies set up for the sole purpose of backing productions).

Many Gallic mini-majors –Pathe, Gaumont, StudioCanal, SND and TF1 — can finance films without dipping into credit.

The relative lack of exposure to straight bank finance could soon give the country a huge edge if the current global credit turmoil continues or worsens.

“Guaranteed and secure cash flows for the production and distribution sector as a whole will be just as important as the ability to arrange financing,” Priot says.

Still, some Gallic players are adopting a more cautious, but still flexible, approach, brought on by the strained circumstances of many foreign distributors.

Financing and sales outfit Films Distribution sees its in-development mockumentary “Unhung Hero” as the right kind of project for uncertain times.

Described by Films founder Nicolas Brigaud-Robert as a “low-budget, strong-concept comedy,” the English-language laffer will be produced by German shingle Greensky for less than $2 million. FD will initiate financial packaging at Cannes.

“In today’s market, you either need something with a built-in marketing angle or something concept-driven with a modest-enough budget to survive in times of crisis,” Brigaud-Robert says.