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Small budgets find French partners

Multinational cooperation aids Gallic business

The rebate program for foreign filmmakers just instituted by the French government is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. While it may attract big-budget shoots from the U.S., European producers with low- or midrange budgets may find that the co-production route is the better way to go.

With a e4 million cap, the new 20% tax rebate targets films such as “Marie Antoinette” or “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” each of which dropped between E15 million and E20 million in Gaul.

But with today’s movie credit crunch, many cash-straped indie producers might have trouble affording that much on a shoot.

“A co-production is a great alternative for indies that have budgets around $10 million,” explains Raphael Benoliel, line producer and founder of production services shingle Firstep. “If your film is validated by the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production, you can prefinance it with TV presales, tap into France’s soft money and secure most your film’s financing.”

(The European Convention is an international treaty open for signature by Council of Europe members. Its mission is to promote multilateral co-production.)

“In some cases you can raise more money from government subsidies and TV presales than you would get from the tax rebate,” says Leonard Glowinski, who served as co-producer on two Stephen Frears films, “The Queen” and “Cheri,” on behalf of Pathe.

Glowinski turned “The Queen,” initially an entirely British film, into a European co-production by finding Italian and French financial partners.

The European Convention deems that if a film has a trio of co-producers and two of them are just financial partners (with each responsible for between 10% and 25% of the budget), the pic doesn’t have to contain cultural elements of those two countries. In that case, even an English-language, minority-French co-production that doesn’t shoot in Gaul is eligible to seek local subsidies and pre-financing via TV presales.

“The Queen” was presold to French paybox Canal Plus and public net France 3, and racked up 900,000 admissions in Gaul.

“Beyond the crucial financial backing they provide, having European partners can help build a strong distribution network and increase media exposure across Europe,” Glowinski says.

Frears’ follow-up to “The Queen,” “Cheri,” followed the same fiscal path.

” ‘Cheri’ was a film which had the classic physiognomy of an Anglo-American production,” says Benoliel. “But we transformed it into an authentic European co-production between France, U.K. and Germany.”

Before the film became a European co-prod, Frears faced spending only two weeks in Paris and shooting the remaining five weeks in Eastern Europe because of the tight budget, per Benoliel.

But once Yank producer Thom Mount ankled the film while it was in development, French mini-major Pathe came onboard. Glowinski and Benoliel then found a German partner to set up the pic as a co-prod, which in turn helped hike up the budget and secure the pre-financing. Like “The Queen,” “Cheri’ was nabbed by Canal Plus and France 3. And Frears got to shoot all seven weeks in Gaul, as he wished.

“The cherry on the cake,” says Benoliel, “was the Ile de France Film Commission’s E171,000 regional fund. That comforted us in our decision to shoot it all in Paris and its suburbs.”

The Ile de France regional government grants up to E14 million to selected films per year, whether French or international, that do at least 50% of the shooting and post-production in Paris and its surroundings.

Another advantage of co-productions over the tax-rebate route is that it helps producers secure French TV pre-sales, says Patrick Lamassoure, managing director at Film France.

“French TV networks and Soficas (companies set up to finance the film and audiovisual industry) must by law invest upfront money into French films and co-productions validated by the CNC (Gaul’s National Center for Cinematography),” points out Lamassoure, who publishes print and online versions of “France: the Co-Production Guide” and runs a co-prod hotline.

“TV channels are much more selective when it comes to acquiring foreign films, as they tend to favor American films that can guarantee solid ratings,” he adds.

France remains Europe’s most prolific co-producer, with a yearly average of 53 majority Gallic prods and 45 minority co-productions.

“If you look at the films in competition at Cannes, you’ll notice that generally more than half of them are co-produced, co-financed or distributed by a French company,” notes Lamassoure. “That comes from the fact that we have a very powerful co-production system.”

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