French biz leader slams star pay inflation

Maraval claims most French hits lost money in 2012

An attack on French movie stars’ exorbitant pay in a newspaper article by Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval has whipped up a storm in the Gallic film biz.

The op-ed piece in Le Monde on Friday suggested the local industry should bite the bullet and cut above-the-line costs. To that end Maraval argued France should adopt U.S.-style backends for thesps.

Maraval’s article comes as France’s 2012 box office blasted past 200 million ticket sales, earning around $1.8 billion, for the fourth year running. French films sold a record-breaking 130 million tickets abroad in 2012.

In such an apparently upbeat scenario, Maraval seems like a bit of a party pooper, but he wrote,

“French cinema’s year has been a disaster. All the said-to-be important films have tanked (in France), losing millions of euros.”

Among loss-makers, he included two of Wild Bunch’s best-sellers last year, “Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia” and “Populaire,” plus Pathe’s “Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami,” France’s biggest homegrown hit. Of Gaul’s top 10 movies in 2012, only “What’s in a Name?” turned a profit, he said.

He blamed the hike in thesps’ pay on France’s TV quotas obliging broadcasters to invest in local films. Networks want star-driven vehicles, so top actors “have the power of life and death over a project’s TV value,” Maraval explained.

Maraval’s article added that thesp Vincent Cassel earned $298,000 for 2012’s “Black Swan,” but $2 million for Gallic gangster bio “Mesrine” in 2008. However, he praised Cassel for reinvesting earnings in French production.

He went on: “For ‘Che,’ Benicio del Toro earned less than (French thesp) Francois-Xavier Demaison …Philippe Lioret earns twice as much as Steven Soderbergh and seven times (more than) James Gray and Darren Aronofsky.

“French actors are getting rich from public money and the system protected by France’s cultural exception,” Maraval alleged.

Reactions have not been long coming. “Maraval risks criticizing all of France’s film financing system, the basis of its cultural exception,” wrote Serge Toubiana, French Cinematheque topper, on his blog. “How can France now plead for a cultural exception in Brussels?”

Eric Garandeau, prexy of France’s CNC film board, which administers film funds, said, “Certain films’ budget inflation isn’t linked to CNC support — marginal in this case — but to TV channels’ investing on an increasingly small number of big-budget, big-cast films.

“The CNC is ready to work with France’s CSA broadcasting authority to draft new parameters for broadcasters’ investment in French films,” he added.

Maraval told Variety Wednesday he didn’t agree with the headline Le Monde gave his article: “French actors are overpaid.”