When Jerome Seydoux, the scion of the Seydoux-Schlumberger industrial empire, bought Pathe in 1990, he helped not only to modernize Europe’s oldest film company, but also to internationalize France’s movie business by setting up a U.K. office and producing mainstream, bigger budget and English language fare such as “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Founded in 1896, Pathe recorded $1.2 billion in revenues in 2011, and distributes pics in France and via Fox in the U.K. Seydoux also helped revamp French cinemas, leading its multiplex revolution, and helping French movies’ market share hit 35%-45% in a $1.3 billion market.
From his sunlit office at Pathe’s Paris H.Q., just off the Champs Elysees, Seydoux, 78, a man of aristocratic mien, charm and discretion, talked to John Hopewell and Elsa Keslassy about Pathe’s possibilities for expansion, the rise of premium theaters, Pathe’s future with Danny Boyle and the importance of not being “too French.”
Q: Pathe Intl., your overseas sales operation, is at Berlin selling not only new French-language films from Dany Boon, Sylvain Chomet and Christophe Gans, but also movies in English: “Zulu,” with Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker; Stephen Frears’ “Philomena”; Denis Villeneuve’s “An Enemy.” Are you looking to make more films in English?
JS: For me, it’s quite simple. You have Hollywood, and I don’t think we can compete with Hollywood. Then the French market: Hollywood can try to compete with us there, but we’re pretty solid. Then, you have mostly English-speaking movies not from Hollywood, which Pathe can make out of London and from time to time Paris. English-language movies do travel better than French-language movies. If you look just at Europe, that’s a fact. We’re a French company. But it’s important for us to remain international, and not to be too French.
Q: So, you’ll be increasing your English-language movies?
JS: Yes, I think we should try to move more in that direction, probably making two or three English-language movies per year, perhaps a bit more. Not all French directors can shoot in English, however, though we do have “Zulu,” by a very talented French director, Jerome Salle.
Q: What budget ranges are you looking at for English-language films?
JS: We won’t make $100 million movies. Hollywood does that much better. But you don’t make movies because of their budgets, you make movies because you believe in them. Setting limits doesn’t matter to me.
Q: You’ve produced two of the three highest-grossing French movies in France since 2011: Dany Boon’s “Nothing to Declare” ($69.2 million) and “Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami” ($45 million). What do box office results suggest about audience trends?
JS: Audiences are getting a little bit older. But that’s true in the U.S. and in Europe. Populations are aging.
Q: Are audiences also getting more sophisticated?
JS: To some extent, yes. But I think you should never forget that cinema is entertainment.
Q: With 740 screens, Les Cinemas Gaumont Pathe is France’s biggest theater chain. Pathe also owns cinemas in Holland and Switzerland. You’ve said the company is ready to invest in chains in other countries if the opportunity is there. Is it?
JS: If we bought another company, we’d buy most logically in Europe, a complementary company with high exhibition standards in another country.
Q: Have you identified territories?
JS: We have some ideas.
Q: On Jan. 15, Francois Ivernel, Cinemas Gaumont Pathe’s CEO, presented Pathe Plus, Pathe’s new generation of high-comfort, high-tech theaters, with the debut of Paris’ 3D Pathe Wepler. The theater has two 4K projectors, 48-image High Frame Rate capability, Dolby Atmos and 108 premium seats. Do you see cinemagoing as a premium entertainment?
JS: Yes, I believe strongly that in order to compete against VOD, the Internet — any competition — exhibition has to achieve higher standards, more comfort in everything.
Q: Do you see Europe’s first-phase multiplexes, built in the late 1980s, as dated?
JS: Cinema is haute couture or, if that’s a little too ambitious, at least it should approach (that standard). Pathe Plus is just part of the business. We have to improve all our cinemas. In France, we’re not looking to open many more screens, but rather to raise the standards of our current cinemas.
Q: To what extent is exhibition key in driving profits?
JS: Exhibition is certainly the safest part of the cinema business, but it’s very capital intensive.
Q: Regarding production, in late 2009, Pathe and Fox Searchlight announced a three-year deal to co-produce Danny Boyle’s projects. Will Pathe be renewing?
JS: The deal is still running, but I hope we’ll renew. I like him very much. He has a new movie, “Trance,” out this year, shot before the Olympic Games and edited afterwards.
Q: Is continuing relationships important for you, or developing them via, say, the English-language debut of a French director?
JS: That’s the idea: To keep working with the same talent. It works for us, in both London and Paris, to be faithful, and talent has also been faithful to us. We like it that way.
Q: EuropaCorp has entered TV production, and Gaumont has bowed an international TV division in Los Angeles. Will Pathe be moving into that arena?
JS: Everybody’s going into TV. But Pathe won’t. We’ll focus on cinema.
Q: Last October, Pathe announced it would restore and digitize 100 Pathe catalog titles, and you showed a magnificently restored print of 1934’s “Les Miserables” at Lyon’s Lumiere Festival.
JS: Restoration is to some extent part of the digital age. These days, if you re-issue a movie in theaters or on Blu-ray, it has to be in high-quality condition: You have to restore. We plan a Paris cinema theater dedicated totally to classics. If we think there’s an audience, we will release classics in theaters, as we did for “Tess.” People will discover that it’s worth going to the cinema to see great movies of the past in perfect condition. I believe a lot in that.