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French Lender Cofiloisirs Expanding its Backing to Foreign Films

As shrinking public funding makes for fewer French films, Cofiloisirs, one of Gaul’s top two lending institutions, is seeking to reach out to filmmakers beyond French borders.

In the past year, the two men behind the money — Herve Digne, who in 2012 was tapped president of Cofiloisirs at the same time that Jean-Baptiste Souchier was appointed managing director — have made a name for themselves in independent film circles, backing such upscale, cast-driven foreign productions as the Julianne Moore-Kristen Stewart starrer “Still Alice,” making its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in a few weeks; and Anton Corbijn’s spy thriller “A Most Wanted Man,” with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams, which has grossed $10 million Stateside via Roadside Attractions.

Digne and Souchier also have financed such prestige projects as David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars”; Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Search”; Canal Plus’ TV series “Versailles,” which is in development; and Mark Osborne’s $77 million animated feature “The Little Prince,” set for a December 2015 release.

Digne and Souchier admit to not being ready to take on U.S. projects lensing Stateside because the U.S. market is already very competitive, but they’re interested in U.S. films shooting in Europe; and European films, with a preference for British, German and Scandinavian projects.

Cofiloisirs’ slate of upcoming foreign pics includes Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” with Lea Seydoux, Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz; and  “The Tale of Tales,” Matteo Garrone’s period fantasy with Salma Hayek and Vincent Cassel.

“Movies financed outside of France currently make up 10% to 15% of our slate, and we’re looking to ramp up to 25% or 30%,” Digne says.

The company also backs international sales agents, but so far only those from France, loaning funds for minimum guarantees. Gregoire Melin’s Kinology, for instance, got a Cofiloisirs loan to pick up the animated feature “Mune” from Alexandre Heboyan and Benoit Philippon.

The 41-year-old institution is majority backed by two powerful banks — Neuflize OBC (a subsidiary of ABN Amro) and BNP Paribas, which each have a 46% stake — with the rest coming from French film studio UGC. Cofiloisirs invests €500 million ($670 million) in approximately 100 feature films per year, as well as TV series, documentaries and animation.

The company positions itself on local films that are pre-financed by TV pre-buys, and which have distributors and international sales agents’ minimum guarantees. It advances the funds that will be issued once the film is delivered.

However, as Souchier notes, “In France, the sources of public funding for films are becoming scarce, so we need to reach out to the international market in order to keep growing.”

Digne adds: “We’re able to use our knowledge of international partners and different soft money resources such as tax rebates to help producers package the financing of their movies.”

Jean-Baptiste Babin, co-founder of Backup Media, a producer-financier on “Still Alice,” notes that Cofiloisirs was key to getting the film produced when its previous pic, “Cold in July,” had just screened in Sundance and hadn’t yet been released in most territories. “It solved our cash flow issues,” he said.

Babin adds that the good thing about a bank with extensive know-how in the film business is that it is able to assess each situation and find solutions not only for itself, but for the whole production.

On the FilmNation-repped “A Most Wanted Man,” a U.K.-German co-production between the Ink Factory and Amusement Park, Simon Cornwell of Ink Factory says Cofiloisirs was willing to lend against German as well as the U.K. tax credits. “This meant it could be a very effective one-stop shop for us,” he notes.

Cofiloisirs doesn’t require completion bonds — a significant competitive edge compared with U.S. or U.K. lending institutions — although it does mean the financier must add coin to the initial loan when a producer goes overbudget.

Cofiloisirs can afford to take these risks, thanks to a guarantee provided by IFCIC, a public institution that commits to cover 65% of the loan if a movie underperforms and/or the distribution company goes bankrupt.

Although Cofiloisirs tends to mainly work with established players, it also invests in young producing talent such as Charles Gillibert (“Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Eden”) and Frederic Jouve (“Grand Central”), and even finances select producers’ development slates.

“That’s the exciting part of our job,” Souchier says. “We’re not just money guys; we invest in emerging talents worldwide, work hand-in-hand with
them for months to get their projects off the ground, and follow them on their next endeavors.”

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