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Vincent Maraval: ‘We Are Not Making Movies for a Cinema Audience’

Wild Bunch founder talks about why the company is cutting down on French films, its love of comedy, and the consequences of new Gallic regulation

A co-financier and sales agent, and sometimes producer and distributor on “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “The Artist” and “Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia,” Wild Bunch has backed a significant number of the most ambitious recent films to come out of France. And that’s not to mention “Holy Motors,” “Polisse” and long-standing relationships with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Ozon, Gaspar Noe and Arnaud Desplechin. Now, Wild Bunch is cutting down on French films for world sales.

One year ago, Wild Bunch founder-partner Vincent Maraval shook the French film industry with an article in Le Monde, arguing that French films were too expensive and that this is directly due to France’s subsidy system, above all its obligation for broadcasters to invest in French cinema.

12 months later, in the first of a series of Variety Q & As, coinciding with the UniFrance Paris Rendez-vous, Maraval announces that Wild Bunch is scaling back on French film investment, precisely because of Gallic movies’ cost, plus a series of governmental decisions last year. Armed with big-picture vision, Maraval also laments Europe’ lack of cultural policy, sets out the “French paradox” which bedevils films theatrical performances and international sales, and intimates his roadmap for 2014.

Wild Bunch has a custom of using the Rendez-Vous to announce and promote its newest French pick-ups. These look to be substantially down in number on previous years. Why is that?

That’s simply the consequence of what we’ve tried to explain for more than three years now with no result: French films are economically less and less profitable, they keep selling but their costs are too high.

Could you detail any French films that you have picked up and will unveil at the RDV and, very briefly, the reason(s) for acquiring them?

“Bodybuilder,” because this treats a unique subject very rarely explored in cinema, bodybuilding, in a way that mixes “The Wrestler” and Ken Loach comedies like “Looking for Eric” or “Angel’s Share,” made by a director we think is improving film after film; it has the human touch to become a commercial quality film, and economy it’s normal…

Most of Wild Bunch Distribution’s releases this year are comedies: “Homosapiennes,” “Etats de femmes,” “Les 3 Freres: Le Retour” or at least dramedies: La creme de la creme,” “In the Courtyard.” No French comedy scored huge figures abroad this year but we suspect you see potential for French comedies abroad in 2014, especially “Nicholas on Holiday”?

We distribute as many art films as comedies and we always did. This year, our films from Jean-Luc Godard and Benoit Jacquet and “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” are not comedies. We always try to have a balance but, yes, we love comedies because we think audiences all over the world need them. We have always been successful abroad with them, as was the case with “Little Nicholas,” and, yes, the new one seems to have even a higher potential as will be proved by the Jacques Tati-esque promo we will screen at the UniFrance Rendez-vous. “Populaire,” “Haute Cuisine,” “Potiche” are among our most recent successes and a movie like “In the Courtyard” (pictured) could be a sleeper like “Priceless” was.

Box office for French films outside France in 2013 looks to be very much down on not only 2012 but average box office over recent years. That of course is in part explained by the lack of huge blockbusters such as “Taken 2” and “The Intouchables.” But are there also longer-term factors at work which explain in part this decline?  

Yes, and I would not count “Taken 2” as a French film. Not from an audience point of view. There are two issues, one is cultural and political: We make films for European audiences with a European culture and Europe is suffering. The absence of European cultural policy reached its climax this year – and probably for many years to come – when most European countries decided that culture should be the first to pay during a period of crisis. Today, national TVs like the German, Spanish and Italian ones have stopped buying European films. They abandoned distributors and now they know that any P&A they spend will not be turned into a TV sale. European distributors have been abandoned and they were the main support of French cinema. The second issue is linked to the way we finance films in France. I keep repeating that our system of financing will kill the market value of our films and this is why they have no profitability, they are not made for that. Less than one-third of a French budget is financed by the private market, the rest is financed by subsidies (tax credits, tax discounts, regional support) or obligatory TV financing. At the end, French films are made for a TV audience (which are older than cinema audiences) that is exactly the audience that is not going to cinema. This is the French paradox. How can we export these films when the part of the world that is booming  – Asia, Latin America, Russia – is younger and younger and favors family movies and teenage movies? We are not making movies for a cinema audience, that is all, and nothing is changing because this way of financing is highly profitable for a few individuals who are taking advantage of the system. When I sounded the alarm last year, I was feeling like I was back in 1789, when the aristocracy and the clergy were panicking because of the “abolition of privileges.” Today the problem is that there is no “Tennis Court Oath.”

Can you see VOD revenues or box-office from emerging markets representing in the short term significant new revenue sources for French films?  

That could be “yes.” This is already the case in the U.S. where the VOD market helped to re-create a new economy for art films after the collapse of all the speciality divisions.

Given an increasingly complicated outlook for sales and pre-sales in Western Europe, what are Wild Bunch’s growth strategies in the short-to-medium term?

We have two lines of development that are quite unique and original and which I want to focus my work on in 2014, but you will understand that I prefer to keep this confidential for the moment. But I don’t think that France holds any future for classical distributors anymore. Today, French distributors are paying for all the stupid reforms decided by our government, the VAT increase on Canal Plus, the end of the HADOPI anti piracy law that has already made France the only country where VOD revenues declined in 2013, and the increase of production costs because of the new “Convention Collective” labor laws for crews that producers want to charge on to distributors (this is why we did not do the new Ozon), the new reduced ticket price for cinemagoers under 14 that was decided without any consultation with French distributors.

[Sometimes likened the Declaration of Independence, France’s 1789 Tennis Court Oath was a near unanimous act of rebellion by French politicians against the established order, challenging the power of France’s ancien regime.

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