Can British-French TV Cooperation Survive Post-Brexit?

Britain's withdrawal from the E.U. looks set to complicate TV collaboration across the English Channel.

Can British-French TV Cooperation Survive Post-Brexit?
Courtesy of Zodiak Rights

PARIS — In the TV world, the border between France and Britain has never been more porous. The question, in a post-Brexit era, is for how long.

For the past few years, French broadcasters and producers have tapped into British talent and creative communities to deliver upscale English-language series such as “Versailles,” “Panthers” and “The Tunnel” that could sell worldwide. In fact, “Versailles,” which centers on French King Louis XIV and his court, was cast almost entirely with Brits.

But in the aftermath of last week’s vote in Britain to withdraw from the European Union, France’s film and TV industries are facing potential changes that could dampen this upward trend and complicate not only the production and casting of French movies with British actors but also handicap the hiring of French talent in British series.

The French government has supported the development of locally made English-language series such as “Versailles” with a generous tax rebate scheme since 2015. The scheme grants producers a 20% rebate on eligible expenses, which include salaries of British technicians, as well as 25% on the salaries of talent, directors and screenwriters. But with Britain on its way out of the E.U., U.K.-related expenses will probably get taken out of the incentive, said Christophe Vidal at French financing company Natixis Coficine, which backed “The Night Manager.”

Without the tax scheme, French producers looking to work with the U.K. could, in theory, still rely on an already-existing bilateral Franco-British co-production treaty. But even that is up in the air.

“Brexit will certainly make it more difficult to co-produce with the U.K., unless France signs a new agreement with the U.K. But it should take a long while,” said Vincent Leclercq, head of audiovisual and digital creation at France’s National Film & TV Board.

Florence Charmasson, an agent at France’s leading talent agency, Adequate, said Brexit could mean bad news for French actors. Charmasson works with talent such as Berenice Bejo, Leila Bekhti, Tahar Rahim and Clementine Poidatz, who have international profiles.

“What we fear is that it will become a pain to have our talent travel freely to the U.K. They’ll have to obtain a work visa like in the U.S.,” said Charmasson.

She said that some of her clients have managed to land roles in Neil Jordan’s Cote d’Azur-based TV crime drama “Riviera,” which is set to begin shooting on location in France on Aug. 1. “Because of Brexit, the producers might decide to shoot the second season elsewhere and do it without the French cast members,” said Charmasson, adding that British producers might increasingly turn to the U.S. rather than Europe.

But it’s possible that Brexit could boost local industries in France, Italy, Germany and other E.U. countries by encouraging producers to cast and shoot within Europe rather than in Britain. After last Thursday British referendum, Edouard de Vesinne, deputy CEO of EuropaCorp, raised the possibility of shooting relocations at the company’s Cite du Cinema in Paris.

“The future of business deals will tell us whether British studios will lose their attractiveness for certain productions. In that eventuality, it’s certain that the modernity of the Paris studios will be able to fulfill needs and demands,” said De Vesinne.

“The U.K. market is like a gateway to the U.S., a Trojan Horse. That said, we’re being extra cautious about embarking on new productions with U.K. partners at this point,” said Jean-Baptiste Babin, a partner at Paris-based Backup Media, which is co-financing “Submergence” with Alicia Vikander and “Brimstone” with Kit Harington.

The drop in the value of the British pound could pose a hurdle. Babin said the Brexit vote had already disrupted his company’s bid to co-finance Andrew Horn’s “The Devil Outside.”

Charmasson said that one of her clients, Cyril Guei, “is doing a show with the BBC and just lost 2,000 euros [about $2,200] on his first paycheck because of the devaluation.”

Caroline Benjo, co-founder of Haut et Court and producer of hit supernatural drama “The Returned” and “Panthers” with Samantha Morton and John Hurt, said she shared the concern of her British partners.

“It’s difficult to predict the impact right now, but our British friends and partners are in such a state of depression that I’m very worried about the future of the [British] sector in the ways it relates to Europe,” Benjo said. “As far as the co-production agreements go, we’ll see if those are renegotiated. But certainly, it’s worrying.”

Haut et Court is developing, with Anonymous Content, a European, English-language TV series, Pierre Mezerette’s “United We Stand,” which explores the world of soccer.

But Brexit or no Brexit, Fabrice de la Patelliere, head of drama at Canal Plus, France’s biggest purveyor of British-rooted series, said U.K. talent and creatives will remain hot commodities. “The biggest challenge for us is to enlist the talented British creatives before they get poached by Hollywood,” said De la Patelliere.

Canal Plus has to invest 3% of its annual revenues in European productions, and according to a spokesperson at the pay TV group, U.K. productions will remain in that quota despite Britain’s pullout from the E.U.

Gaspard de Chavagnac, the boss of Zodiac France, who co-produced “Versailles,” said that if Brexit did shut down public funding avenues for French producers looking to cast British actors or writers and directors, it would mostly affect productions on the “margins,” rather than big-budget, high-profile drama series.

The second season of “Versailles” is currently shooting in France while season three is development, said De Chavagnac, who added that he wasn’t too worried because Brexit could take up to 10 years to take effect — if it happens.

“If a top-level producer has a choice between an A-list U.K. screenwriter and a not-so-good French writer, he’ll go with the British one, even if it costs him 20% more,” said Vidal at Natixis Coficine.