French Firm Federation Steps Into the U.S. Market

Streaming services have opened the door for multilingual series like worldwide Netflix hit “Narcos,” but dramas in English still dominate TV’s Golden Age, travel the most widely and draw the biggest distribution deals. International companies are scrambling for a piece of the action — including, perhaps surprisingly, producers in France, despite the country’s perceived snobbery about other languages.

Federation Entertainment, the 5-year-old firm behind Netflix’s first French show, “Marseille,” and Canal Plus spy show “The Bureau,” is the latest French player to step into the competitive U.S. market, with nearly a dozen English-language projects in the pipeline. Unlike outfits such as Gaumont or EuropaCorp, Federation is one of the few sizable, fully independent TV outfits left in France, and not only has opened an office in L.A. but is also developing projects with Paramount TV and other American companies.

Even so, breaking into the U.S. drama market is a challenge. Gaumont, which scored big with “Narcos,” has yet to come up with another hit; EuropaCorp has delivered only a single moderately successful English-language series, “Taken,” based on the popular film franchise.

“Hollywood is a tough place,” says Lionel Uzan, Federation’s managing director. “Any foreigner who arrives is seen as a potential checkbook, and it’s very competitive, less open, so you have to know what you can get from this market and what you can bring to it. You’re not a member of the club, but the idea is to be invited from time to time.”

Federation’s strategy is to be “lean and mean,” he adds. “We have a light overhead and a flexible approach, allowing us to … work with either independent European producers or U.S. studios. We’ll never have 40 people in the U.S. It’s not the game that we want to play.”

One thing Federation is able to bring to the mix is its growing library of European IPs. The co-production and sales company, which was launched by industry veteran Pascal Breton, has more than 160 projects in development, most with broadcasters attached. The majority of its titles are niche, local shows with the potential to lure in international audiences — notably Dutch series “Undercover,” Israeli thriller “Hostages” and German financial thriller “Bad Banks.”

“Our strategy has been to focus first on Europe, build relationships with the best talent outside of the U.S. and develop strong IPs. Now we are building a strong bridge with the U.S. that allows us to create content worldwide,” says Ashley Stern, who heads Federation’s L.A. outpost.

“When we first launched four years ago, local shows were just beginning to find traction,” Stern adds. “There has been incredible growth in the quality of these series, which has brought  U.S. audiences to international TV. As the market expands dramatically, Federation is developing global shows while still retaining cultural nuances.”

The company is also eyeing the Italian and British markets.

Anton Corp., which recently signed a landmark deal with BBC Studios to co-finance high-end British drama, came on board Federation in May to boost the banner’s production and distribution of international and French series.

“Unlike companies like FremantleMedia or Studiocanal, which have acquired companies in key international markets and relied on them to bring in talent and produce series, Federation has a more project-dependent approach and has ties with a wide range of top producers and talent around the world,” says Anton founder and CEO Sébastien Raybaud. “They’re also able to produce high-quality series with contained budgets, which complements what the BBC is doing.”

Federation’s budget target for its shows is between $1.5 million and $5 million per episode. With Paramount TV, it is developing “Read My Lips,” based on Jacques Audiard’s film and adapted by Nic Sheff (“13 Reasons Why”) and David Manson (“Bloodline”); “The Brand New Testament,” based on Jaco Van Dormael’s fantasy dark comedy and adapted by Ellen Fairey (“Nurse Jackie”); and “Premonitions,” a Canadian TV series adapted for the U.S. by David Arata (“Children of Men”). Federation will be co-selling these series with Paramount TV.

Federation is also working with other U.S. and international companies on English-language series including “Ibiza,” a thriller created by Ryan Engle (“Rampage”) and Jaume Collet Serra; “The Orphanage,” a series based on the popular Spanish horror film; and, for a stateside cable channel, a U.S. remake of “The Bureau” titled “The Department” and written and directed by Peter Landesman (“Mark Felt”).

“We’d like to develop a big event show with talent in the U.S. and bring in a high-profile U.S. writer and use our connections with European broadcasters, financiers and producers to get it made,” Uzan says. “The U.S. is like a very big cake, and if we can get just a few crumbs, we’ll be happy.”

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