Per its agreement with the Conseil Supérieur d’Audiovisuel, France’s audiovisual regulatory body, OCS must invest a certain amount of money into French film production every year in order to maintain an earlier broadcast window within the country’s rigid media timeline.
That poses little problem for Serge Laroye, OCS’ chairman. “French cinema is important for OCS, and in order to broadcast French titles, we need to sign an accord. If we didn’t, we’d lose preferential broadcast rights for French films and thus we’d lose value,” says Laroye. “So you accept the obligations with the best terms possible, and then you honor those obligations in an intelligent manner.”
In 2013, OCS signed an accord with the CSA agreeing to invest €179 million ($204 million) into the local industry over a five-year period. Between 2013 and 2018, the pay TV operator invested in hundreds of local films. It re-upped at the end of 2018, this time signing a three-year contract for $142 million, recognizing that the production landscape could look significantly different by the end of 2022.
In large part, OCS has looked to invest in artistically or thematically daring work, such as director Eva Husson’s Cannes entry “Girls of the Sun,” slam poet Grand Corps Malade’s medical drama “Patients” and Roman Polanski’s upcoming Dreyfus Affair thriller “J’Accuse.”
“As part of our corporate conscience, we invest in some films with difficult subject matter,” says Laroye. “I think our position in the film world is very unique. We’re not viewed as aloof, and when a producer comes to us we listen to what they have to offer. We can create constructive partnerships, and we take risks.”
In the case of autobiographical drama “Little Tickles,” it teamed with co-production house Orange Studio, an in-house partnership that can be an effective bargaining chip when bidding for hot-ticket items.
“Sometimes we can get a project off the ground because we make a collective offer,” says Orange Studio head David Kessler. “For some sought-after titles, the fact that we can offer Orange Studio and subsequent pay TV with OCS allows us to put in a better offer and guarantees a non-negotiable part of the film’s financing.”
However, French law mandates that OCS cannot buy more than 25% of the global window for films that Orange Studio produces — or in other words, that OCS must devote 75% of its film budget to funding independent productions.
For Kessler, that makes perfect sense. “We’re two independent companies, and French law dictates that we remain that way,” he notes. “What’s more, our interests aren’t always the same. However, we believe that the more we can synergize and communicate with one another the better. OCS executives sit on our investment board and can offer their artistic perspective on potential projects.”
The two bodies teamed up for 2017’s “Valerian,” an Orange Studio production that OCS pre-invested in, and was able to begin screening in exclusivity for a period of two years after the film’s successful theatrical and VOD runs.
“ ‘Valerian’ was a symbol of shared Orange content,” says Laroye. “The group walked in lockstep because we deemed it a priority to integrate it every step of the way.”