While recent shutdowns and work stoppages engendered by this year’s pandemic have led to a halt in France’s normally robust exhibition landscape, streaming platforms — both international and local — have emerged from the crisis all the stronger.
The effects of this shift have been felt across the French industry. On the local front, distributors including Le Pacte, StudioCanal and Pyramide have taken advantage of temporary exemptions issued by the CNC in order to release current titles directly onto paid-VOD platforms, while SVOD hybrid services such as the Wild Bunch-backed Filmo TV have seen an exponential increase in traffic and subscriptions.
On the international front, however, the recent upheavals in the market have reinforced existing trends.
“The existence of platforms, both local and transnational, creates more opportunities in general,” says sales agent Carole Baraton. “That was already the case before, and I think COVID just pushed that even further. There are more and more platforms looking for films, and those platforms are more aggressive now in terms of acquisitions because they need to renew their offerings.”
An industry veteran with two decades’ experience, Baraton co-founded the sales outfit Charades, which handled Netflix’s acquisition of the prize-winning “I Lost My Body” in Cannes last year.
In some ways, that deal represented a kind of high-water mark for a platform sale. The streamer paid a competitive price for the Critics’ Week winner, guaranteed an awards campaign, and — most important of all — was willing to partner with international distributors in some territories to give the film a limited theatrical release.
Of course, that is not always the case. If deep-pocketed players such as Netflix and Amazon, which picked up all rights for its first French film, “Ballsy Girl,” in early April, can be counted on for the occasional splashy acquisition, their data-driven strategies can make them somewhat fickle friends.
“Their opacity is more a result of an always-changing process,” Baraton says. “Their algorithms change their needs depending on what they show. … [So you don’t always know] what you should propose to them, because that could change quickly.”
In select cases, sellers bringing titles to market can look to niche platforms with a clearly defined voice. In the North American market, AMC Network’s streaming service Shudder has become a leading genre buyer, picking up French titles including “Jessica Forever” from MK2 and “Revenge” from Charades, while the U.K.-based Mubi offers a home for auteur and festival fare.
Sweetening the pot for certain sellers, both services have partnered with local distributors to offer their acquisitions theatrical windows in recent years. After picking up North American rights to Coralie Fargeat’s “Revenge,” Shudder brought on upstart Neon to give the film a well-publicized theatrical push it could build upon ahead of its streaming premiere. When the film did hit the service, it broke records, becoming a flagship title for the genre platform.
“Selling to SVOD now doesn’t mean your movie won’t have a theatrical release,” says Baraton, who brokered the deal with Shudder. “That’s true everywhere, but especially so for French filmmakers. It’s not always one or the other, and that can be an important ingredient for them.”
In 2019, French films accounted for 2.4% of all titles on global SVOD platforms, placing the Gallic industry fourth in the world behind the U.S., India and the U.K.
For those looking to increase French cinema’s overall footprint, catalog deals have become another avenue of opportunity. In April, MK2 finalized a long-in-the-works deal with Netflix that gave the streamer non-exclusive French rights to 60 library titles for a year, and the company brought on producer Rosalie Varda to advise on further catalog deals.
“Today’s viewers are cross-media, so you have to go and find them where they are,” says Varda, noting that MK2 signed a similar deal with Amazon. “The deal surprised everyone. But the feedback has been extremely positive, and Netflix says that many people are watching the films. I know they are interested in continuing the adventure, which proves that it works and can continue to work.”
In an effort to better model the viewer engagement patterns streaming platforms often keep close to the vest, UniFrance has deployed its My French Film Festival program, offering 60 partner platforms a package of 10 features and 10 shorts it can then use to track what works and where.
“With the current context, it’s very important to track the evolution of French cinema’s place on these platforms,” says Quentin Deleau, head of digital distribution at UniFrance. “With 12 million views this past year, the festival is UniFrance’s window to better understand the various economic models and acquisition policies of our partner platforms.”
According to UniFrance’s data, genre films performed best in Southeast Asia, while action fare clicked with Russian audiences, romantic comedies with South Americans and North American viewers preferred arthouse titles in an SVOD context.
Moreover, the study illuminated some clear market opportunities. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past two years of My French Film Festival, it is that you have to give AVOD a closer look,” Deleau says. “In territories like Russia and Southeast Asia, the number of platforms offering AVOD revenue is getting higher and higher. If they want to increase worldwide visibility, rights holders need to consider AVOD as a possibility in certain cases.”
Deleau adds: “There’s no miracle solution to get those numbers higher. You need deals with the global players and deals with the more niche ones. French sales agents keep those lines open for worldwide all-rights sales to global players, not to bypass local distributors, but to find a home for certain films that aren’t guaranteed a domestic release. And in such cases, UniFrance is there to offer as much economic data and analysis as possible in order to make that happen.”
PICS IN THE PIPELINE
Director: Gaël Lépingle
Cast: Shaïn Boumedine, Carmen Kassovitz
Unable to evacuate the area after a nuclear incident, a young couple hides out in a farmhouse hoping to avoid the radioactive cloud.
Sales: Le Pacte
Director: Naël Marandin
Cast: Diane Rouxel, Jalil Lespert, Olivier Gourmet
A young woman must turn toward a lascivious financier in order to save her family.
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Two married directors head to the Swedish island Ingmar Bergman called home in order to prepare respective films. While working on their screenplays, they soon lose track of reality.
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth
Between Two Worlds
Director: Emmanuel Carrère
Cast: Juliette Binoche
An established journalist spends six months looking for gig-economy work in order to better understand issues facing the modern working class.
Sales: France TV Distribution
The Big Hit
Director: Emmanuel Courcol
Cast: Kad Merad, Marina Hands
A struggling actor puts together an all-prisoner production of “Waiting for Godot” and takes it out on tour.
Sales: MK2 Films
Downstream to Kinshasa
Director: Dieudo Hamadi
A documentary following victims of Congo’s Six-Day War as they fight for official recognition and financial compensation.
Sales: Andana Films
Director: Xavier Beauvois
Cast: Jérémie Renier, Iris Bry
A rural cop’s life begins to come apart after he accidentally kills a man he was trying to save.
A Friendly Tale
Director: Daniel Cohen
Cast: Florence Foresti, Berenice Bejo, Vincent Cassel, Francois Damiens
A 40-something woman becomes an unexpected literary success, sparking a wave of jealousy among her middle-age friends.
Sales: SND Groupe M6
Director: Fanny Liautard, Jérémy Trouilh
Cast: Lyna Khoudri, Finnegan Oldfield
A teenager, who shares his name with the Russian cosmonaut, tries to save his housing project in the suburbs of Paris.
Sales: Totem Films
Director: Lucas Belvaux
Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Frot, Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Decades after returning home, two veterans remain haunted by their service in the Algerian War.
Sales: The Party Film Sales/Wild Bunch
How to Make Out
Director: Adeline Picault
Cast: Ramzy Bedia, Vincent Macaigne
Four awkward high-school boys pay a female classmate to teach them how to score.
Sales: Pathé Films
A poetic, animated portrait of artist Josep Bartolí’s time in a French internment camp after the Spanish Civil War.
Sales: The Party Film Sales
Just Like a Woman
Director: Amro Hamzawi
Cast: Nora Hamzawi, André Marcon
An unsuccessful novelist takes a job as an assistant at a publishing house specializing in erotic romance.
Sales: Le Pacte
Director: Emmanuel Mouret
Cast: Caméia Jordana, Niels Schneider, Vincent Macaigne
When her partner must rush back to Paris, a young woman spends four days bonding with her partner’s cousin in the French countryside, sharing love stories.
Sales: Elle Driver
My Best Part
Director: Nicolas Maury
Cast: Nicolas Maury, Nathalie Baye, Laure Calamy
After suffering professional and romantic setbacks, an aspiring actor returns to the countryside to move back in with his intrusive mother.
Sales: Les Films du Losange
Director: Peter Dourountzis
Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Ophélie Bau
A thriller about a vagrant who moves through Paris relying only on charm, using it to seduce and eventually kill.
Director: Charlène Favier
Cast: Jérémie Renier, Noée Abita
A promising teenage skier falls into a toxic relationship with her coach, an overbearing ex-champion who has decided to make the young girl his protégée.
Sales: The Party Film Sales
Director: Laurent Tirard
Cast: Benjamin Lavernhe, Sara Giraudeau
Stuck at an endless family dinner, a neurotic 30-something has a minor meltdown when asked to give a speech.
Director: Suzanne Lindon
Cast: Suzanne Lindon, Arnaud Valois
Tiring of boys her own age, a 16-year-old girl starts a relationship with an older actor.
Summer of 85
Director: François Ozon
Cast: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
At a coastal resort, two boys experience a passionate summertime romance shaded with ominous undertones.