The recent success of “CODA,” a drama adapted from César-winning French film “La Famille Bélier” that sold to Apple in a record-breaking deal at Sundance, may herald a new era for remakes spearheaded by French producers with Hollywood ties and European financing.
U.S. remakes of French movies have had a checkered history. Some titles, like James Cameron’s “True Lies,” adapted from “La Totale!,” and more recently the Kevin Hart-headlined ”The Upside,” a remake of critically acclaimed “The Intouchables,” have been hits. But more often than not, American remake rights are optioned, only to have projects slip away. One notable example is Dany Boon’s hit comedy “Bienvenue Chez les Cht’is,” whose U.S. remake never took off.
“Remaking a film for the U.S. and entering the English-language world is a particular challenge for a French producer, and the reasons are not only cultural but also financial because the U.S. has a different approach to financing,” says Dimitri Rassam (“The Little Prince”).
Anton Capital exec Cecile Gaget notes that it’s “useless to sell remake rights to a studio because it will stay on a shelf.”
“CODA” — about a hearing girl who struggles to break away from her deaf family — was an eye-opening exception. The film was celebrated at Sundance as an authentic American story with mass appeal, even though it didn’t feature major stars or a well-known director and was made by French producers — albeit not just any French producer. Philippe Rousselet’s Vendôme Group, whose credits include “Source Code,” joined forces with deep-pocketed French studio Pathé and former Lionsgate boss Patrick Wachsberger to assemble the project.
Pathé’s financial backing of “CODA” was crucial, as it allowed producers to make the movie without a U.S. distributor. That’s seldom how it works. Usually, a sales agent or producer sells the remake option to a U.S. producer, and the development doesn’t go anywhere. Other times, a French producer tries to be involved in the remake and fails to find willing U.S. co-producer and distributor partners.
“Historically, the U.S. is a tougher market because there are thousands of projects around, and France has been behind Israel, Scandinavia, the U.K. and Spain in terms of coming up with strong drama concepts for remakes,” says Federation Entertainment’s Pascal Breton.
But the climate is changing, says Breton, who is about to attach a U.S. studio on the TV series “The Department,” the English-language remake of the French spy series “The Bureau.”
“France is producing more and more ambitious content,” he notes. A flood of projects, such as Pathé’s remake of Nicolas Bedos’ witty romantic comedy “La Belle Époque” with producers David Heyman and François Kraus, are set to hit the global market in the next few years.