EXCLUSIVE From Deadline|London editor Tim Adler: With fewer places to find Stateside for financing films, one talent agent passing through London on his way back from Berlin told me he’d never had so many meetings with European companies on behalf of U.S. clients. It makes sense for U.S. producers to find European partners since it’s all about guaranteeing pre-sales to key European territories anyway. There are plenty of local tax breaks, and qualifying as “European made” also increases what a movie is worth when selling to broadcasters in the region. Libby Savill, head of film at UK law firm Olswang, stresses how very helpful it is to be on the right side of the quota. “U.S. producers are waking up to the idea that Europe has more to offer than just production incentives. It’s about exploitation value in terms of satisfying European content quotas. I’m getting more calls from American producers asking whether their films could be placed here,” Savill tells me.
And nowhere is that more true than in France. Ilann Girard, who runs Paris-based production company Arsam, tells me he’s working on two different U.S. projects. Both would easily have been fully funded out of the U.S. a few years ago. Now they’re being repackaged as European co-productions with American stars. “We’re looking at leveraging money out of Europe, and France in particular,” he says.
But it’s a two-way street. There are only 3 or 4 key indie distributors in each European territory, be it Icon in the UK or Senator in Germany. They only have so many slots each year. They need to ensure they’re getting the right sort of movies, too. That’s why French distributors such as StudioCanal, Pathe and Gaumont are getting more involved in English-language movies. One Hollywood executive tells me the French are moving away from just licensing movies to actually getting them made. “The French are buying more mainstream movies than ever before. And if there isn’t enough finished product to meet their needs, how can they increase their supply? The only way is by investing yourself,” he says.
It’s not as if these are small companies. EuropaCorp, Pathe, and Gaumont all mix production with domestic distribution like a Hollywood mini-major. StudioCanal is part of media giant Canal Plus, which operates pay TV channels across Europe. Newcomer Studio 37 is part of the Orange mobile phone group, Europe’s third-largest cellphone company. Helping matters is the spate of European-set thrillers featuring international stars recently. And there’s no sign of that wave cresting. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie co-star in The Tourist, backed by StudioCanal, while Taken‘s Liam Neeson is starring in another StudioCanal thriller, Unknown White Male produced by Joel Silver. StudioCanal’s also remaking Escape From New York with Neil Moritz of Original Films, and backing LA-based Vendome Pictures sci-fi thriller Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
What’s interesting about StudioCanal is that most of the time it’s remaking movies that already exist in its vast 5,000-title library. One exception is the U.S. horror film The Last Exorcism, which StudioCanal has fully financed for U.S. producer Strike Entertainment. Ron Halpern, vice-president of English-language production at StudioCanal, told me that he was already developing two remakes with Strike at the time, and therefore he trusted them.
What Halpern is looking for are movies that can work across France, Germany and the UK – the three territories where StudioCanal operates. Together, these three territories represent 60% of European admissions. One French distributor I talked to stresses that the uptick in French involvement in English-language projects is acceleration, not revolution. After all, Pathe established a UK production outpost in the late 1990s. Everybody knows that English-language movies sell internationally, he says, while even the most outstanding French film won’t travel much beyond the border. There’s also a slew of younger French directors, inspired by video games, such as Pierre Morel (Taken, From Paris With Love) and Jerome Salle (Anthony Zimmer), who are adept at making action movies.
Pathe is currently making 123 Hours with Fox, reuniting the Oscar-winning team from Slumdog Millionaire, director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson. This summer, Colson’s due to start filming Civil Rights drama Selma for Pathe on location in Alabama. And Miley Cyrus is considering starring in a remake of Pathe’s teenage drama LOL, which was a big hit in France last year.
Gaumont is developing two projects with The Road-producer Nick Wechsler. Greek Fire is a biopic of opera star Maria Callas, while The Dying of the Light is a Paul Schrader script about a secret agent racing to complete a mission before he develops full-blown Alzheimer’s.
Girard says it’s a reversal of the situation a few years ago, when you couldn’t get a European movie made without knowing who’s going to distribute it in America. Girard says, “Today, the question today is how’s your film positioned in Europe, not in America.”