Wild Bunch began in the late 1990s as the sales arm of Studiocanal, before spinning off in 2002. Led by founding partners Vincent Maraval, Vincent Grimond, Brahim Chioua and Alain de la Mata, the mavericks have financed, produced, co-produced or distributed such films as City Of God; March Of The Penguins; Pan’s Labyrinth; Fahrenheit 9/11; Che; The Wrestler; The Artist; Spirited Away; The Orphanage; 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days; Only God Forgives; and Enter The Void. A supreme force in Cannes, it has five films in competition this year.
Wild Bunch parties here are also the stuff of legend. Mixing its disruptive nature with shock value, Wild Bunch in 2014 screened Abel Ferrara’s sex drenched Welcome To New York on a Cannes beach just before midnight, when it also released the Gerard Depardieu-starrer on VOD, much to the chagrin the French establishment. The party that followed provided guests with bathrobes and included a mock-up of a Manhattan hotel room.
But Wild Bunch takes business and cinematic taste-making seriously. The company counts five Palmes d’Or and several Oscars. Although it’s not so awards-hungry that it would bow in search of a statuette. In 2013, it notoriously refused to budge the French release date of Blue Is The Warmest Color to suit AMPAS’ rules for eligibility.
Each of the founders had their own distinct personality with Maraval the most ubiquitous — and vocal. An editorial he penned in Le Monde, lamenting unjustified salaries of some French actors, was heard round the world. However, the exec, who bristles at what he considers the French government’s lack of understanding of today’s economy, says it ultimately resulted in “a stupid law that has no scope of application.”
Wild Bunch counts outposts in Italy, Germany, Spain and Belgium, and has also recently branched out to LA. Last year, it launched Insiders, an international sales company focusing on features with budgets above $15M. It’s partnered in the venture with CineFrance and China’s Bliss Media.
DEADLINE: What was missing in the marketplace when you broke off from Studiocanal?
MARAVAL: In the marketplace, I don’t know. But we lacked independence; the ability to do something else and to respond to the future mutations. The opportunity that presented itself to us was that we were a group of friends first and foremost who had a need to change things; to get out of conventional recipes and we wanted to experience something else — to get out of the politics of a group.
DEADLINE: The term disruptor wasn’t really used when you started the company, but Wild Bunch declared at the time it would be provocative. How did you set out to do that?
MARAVAL: I don’t think it was premeditated. I think we just needed to get out from under the constraints of a group like Canal Plus in order to try and serve our films, and only our films. We needed to regain our freedom of thought and of naiveté. It was that freedom — or naiveté — that led to what you call “disruptor” but it wasn’t intentional. It was just the possibility to respond through our actions to the question, “If it’s better for the film, then why not?”
DEADLINE: Who do you see as a disruptor today?
MARAVAL: Amazon, A24, Tom Quinn. People like CineFrance who raise equity funds for international cinema I’d say are also for real. After that, Chinese investors today are also a source of innovation. They’re going to reinvent our business and more’s the better. To be independent is to be early and perpetually changing.
DEADLINE: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken?
MARAVAL: The biggest risk is to permanently innovate when the system wants to freeze things… Everything is risky and at the same time, as Godard says, “We are all rogues, we all survive our problems.” Exactly! Risk is only a corollary concept to fear. Nothing justifies fear in an industry like cinema. The only thing that frightens me is to structurally put one’s self in a position where you can no longer take risks.
DEADLINE: What has been the most impactful change in the indie business in the last 10 years?
MARAVAL: On the good side, VOD, day-and-date, Netflix, and Amazon are extraordinary advances that afford the possibility to reach more deeply a greater number of people with films that don’t have the marketing strength of the studios. On the bad side is the absence of a fight against piracy and the incapacity of the French government to understand the age.
DEADLINE: How have you managed to keep your independent sensibilities?
MARAVAL: That’s our nature speaking for itself. When I’ve seen something, it annoys me to see the same thing again. It’s that simple. So I look to be surprised all the time. And I say what I think. And that’s made me inappropriate for big companies where you have to say what the group thinks. For example, I’m not sure that my partners think the same thing as me, but I say it anyway.
DEADLINE: Why did you create Insiders?
MARAVAL: The priority at Wild Bunch has changed. We don’t have inexhaustible resources and so we decided to concentrate what we have on local distribution, not international. We weren’t competitive anyway compared to the equity investors who finance today’s independent production because they took domestic risk that we refused to take. And they were right because VOD has created a new economy that spawned Netflix, Amazon, Radius, A24, and has redefined a new economy. So, either we dropped producing American independent films or we organized differently. We come from this type of cinema. Insiders was born of a desire to bring 17 years of know-how in international sales to the service of the cinema that we love.
DEADLINE: What do you see as opportunities in the indie space?
MARAVAL: The potential of digital distribution has barely been explored—and it’s immense. It’s a huge field of possibility for independence. And, at the same time I believe also in the parallel sustainability of the theaters because I believe in distribution on two non-competing levels. There will be a return to films made for cinemas and a weariness of TV series; and there will be a freer and more joyful access to content than traditional marketing left buried. I’m very optimistic. But not in France.
DEADLINE: What are the major concerns in a business that changes so rapidly?
MARAVAL: Piracy and the inflation of costs are the major concerns. Adapting to the rules of the market is another. Pay-TV and windowing are dead, but the legislation is still structured around these two axes. What gives me hope is that it’s not tenable. And everywhere, little by little, the old conservatisms are dying.
DEADLINE: Why is Wild Bunch in favor of a shortening of the windows system in France?
MARAVAL: Because windowing protects the big guys versus the independents. Because it confiscates rights from the rights holder. Because it prevents innovation. Because it is draconian. Because it protects dying models and old monopolies. Because it is anachronistic.
DEADLINE: What has the arrival of Netflix and Amazon on a global scale meant for you?
MARAVAL: A new means by which to help films of ambitious auteurs like Spike Lee, Cary Fukunaga, David Michod, Jim Jarmusch and Woody Allen, who would have been silenced by traditional distribution. What’s more, these are opportunities that have absolutely not affected traditional distribution. It’s like when Canal Plus came along or cable channels or home cinema. Cinema survived everything because it is something else. Netflix and Amazon bring richness and supplemental possibilities. And our government holds up the cross “Vado retro satanas” [“go back, Satan”] all because [Vivendi chairman Vincent] Bolloré is cultivating his political relationships in the full agony of independent cinema. The responsibility will be heavy; independent French cinema is slowly dying.
DEADLINE: How do you see your ongoing contribution to the evolution of the business in France or elsewhere?
MARAVAL: It will be elsewhere. We are not activists. We create conditions so that the cinema that we love survives in terms of financing and visibility. Wild Bunch will always look for the best way to work prototypes and unfailingly respond to the changes of the market. There is no desire to change for change’s sake. There is just a necessity to mutate. We have no contribution to make to anyone, we only do it for our films. If we contribute nothing, it means everything is going well. Insiders is a new type of company that aggregates diverse financing sources — European soft money, pre-sales, U.S. or Chinese equity — from original partners. These are new entrants; people who look to tomorrow and don’t seek to protect or enhance an asset. There is appetite — greed even — and Wild Bunch has always been guided by that and not the desire to make a contribution.
DEADLINE: What are you most proud of?
MARAVAL: 200 employees. Offices in Italy, Spain, Germany, London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris. Auteurs who stay with us in a faithful manner and the idea that despite the problems we continue to laugh in the face of those who are bigger than us. It’s the scorpion and the ants, like in [the movie] The Wild Bunch.
DEADLINE: Have any of those crazy Cannes parties ever gone too far?
MARAVAL: No. Nothing ever goes too far. Of course Wild Bunch parties were unlike any others. But we mustn’t exaggerate; there was never any drama, no victims. The party ideas were funny. The party for Baise-Moi, which kind of ended in an orgy, will remain. The party for Welcome To New York is a classic. It was shocking, and so what? We own our bad taste and our schoolboy spirit. You also need to know how to not take yourself too seriously and I think that’s what shocks a lot of people who take themselves seriously in Cannes. It’s a contest of egos and we’re in the middle only thinking about having fun.