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Paris Cinéma (3/3) : distribution, coproduction, même combat ?

août 22, 2010

La dernière conférence d’Europa Distribution lors du Festival Paris Cinéma s’est portée sur les évolutions du métier de distributeur, porté de plus en plus vers la coproduction…


July 6th 2010

Licia Eminenti / Eurimages (moderator), Alexandra Lebret / European Producers Club, Pascal Guerrin / Back Up Films, Annemie Degryse / Lumiere, Belgium distributor and producer, Raimond Goebbel / Pandora Film, German distributor and producer, John Jacobsen, Filmkameratene

Before giving the floor to the panellists, moderator Eurimages (European movies coproduction funds) Licia Eminenti raises the main questions which are at the heart of this panel: now a project is strong, when it has already a commitment from distribution (and sales as well) before it goes for shooting. Movies are made to be watched, so distribution should not be strayed away the production scheme. But in this technological turning point, is the role of producer and distributor going to merge? The future seems intriguing.

Alexandra Lebret firstly explains the goal of the European Producers Club she’s running, as a network of European producers keen on coproductions, and a lobby to protect their interests at a European level. The coproduction becomes more and more logical in this topical situation: indeed, when you coproduce with one or two countries, often it’s for shooting (the story is set in different places), for financing (you aren’t able to raise the whole budget in your country), and for the circulation of the movie (it has already 2 or 3 countries in which it will be released). The reasons can be multiple, and it’s rather a matter of strategy as well. Do you prefer to get a sales agent on board (if you have a package strong enough, in terms of director and cast) who is going to sell the world, or to get several coproducers? According to Alexandra Lebret, crisis solved everything! TV prices decreased, distributors and sales agent MG (minimum guarantees) reduction, etc. that’s why distributors try to get more mandates to cover their back, but is not finally riskier in case of flop?

Then, Raimond Goebel from Pandora Film Produktion, the prestigious arthouse German production and distribution company (movies by Emir Kusturica, Jane Campion, Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismaki, etc.) set up by Karl Baumgartner and Reinhard Brundig, tells the back and forward of the company, for 30 years. Indeed, the company has been set up as a distribution one in 1982. In 1994, they discover Kusturica with Underground and unfortunately decide to become delegate producers for the following one, Black Cat, White Cat. Overbudget and all the usual production nice stuff… They need to sell all the library titles to Kinowelt (distribution company, now part from the French Studio Canal group) to stay alive, and from 1998 to 2002, Pandora is only a production company. But you can’t forget your original vocation… so in 2002, they set up again a distribution company, strangely enough the production part (there are 2 separate companies) is the strongest one. It comes to be difficult to talk with distributors, because when they’re going to present a movie, distributors are always wondering why Pandora is not keeping the distribution mandates?… In 2006, Karl Baugmartner and Reinhard Brundig set up with Michael Weber (former Bavaria sales agent) the world sales company The Match Factory, so movies produced by Pandora go often naturally to this company. For example, when Tulpan by Sergei Dvortsevoy has been selected at Un Certain Regard in 2008, The Match Factory was the only part to get money because the movie has been well sold, but for production, nothing, and for distribution, 8 000 admissions in Germany… With all these activities overlapping, sales seem the most profitable of their activities. Is the best idea for a distributor to become a producer then?

Sudden turnaround with Norwegian producer John M. Jacobsen from Filmkameratene who has the impression he needs to refocus the panel, on these two different questions that people mix: why are distributors going into production? How are the movies currently financed through coproduction? He doesn’t want to produce or distribute arthouse movies, he “wants to be in the TOP 10”… and gives the supposed ignorant audience a History lesson from 1950. French new wave, student revolution in 1968, American studios bought up by larger firms and Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis going to bankruptcy. These four events are responsible of the European distributors having access to American blockbusters, so they don’t want to distribute European movies anymore. Year 2000, crisis happened, all the independent branches from the studios disappear, and if you’re a distributor, there are no commercial movies available and there is no market for local movies. So you need to jump into production if you want to have access to “products”. The American studios succeeded because they set up their branches locally. He finishes brilliantly his speech by quoting Rupert Murdoch “there are a lot of interesting things, but kids want to eat McDonald’s and have basketball caps”. So you get the point: you find a place in the market or you leave it. Waouh.

Back Up Films (Paris based financing agency helping producers to get access to finance internationally and fund operated)’s Pascal Guerrin affirms that the producer’s role is to create and bring value to a project. When they study and evaluate a project to get involved in (to bring coproducers, or to invest MG for distributors), it’s always the producer who is the main solid asset of the movie, in terms of finding talents, financing, having the skills to deliver a movie. So completely different skills from a distributor who needs to know how promote a movie in his market… There is a need of confrontation between different partners when you come to make a movie, the relationships between a director, a producer and a distributor won’t never be the same.

Finally, Lumiere (Belgian distribution and production company)’s Annemie Degryse says that it’s more a matter of feelings, of passion that leads to these activities, production, distribution. Lumiere becomes a production company after being a distribution one (the 2 activities are separated to get less risk), to be involved from the beginning in projects in which they strongly believe. For the coproducers, she says that it’s very valuable to have a distributor on board because they know how “to see the movie”, same for the marketing team. The movie gets a better international position, it’s not only a local movie. To a question in the audience asking what happens if the distributor MG becomes a coproduction part, ironically smiling Annemie Degreyse answers that you’ll lose twice the money if the movie doesn’t work… (question of recoupment and investment)

The panel shifts into problems linked to digital and new technologies. But the story remains the most valuable asset for a producer, a distributor. No matter which platform you’re going to sell it to. Though, the needs of finance is still there, and producers can’t always be distributor at the same time, they need the distributor’s MG. The discussion is drifting along the overproduction, the number of movies produced. Annemie Degryse says “we need to develop movies and stop producing”. Where are the good movies gone? Is the main question, instead of repeating that there is no money in VoD, in distribution, production, sales, as if the whole movie industry was not working anymore.

Licia Eminenti closes the debate by saying that countries should still get used to produce more and more to be able to reveal talents (for example, Turkey, Romania): sometimes, you get a bad movie, sometimes a good one. What’s important, it’s the power to create and to preserve cultural content.

So no answer to the main question, but more a global overview of the movie industry, through the eyes of its passionate contributors.

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