Country Focus: France
France: the production model (March 2005)
by Fabien Lemercier
16/03/2005 - A production model
With 203 registered features in 2004 and 194 million admissions (38% of which went to national productions), France is definitely one of the best countries for film production. The country has even become a model in terms of financial support to production ; France is a dynamic and creative market which owes a lot to the fruitful cooperation between the State and the industry.
Holding its position at the top of the European charts with 167 majority productions (“films d’initiative française” or FIF) in 2004, France has much to recommend it, especially the constant emerging of new talents : last year, 54 first films were made, and every season, new promising filmmakers add their names to a list full of prestigious directors. The good generational renewal is not only generative on the creative front ; it is also increasingly synonymous with diversity of styles and genres. From typically French art house films to mainstream productions, comedies and psychological dramas, the variety of French cinema ensures a good rate of exported material — according to Unifrance, €200M benefits were earned outside France in 2004.
Besides its talents, French cinema is also famous for the good organisation of the production support system ; this system is characterised by great diversity in terms of the different forms of financial support offered to all producers. In 2004, over a billion euros were invested into films registered as French, 892M of which went to French Films, which makes the average budget for a French film 5.34M euros —at the top of the pile, we find Arthur by Luc Besson (€65.2 M). This financial support makes the situation all the more comfortable that its stability is guaranteed by the commitment of the State and the cinema department (le Centre National de la Cinématographie - CNC) to develop national and European film production. The legislation is very protectionist in this respect, making it compulsory for French TV channels to spend part of their benefits on pre-sales and coproductions. In 2004, TV channels invested nearly €290M in French majority productions ; Canal + proved the most committed (€136.65M spent on 124 features) while the five terrestrial channels (TF1, France 2, France 3, M6 and Arte) spent almost €125M. Channels are nonetheless far from being the only fund providers : the CNC offers select support (nearly €32M, including the very popular advance-on-admissions which helped 63 films last year) ; the Sofica collects funds (€27.5M in 2004) ; regional funds have been progressing, dedicating €21M to feature film production in 2004. Moreover, last year, the government initiated a system of tax-relief (up to 500,000 less for features, and up to 750,000 less for animation films) to make France an even more hospitable country for production. Finally, the CNC has an automatic support scheme which earned French producers an extra 56M euros in 2004. This device (which was questioned by the case of A Very Long Engagement, first eligible and then excluded from the scheme) concerns all European producers, granting them €0.73 per admission once the movie is released. The French Cultural Affairs Secretary, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, is even planning to make this automatic fund available (under certain conditions, such as the shooting in France and/or in French) to non-European producers.
The wide range of possibilities offered to producers make France quite a model for many other countries and attracts foreign coproducers. Indeed, last year, foreign producers invested €229M in 73 coproductions (37 of which were mainly French) where their French partners invested €226M€. The many subsidies, the world-famous technical skills (picture direction, settings, visual effects...), and the great variety of landscapes, give France a great potential for coproductions and a key-position within Europe in this respect. Its recurrent partners are the UK, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Germany — the first three even have bilateral contracts with France, allowing merely financial coproductions, without any artistic or technical input from the minority partner. The great vitality of exchanges is perfectly illustrated by the presence of majority and minority productions selected to compete in Cannes this year, such as Lars von Trier’s Manderlay [trailer], L'enfant [trailer, film focus] by the Dardenne brothers, Hidden [trailer, film focus] by Michael Haneke, Battle in Heaven [trailer, film focus] by Carlos Reygadas, Kilometre Zero [trailer] by Hiner Saleem, and Free Zone [trailer] by Amos Gitai. The French public authorities have definitely managed to initiate a coproduction network covering the entire world, including more than 25 European countries. These partnerships potentially offer French professionals great access to more and more markets and present the whole world with the fruits of a very healthy production.