Michel Saint-Jean • Producer
by Fabien Lemercier
04/07/2006 - Upcoming releases from the company, directed by Michel Saint-Jean, include The Weakest Is Always Right [trailer] by Lucas Belvaux (July 19 release), this year’s Golden Palm winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley [trailer, film focus] by Ken Loach (August 23), and Azur et Asmar [trailer] by Michel Ocelot (October 25) and, last but not least, Denis Dercourt’s The Page Turner [trailer, film focus] (August 9), a big success at this year’s Cannes Market, produced and distributed by Diaphana.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to distribute and, most of all, produce The Page Turner?
Michel Saint-Jean: Denis came to see with his idea, which he had developed a little, but it still hadn’t reached the scriptwriting stage. I had been wanting to produce something exactly like what he presented to me, a film that combines the senses and pleasure, which plays with the audience, is quite easy to understand, and which, implicitly, has important things to say about interesting subjects. It is not only a story about revenge; it is also about social revenge between two worlds that coincide.
How did you persuade Denis Dercourt to abandon his usual system of production company?
Denis has made, and still makes, quite unconventional films in French cinema, using an artisanal process in the noble sense of the term. He has been used to working with very small teams and shooting in short time periods. The film was originally supposed to be produced by his brother Tom (Les Films à Un Dollar), but I think he [Denis] felt like taking on a more classical type of production and I think that the theme and the ambition of the film deserved to be fought over so as to have an increased budget and more generous filming conditions.
Was it easy to get financing for the film?
Yes, even if it is never easy at the moment. But with a strong script, we had no difficulty in convincing actors. As the film wasn’t expensive to make, we got financing easily and quickly. Besides the case of blockbuster films where investment from television channels is enormous and where the cast play an influential role, the most important factor for a film is the quality of the script. France 3 Cinéma were very quick to support us, followed by support from Canal +, the Ile de France region, in addition to some of our own funds and Sofica funding.
What is your release strategy?
The Page Turner will open on 200 screens on August 9, which is quite a lot but the summer is an excellent time for releases, as very few films are released during this period. We are lucky to have a relatively popular actress in Catherine Frot and, after the screenings at Cannes, we had quite a strong exhibition demand. Ten years ago, 200 prints for a French film would have been classed as an enormous release, but nowadays it’s normal for a quality film. It’s a little ridiculous, but that’s the way the market is. Fourteen films are released a week and 80% of a film’s admissions are made between 8 and 10 days, a very short period. So, there really is no other solution today in order to capitalize and maximise admissions than distributing the film as widely as possible.
Were you surprised by the excellent international sales of the film?
It was a nice surprise. We knew a little before Cannes that the film may have international appeal because of its theme, cast and direction by Denis. Cannes is the only festival in the world that gives so much publicity. As the film was relatively solid, there was no enthusiasm, rather unanimity: it worked well. We were quite shocked that within 48 hours of its first screening in Un Certain Regard, the film had already secured all the major territories. Economically, very good sales were made and morally it is very satisfying, as what counts is that films are seen by as many people as possible. And it’s even more wonderful that the people are not from our own country because a film is made to be distributed and shared.