Bertrand Faivre • Producer
by Fabien Lemercier
10/03/2009 - Head of French company Le Bureau - Le Petit Bureau and UK firm The Bureau, Bertrand Faivre gives his analysis of production on both sides of the Channel, against the backdrop of Europe. Here is the enlightened view of a professional who supports quality films (see news).
Cineuropa: Is there a great difference between working as a producer in Paris or London?
Bertrand Faivre: It’s the same job in terms of relations with directors and the filmmaking process, but different when it comes to funding and access to the market. It’s much more difficult to finance films in the UK because the funding system is inadequate. Either you are in the market, or you find it difficult to succeed, if you succeed at all (on the TV side, there are only the BBC and Channel 4, who have no obligation to invest). In France, on the other hand, there’s a sort of merging of what is within the market domain and what is considered a matter of diversity with significant pre-sales obligations for European works.
However, when a UK film is successfully completed, its international impact is much greater. For example, if The Warrior [trailer] – which amassed $3.5m in sales – had been made by a French director and starred Indian actors, it would have garnered six times less, and the same goes for the horror film Isolation with which Lions Gate exceeded $2m in international sales. But the much more diversified French system fortunately makes it possible to support numerous links in the chain, so that not everything hangs on a success or failure.
When you’re in the UK, you’re on US film territory, but we mustn’t forget that the major UK hits of recent years (Slumdog Millionaire [trailer, film focus], The Constant Gardener [trailer], The Last King of Scotland [trailer], Richard Curtis’ productions…) haven’t copied US films. This, combined with the fact that the UK and US are in the process of severing their financial links, will mean the UK will start to look more towards Europe, I think.
French/UK co-productions seem to be very difficult to get off the ground since the end of the "sales & leaseback" scheme?
The UK is in the same position as almost all European countries that want to attract film shoots, without which there are no co-productions. And the UK’s new tax incentive system is not designed to encourage European co-productions, but clearly to attract the likes of Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts to London. This strategy resembles that of Eastern European countries: attracting expenditure on home territory, without concern for the cultural aspect of film.
Isn’t this a widespread trend across Europe?
There are nonetheless many bilateral agreements, for instance between France and Germany, cultural traditions and links between France and Belgium and an interest in different film industries. In my case, I’ve never done a co-production for the financial gain alone. If there are funding advantages, so much the better, but above all I’m interested in good projects by good directors. This is what led me to co-produce Christian Carion’s Happy Christmas [trailer, film focus], Dagur Kari’s Noi the Albino, Nicolas Saada’s Spy(ies) [trailer], Philippe Lioret’s Welcome [trailer, film focus] and Rachid Bouchareb’s London River [trailer]; and join forces with other producers on films such as Erick Zonca’s Julia [trailer] (jointly produced with François Marquis) and Carion’s Farewell [trailer] (jointly produced with Christophe Rossignon).
At the time of the "sale and leaseback" scheme, it was easy to get financial support for the projects that appealed to you. Today, this is no longer the case, but even though this may have discouraged most UK producers, it hasn’t deterred me. When you find a good director with whom you work well, why hold back? I’ve made two films with Asif Kapadia and we’re thinking about our third collaboration. For the past three years, I’ve had a project on the go with James Marsh and Billy O’Brien is currently writing his second film for me. I’ve been working for 15 years with Fabienne Godet and am collaborating for the second time with Christophe Ruggia. But there are also new talents such as young Spanish director Celia Galan Julve whose debut feature I’ll be producing.
What is your development strategy?
For the type of films and directors I’m interested in, it’s better to focus on international careers and the number of territories sold, rather than on the first 2pm screening. If you make a typically French comedy starring Dany Boon and Sophie Marceau, it’s the 2pm screening that will determine whether the film is a success or not: there is no other criterion. On the other hand, when you make a film like Fabienne Godet’s Burnt Out [trailer], its international circulation is just as important as a minor success in theatres. All this within the context of a clear film cost, of course.
The aim is to say to yourself: Ken Loach and Pedro Almodóvar aren’t going to come looking for me, so I’d like to work from an early stage with those who could become the new Loach, Almodovar or Desplechin in the next 10-15 years. It’s a lengthy process and we don’t live in patient times, but the European system is favourable with numerous funding sources, even though it’s sometimes difficult to achieve lasting success.
What do you think about the genre film revival in France?
For a very long time, there was a refusal to make genre films in France, except for comedies. The film scene was limited to auteur cinema on the one hand, and big mainstream comedies on the other. In recent years, there has been a thriller revival and Luc Besson, Fidélité and others have proved that we can make films for "teenagers" in France.
The world has opened up; you can see this in a negative or positive light, but one of the consequences is that standards are rising for films that hold their own internationally. The report by the “Club des 13” clearly shows this: one or two French films make it to the top every year, whereas previously things were easier on an international level. But this encourages European producers to take on genres that were, until the 1990s, the favourite preserve of US cinema, as demonstrated for example by Pan’s Labyrinth [trailer] and Gomorrah [trailer, film focus].