"Cultural content is the new oil"
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Florence Gastaud • Producer, Les Compagnons du Cinéma
The head of the French company sheds light on the sale of Madame Claude to Netflix for worldwide distribution, and gives her viewpoint on the turbulence and changes affecting the sector
A co-founder of the production company Les Compagnons du Cinéma alongside Michel Hazanavicius and Riad Sattouf, Florence Gastaud revisits the sale of Sylvie Verheyde’s Madame Claude [+see also:
interview: Florence Gastaud
film profile] to Netflix (who are releasing the picture worldwide on 2 April 2021), shares her views on the involvement of platforms in funding film creation, and drops a few clues about future projects.
Cineuropa: What led you to sell Madame Claude to Netflix, forgoing the film’s cinema release in France?
Florence Gastaud: Wild Bunch, who were selling the film worldwide, were already in discussions with Netflix, who really liked the film, over all the other territories. During the first lockdown in spring 2020, seeing that cinemas were closing their doors, Netflix voiced its interest for buying the film for global audiences, including France. It was quite an overwhelming decision and there was a lot of debate about it. Sylvie Verheyde didn’t have a problem with it because she wanted her film to be seen. In fact, she’d always said that it had a "Netflix feel" to it, because it’s a political thriller, of sorts, a genre you no longer find on Netflix and which you only see at the cinema. It was a lengthy process because we were somewhat reluctant. But then we realised that if we wanted the film to be released in cinemas, we would have to wait until 2023-2024; because I think that when cinemas re-open, we’ll need to clear the way for juggernaut films: we’ll need extremely high-performing products to draw audiences back to cinemas. An arthouse film like Madame Claude would have struggled to find a place for itself in 2021-2022 and we would doubtless have had to wait a while for it to exist in the way that it deserved. It was too complicated from a financial viewpoint and, more than anything else, it was frustrating to think that this film wouldn’t be seen. So, at a certain point, we decided that forgoing the big screen in the name of a wider audience made sense, because the film was made to be seen.
Wild Bunch was scheduled to distribute the film in French cinemas, but how did the film’s other partners react?
I suggested to OCS (who were our first partner, with two pay windows) and Netflix that they come up with a plan, which might turn out to be a model for the future, which would allow them to partner up. It really bothered me that Orange ended up as a collateral victim, which they didn’t deserve to be. Given that I knew that they themselves operated this way with series, vis-à-vis Le Bazar de la charité with TF1 and Netflix, for example, I suggested that they become co-broadcasters. We came up with a chronology: Netflix would enjoy the first release window and then, after six months, Orange would be allowed to broadcast the film for a period of 15 months. We also reimbursed a SOFICA company, as well as the support funds we received from the CNC and the Ile-de-France region, etc.
In your former professional life as Managing Director of L’ARP (the French Guild of Authors, Directors and Producers), you took quite an avant-garde approach to the matter of multi-support distribution (news). SVOD platforms will soon contribute to the funding of French film creation (read our interview with Olivier Henrard) and a new media chronology is under negotiation. What is your view on these developments?
I want to be optimistic about it. Before the health crisis, and now more than ever, cultural content is the new oil. We’re going to need to produce films and series because everyone wants them. And French regulation is now proving that we might be able to make room for massive players. It’s just the cultural exception we’ve already seen in times gone by, the cultural exception being the rebalancing of the competitive scale of power with ultra-potent American players, by way of public policy. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) is a vague step in this direction. Obviously, it becomes increasingly complicated, but we’ll get there in the end because it’s in everyone’s best interests. I believe in co-existence; clearly there will be friction over a certain number of works, and huge competition over big projects which will no doubt lead to inflation. But we need to preserve the diversity of European cinema, which has been our strength for the past 50 years. I get the impression that we’re ok for now. That’s a mid to long term view. But in the short term I’m worried, because the directive will take time and we need a solution for the media chronology now. It’s still taking far too much time, and we don’t have very much of that left. The downside revolves around how exactly we’re going to set this new order of doing things in motion. The upside is that international players who had no time for our regulations are starting to understand our codes, our way of thinking, and are making an effort on their side. But we mustn’t forget to preserve those elements which have allowed us to be who we are today - we need to make sure it doesn’t impact Canal+ and OCS too negatively (news).
What projects are you currently working on?
I recently signed a consulting contract with Wild Bunch - I’m going to help them develop their production output in France, as well as playing an intermediary role vis-à-vis the various professional unions and public authorities on all institutional and political matters impacting the film and audiovisual sector.
With the help of Les Compagnons du cinéma, Michel Hazanavicius’ animated film La plus précieuse des marchandises, which we are producing with Patrick Sobelman (Ex Nihilo) and StudioCanal, is due to enter into production in September. And, as Michel had a bit of spare time, he’ll soon be kicking off filming another film. But we also have a lot of other irons in the fire, which it’s still a bit early to be talking about, notably Simon déraille by Riton Liebman, which is currently being developed.
(Translated from French)
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