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Frédéric Dubreuil • Producer

The Netflix paradox


- Feedback from Frédéric Dubreuil - the head of Envie de Tempête Productions reflects on the purchase of Journey to Greenland by Netflix

Frédéric Dubreuil  • Producer

Last year, Netflix stunned everyone by purchasing three feature films by young French independent filmmakers at Cannes. Among them were Journey to Greenland [+see also:
interview: Frédéric Dubreuil
film profile
by Sébastien Betbeder. After being released in French theatres on 30 November by UFO Distribution and made available on Netflix on 29 January worldwide – outside France -, the producer of the film, Frédéric Dubreuil (Envie de Tempête Productions), looks back on his experience working with the American platform.

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Cineuropa: How exactly did the film come to be purchased by Netflix at Cannes? Did you hesitate at all?
Frédéric Dubreuil: It all went through the seller of the film, Sébastien Chesneau (Cercamon). When the proposal came through, we asked ourselves a lot of purely pragmatic questions about the French chronology of the media, which we were compelled to respect, if only because Ciné+ had pre-purchased the film. We first had to explain that to Netflix, and early negotiations somewhat focused on that. In the end, we negotiated a release with Netflix three months after the release of the film in France, so there would be no confusion, so that people wouldn’t think the film would be accessible everywhere and in all formats, and so as not to scare exhibitors. And everything was broached in a spirit of mutual understanding, so that Ciné+ would have its window as expected.

If we look beyond the figures and the contracts, this new scenario was bound to attract criticism. But I very quickly came to the conclusion that for films that meet our production standards, which have few opportunities to be shown in theatres, whether it’s abroad or in France, it would perhaps be a good idea, a rather modern approach, to give ourselves access to an audience of over 90 million subscribers all over the world, an audience which, going through the French system, we would never have had. So it was all rather exciting, and the decision was an easy one for us to make in the end.

In financial terms, without going into details barred by confidentiality clauses, was the deal an attractive one?
Yes, but money wasn’t really my first thought. Of course it’s worth thinking about, but looking at our previous film, 2 Autumns 3 Winters [+see also:
film profile
, which we sold in 13 foreign territories, also turned out to be a success. For me, the stakes lay elsewhere, in the image of the film and it’s potential. I say that because my previous experience was the release in the United States of 2 Autumns 3 Winters, which made me realise that the spaces in which the film was screened were actually rather limited: three theatres in New York followed by universities and then, not long after, VOD. What seemed like a huge territory ended up not being the panacea we thought it would be for our small film.

The irony of it all is that we defend the French system as it’s structured and managed by the CNC, but at the same time we can see that "small" producers and "small" films have very few opportunities to be seen. When we release a film in theatres, if we manage to get 50 copies out there we’re happy, compared to the some 600 copies distributed for big films. Mathematically speaking, regardless of the quality of films and the tastes of audiences, we have a very cramped space to work in, doomed from the start, while I’m absolutely sure that our films have a real popular arthouse quality to them. It’s rather ironic that Netflix, which is to some extent the prime example of capitalism in action, in the way it works and has been designed, has given us a real space in which to showcase works. But somewhere along the line, we have to think about a film’s survival when it comes to bringing it into existence and serving it up to audiences. 

What about the way the film is screened on Netflix, with a total lack of feedback on the number of viewings it gets?
It’s a bit strange. We only get feedback on the film from the comments posted on imdb or everyday tweets from Japan, Korea, the United States, Italy, etc. Of course we would like to know more, but we knew what we were getting ourselves into right from the start. Nonetheless, we did get a bit of feedback from Netflix, who said they were very happy with feedback on the film from what they refer to as their clients. It’s a rather frustrating aspect of this type of screening, as it’s also a bit abstract.

Do you think this trend of platforms purchasing independent films will become a model?
It’s still hard to say. What I can say is that it was a very good thing for this film, as it fit with the film’s somewhat contemporary and youthful feel, including in its branding. Also because the film is, after all, a special case, shot in the last village of bear hunters in Greenland, a feature that was also made as part of a transmedia project. As to the question of whether or not this will become a model, I think it will depend on what happens in years to come at Canal+: if they direct themselves at big companies, following current market trends, we will have to find ways to exist if we want to continue making our films. There are also a lot of discussions underway in France at the moment on the chronology of the media. In absolute terms, I’m neither for nor against Netflix, I simply think that if it allows us to continue making films, it can’t be all bad.

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(Translated from French)

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