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France / Europe

Sabine Chemaly • EVP of International Distribution, Newen Connect - TF1 Studio

"When the sales business started about 30 years ago, it was very much about French companies dealing with French titles"

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- We take a closer look at the market strategies carried out by the sales division of the French giant

Sabine Chemaly • EVP of International Distribution, Newen Connect - TF1 Studio

We met up with Sabine Chemaly, EVP of International Distribution at Newen Connect - TF1 Studio. During the interview, the French exec disclosed how her work has changed over the last few years, how curation is key to gaining traction in worldwide markets and how her company’s editorial policy is evolving.

Cineuropa: Could you please talk through your editorial policy?
Sabine Chemaly: We belong to TF1, one of the largest, more mainstream media companies in Europe. Unsurprisingly, we have a lot of comedies among our picks, but we don’t get involved only in TF1 movies. We have a more diversified editorial policy than TF1, but it’s very much about very inspirational stories. We rarely go for dramas. There’s always something uplifting [in our titles]. We have roughly half of our line-up made of French-speaking movies, in addition to one or two English-speaking titles as well as non-national films from Italy and the rest of Europe every year. More recently, our company has been integrated into the Newen Group, which is fully owned by TF1. It’s primarily a production company but now distribution is also significantly expanding in all fields of the audiovisual work with Newen Connect. We represent the film-related side of things.

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What about your staff?
We have different departments across distribution, but on the film side we are three country managers, plus myself. I like to call them ‘country managers’ as I don’t consider our job merely as sellers. We have a very specific approach when it comes to exposing our films to the market. We want to accompany them from our launch till the local distributors’ ones. Country managers are responsible of every aspect, including theatrical sales and releases. If they don’t find a distributor for all the rights, they’re responsible for seeking other options to make their film visible, including platforms or linear TV. This type of work gives them a 360 degree overview of the market.

What about the size of your catalogue?
We run a catalogue of about 800 titles, with the oldest ones dating back to the early 1930s.

How many titles do you handle per year?
We handle about 10-15 new titles each year, and 8-10 are new ones.

Do you invest in films from the production stage, or help to fund films?
Absolutely. This is part of our business model. We get involved as early as possible at the script stage, sometimes even at the development stage.

How often does that happen?
I’d say in 90% of cases. It’s very rare for us to pick up completed titles, I don’t even recall the last time we did.

How has your work changed over the years?
I’d like to point out that sales agents are the cornerstone of film circulation. When it comes to the international market, we’re the first evaluating whether a film has the potential to travel. Interestingly enough, you’ll notice that almost all of the sales agents – including us – represent non-national films. Our scope expanded. When the sales business started about 30 years ago, it was very much about French companies dealing with French titles, the Italians doing the same, and so on. If you look at our line-ups, we’ve films from all over the world, especially in Europe. Therefore, curation becomes very important. If you take France, we produce 250-300 films every year, but not even half of them can really travel. So the role of sales agents is really essential. Then you have local distributors who take care of the next stage of curation and decide what’s good for their market. It’s also interesting to see how certain types of movies travel very easily in certain regions of the world and not in others. In a world where you have so much choice, it’s crucial to invest in curation. […] Since the start of the pandemic, we're contributing even more to the financing of films because our distributors have also changed their DNA. Many of them are doing production, and aren’t pure players in the distribution business. So we’re now really good advisors for producers to find co-producers in Europe or outside of Europe and help them deciding where to eventually shoot and find partners. That’s something we weren’t doing as widely as nowadays. This is happening as the theatrical market is becoming more challenging and, sometimes, distributors-turned-producers are more interested in producing a remake of the film you’re pitching rather than buying it as a finished product.

The Perfect Strangers [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
syndrome… [Paolo Genovese’s 2016 feature was remade over 20 times]
Exactly, and the same happened with Untouchable [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
. It’s what happens with TV formats. If something works locally, you feel that you’re reducing your risks by just 'adapting' it to your country. This is particularly true for high-concept comedies. […] When a work is director-driven, though, remakes are not really relevant.

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