Co-production in Europe, economic solution or artistic choice?
by Axel Scoffier, INA
- Can only a coproduction motive be on finances, or can it also be artistic? Is it possible a co-production do well?
If L'Auberge Espagnole or Night train to Lisbon [+see also:
film profile] are well-known co-productions and constitute the two born identity of the European Cinema, who would know that Blue is the Warmest Color [+see also:
interview: Abdellatif Kechiche
film profile], winner of the Palme d'Or in 2013, is a French-Belgian-Spanish co-production, involving the producers of Quat’Sous Films, Wild Bunch, Vertigo Films, The Tax Shelter, SCOPE Pictures, RTBF, France 2 Cinéma and EURIMAGES? Abdellatif Kechiche’s film, like a growing number of European films, is discreetly international.
As a matter of fact, there is a long tradition of film co-production in Europe. From the Franco-Italian co-production of the 60s (Le Guépard by Visconti , co-produced by Titanus and Pathé Cinéma ) to the German- American-British co-production of the 2000s (Anonymous [+see also:
interview: Rhys Ifans
interview: Roland Emmerich
interview: The cast of Roland Emmerich…
film profile] by Emmerich , coproduced by Anonymous Pictures , Studio Babelsberg and Columbia ) several relationships between European producers created a solid network of film co-productions on the old continent.
The term "co-production" means the collaboration of several producers, through their mutual resources (financial, human and material) and the allocation of risks, in order to produce a film or audiovisual product. The producers carry the legal and economic responsibility for the production and hold the intellectual property, while the executive producer ensures that the project goes into production.
It can also be a simple financial co-producer, who does not hold the intellectual property of the film produced. The details of the co-production are set by contracts between the parties, the conditions are very variable, and are supervised by international agreements between the countries concerned: bilateral treaties (45 treaties of co-productions in France, 18 in Germany, 17 in Spain, 13 in UK) facilitate access to the national systems of subsidies and dual nationality, while European Cinematographic Co-Production Convention, after the European Council, supervises everything.
The international co-production naturally raises the question of the film nationality, an aspect often irrelevant artistically but nevertheless economically essential; for allowing the project to reach the national support systems and enter the quotas of the national television channels. Dual nationality (or multinational) film is a legal advantage that generates direct economic benefits (funding) and indirect (box office). Co-productions can be bilateral or multilateral, and can obviously include non-European partners.
Can only a co-production motive be on finances, or can it also be artistic? Is it possible a co-production do well? Under what conditions?
Some co-production axis in Europe
In Europe, the fragmented market of cinema leads producers to focus on national markets (language, culture ...) for a majority of films, and adapt the production budget to the market size. In 2012, the largest producers were France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain, respectively with 279, 154, 134 and 103 films produced in the year (including co-productions).
If we try to draw the main co-production force in Europe, we can only notice the establishment of a vast diversity of partnerships. In France, for example, of 279 films produced in 2012, 129 are co-productions (with 37 countries), with 70 most foreign films. Locality and linguistic proximity play out, but are not discriminating criteria. Actually, the two very active areas are: the Franco-Belgian and the German-British axis.
According to the CNC, for films French Initiative, Belgium is the partner with 35 films, followed by Luxembourg (9 films). For most foreign films, the first partner is Germany with 18 films, followed by Italy (14 films), Belgium (11 films) and Spain (8 films).
The first country outside the EU in terms of coproduction is Turkey, with 3 films co-produced in 2012. There are also bilateral financial co-productions (without artistic and technical contribution of the minority countries), supervised by agreements signed between France and Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom: there were 17 productions of this type in 2012, including 12 by Italy. Finally, the French co-productions involving at least three EU countries under the European Co-Production Convention (signed in 2002) had 44 production (out of 129 co-productions approved) .
The German Incentive Policy, together with the activity of the Babelsberg Studios and Bavaria, attracts many Anglo-Saxon projects often co-produced with the United Kingdom and the United States.
This is the case, for example, of The Ghost Writer [+see also:
film profile] (Polanski), Three Musketeers 3D [+see also:
film profile] (Anderson), Anonymous (Emmerich) and Carnage [+see also:
film profile] (Polanski). The alliances were brought to strengthen StudioCanal incentive, which development in the UK and Germany took place around projects such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [+see also:
film profile] and the series Pillars of the Earth.
The Franco- Italian axis, like other former priority areas of cooperation, has lost its distinction as a result of the crisis on Italian cinema since the 1970s. It is only very recently, under a new agreement Franco- Italian co-production (in 2003) that co-productions are returning in numbers and quality. The Italian Film auteur, now often, has to go through France, while the rest of the production remains highly polarized by national television.
Finally, other secondary dynamic axis, in the Scandinavian countries, is the prolific Denmark – Sweden partnership, as shown by the success of the police series Bron (The Bridge) , constructed around the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmö . The partnership also brings other partners, for example, in the case of big productions such as Millennium Trilogy.
Beyond national incentives policies, the European Union directly encourages co-production through funding provided by the MEDIA Program (now CREATIVE EUROPE 2014-2020). Similarly, the European Council, with the EURIMAGES as a base, actively supports the co-productions: it has supported more than 1,500 European co-productions for a total amount of approximately € 468 million since its inception in 1988.
An Economic solution, an artistic challenge
However, the vast majority of European films are national productions, mainly for three reasons: on the one hand the director’s background and interests, culture and public references on the other, and finally the equivalent production system itself.
Especially since the national funding often asks for films to have national cultural significant (days filming on site, presence of actors, or team members). The co-production thus represents, when it is not directly justified by the subject, an artistic challenge. Film critics often can describe European co-productions as the “melting pot” or even the genuine “pudding”, expressing the diluted artistic identity under the effect of production mechanisms.
European writers and directors tend to locate their theme within their own geographical area , first by artistic relevance, because it is the territory they know and the best that suits them (Oh Boy [+see also:
interview: Jan Ole Gerster
film profile], by German filmmaker Jan Ole Gerster , was shot entirely in the streets of Berlin), but also by linguistic or logistical convenience.
From the producer side, there is a certain tendency to think first of the national market. Rodolphe Buet, CEO of StudioCanal Germany states; “French cinema is facing the French market (...) and the German cinema is largely funded by television ...". But it is also true that the French system is more attentive to the artistic motivated projects and attracts filmmakers from around the world. Margaret Ménégoz, producer and director of Diamond Films recalls that “France is very interested in foreign directors, even young filmmakers.
And it is also true that the movie industry is not doing so well in many countries: in Spain, the State makes large cuts in the television budget, in Italy there is more regulation and there is not really a reinforcement to the great period of the Italian cinema ... “
Among the independent producers, therefore, the search for the artistic coherence comes first. According to Bertrand Faivre, producer and director of the Bureau; "the filmmakers and producers are very sensitive to the areas in which they work on. This is the first step, the first market against which the success of the film is measured. The films for the international market are better off if they are in the English. But the first criterion of the success for me it is the artistic success of the film (…) ".
For Paulo Branco, producer and director of Alfama Films, "as a producer, I produce from France because the system isn’t so bad; I take it as a tool. It does encourage a certain artistic relationship to cinema, although the mechanisms of selection – CNC - sometimes tend to normalize it. "
However, at a certain production level, it is necessary to consider the public preferences to reduce the risk of failure: Bertrand Faivre recognizes that" L'Affaire Farewell [+see also:
film profile], which had a much bigger budget [than L’Inconnu du Lac [+see also:
interview: Alain Guiraudie
film profile]] was designed from the beginning towards to the international public.
But then again, a film is an offer so that we first think the artistic success of the film as a new proposal to the public. “The same logic was at StudioCanal (e.g. by the producer of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011), but this time it was internally: “The associate partners had autonomy throughout the development phase, but for the production they worked together, they had weekly contact and were totally involved in the process.
It is obvious that the projects have a European base, strong enough, in terms of market, and this of course involves an assess of these three key areas . “For the international projects such as those at StudioCanal, "the choice of filming in Germany, France or Great Britain depends heavily on tax incentives which are proposed" (Rodolphe Buet), even if the source of the funding comes from the French headquarters of StudioCanal. For the independent producers, the main motor of a co-production therefore remains the same, which is about the film itself.
To choose their filming locations, funding proposals and their partners, most of the producers follow the project depiction by the writer or director, if it includes a transnational dimension, the producer may seek to organize a co-production with a local partner. These co-productions increased in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly between France, Italy and Spain. Nowadays, according to Paulo Branco, there is almost no co-production between these countries, as the film market in Italy and Spain is disastrous. " Tax incentives implemented by public policies at regional and national level are criteria that come into play in the decision of a film location, but which are not always decisive.
For independent films, success is primarily related to the director's vision and consistency, the location of the film is first determined by his choice, and the benefit of a tax credit is that tax optimization resulting from this choice. For Bertrand Faivre: "This is a variable geometry; everything is driven by the topic. I co-produced several films, Joyeux Noël, Welcome [+see also:
interview: Philippe Lioret
film profile], Le Capital [+see also:
film profile], or Far North [+see also:
film profile], with Michelle Yeoh, and I do not always pass through England. In Joyeux Noël, for example, the co-production was part of an inherited project: a film about the First World War, when the armies of several nationalities fraternized; it foretold what would be the ideal configuration of a co-production.”
Margaret Ménégoz optimistic sentence summarizes the characteristics of the European system: "Overall it is still rather easy to produce in Europe, there are many branches, which form a very complex web, that must be known, and which allow us to produce and co-produce, and find funding.” Cinema is not the only audiovisual industry whose producers interact at European level.
There are other types of audiovisual cooperation, especially around the series production, such as Wallander (Yellow Bird / BBC), Borgia (Atlantic Productions, Canal +, EOS Entertainment and ETIC Films) or Death in Paradise (BBC / Atlantic Productions). Series correspond to logic of television production differentiated from film budget, despite many parallels in narrative and aesthetic terms.
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