"26 French and foreign partners"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Christophe Rossignon founded Nord-Ouest Productions in 1999 after working for Lazennec.He retraces the series of incidents which occurred during the financial arrangements and the shooting of the film
Those difficulties were however successfully overcome by Rossignon who previously produced the first films of Mathieu Kassovitz, Tran Anh Hung, Yann Samuell and Christian Carion, and also worked with Gaspard Noé on Irreversible. His coming projects for 2005-2006 include the next films of Philippe Lioret (Je Vais Bien, Ne T'en Fais Pas) and Michel Ocelot (Azur et Asmar).
Cineuropa: How did you manage to gather the budget of 18 millions Euros for Merry Christmas [+see also:
interview: Christian Carion
interview: Christophe Rossignon
Christophe Rossignon: I knew, from the start, that it would be impossible to make this film without the support of a heavy-weight production company, as it was going to be an expensive film. But the major groups did not understand the project and thought that A Very Long Engagement was already enough on the theme of the First World War. I heard a lot of unpleasant comments on the film, pacifism and taboo subjects. I can't blame them, as the project did not seem very exciting on paper. Thus, I had to arrange huge coproductions abroad, pre-sell the film and gather a multitude of partners. This was long and difficult. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region first said that the film was as important as Germinal, which was a very important support for us, as the North had been deeply marked by the First World War. As Germany was as concerned by that war as France, England and Belgium, I was looking for coproductions in these countries, where they could be touched by this subject. Patrick Quinet (Artémis Productions - Belgium) is a friend and we try to support each other as much as we can, coproducing our respective films. In the same way, I contacted Bertrand Faivre at an early stage about the project (The Bureau – UK), as I knew that there were important financing sources in England. It was harder for Germany, but Daniel Marquet (Group One) eventually found a German partner and pre-sold the film in Japan (an excellent deal for the upstream buyers). This sale was a surprise to everybody because the fact that the Japanese bought the film on script meant that Joyeux Noël was a universal story. This comforted some of ours partners who said no in the first place, but eventually said yes, such as Canal + and TF1 Films Production. As far as the advance funds of the CNC (National Centre of Cinematography), it was first refused and I then presented it to another commission. 270 000 euros, that is to say 1,5 % of the budget in exchange for 10% of takings, is a high price to pay though, but I can be proud because I will be able to refund it in record time. The film was set up with 26 French and foreign partners in total.
How did you choose the shooting places?
We wanted to shoot in France for a matter of convenience. We needed 25 acres to work on the set and 250 acres to be isolated enough for the camera, sound and quietness. In France, you can only find that king of deserted lands in the mountains, but our negotiations with big farmers were never successful. Then, the Ministry of Defense offered us the perfect opportunity, but the military hierarchy refused to help us, just before we started the film preparation. According to them, our soldiers were no heroes but traitors. 90 years after, it should be possible to say that the soldiers in Joyeux Noël fraternised. So what? They were right, as that war killed 10 millions men for nothing. We could have saved 2,5 millions euros if we had had the military camp in France. We searched in vain for lands in Belgium and Germany. We eventually found what we wanted in Romania where everything went really well (except for the fact that it was very hard to find red-haired men to play British soldiers and fair-haired men to play German soldiers). We shot for four weeks in France, one week in Germany, and seven in Romania.