Stéphanie Hugé • Co-production manager, Wallimage
by David González
- During Frontières@Brussels, we met up with Stéphanie Hugé, co-production manager at Wallimage, the Belgian funding institution that is celebrating its 15th anniversary
Wallimage, Wallonia’s economic fund that supports audiovisual productions and companies, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. During the Frontières International Co-Production Market held in Brussels, we met up with Stéphanie Hugé, co-production manager at the institution, to discuss its methods of backing films as well as the current situation of film co-production.
Cineuropa: What does Wallimage look for in a project in order to fund it?
Stéphanie Hugé: First of all, we look for good projects. But what makes a good project? For Wallimage it’s simple: we look for projects that are likely to spend the most money in the audiovisual sector in Wallonia. The aim, when we set up the fund, was to give some structure to the audiovisual sector in Wallonia, but before we could give it structure, we had to stimulate and create the market. Our ongoing mission is therefore to attract projects that keep our industry and talented filmmakers alive.
The most recent projects funded by you are very genre-orientated (horror, thriller, comedy…). Is genre film easier to produce nowadays?
I don’t think some films are easier to produce than others. Before, a film could be built on a name, on famous, "bankable" actors or those who could get on the evening news more easily. This is not really the case anymore; there are always going to be exceptions, of course, but as an economic fund, it’s the spending structure we’re interested in. How much a producer intends on spending in our region, where they’re going to do it and who it gives work to. We read all the screenplays we receive but always from a financial standpoint, asking ourselves whether people will pay to see a certain story with a certain actor (whether the project is intended for cinema or for television). Some genre films are undoubtedly more complicated to fund for cultural bodies, but that’s not the case at Wallimage. Anyone is welcome as long as they drive our economy.
Co-productions are more and more necessary in the film industry. How does Wallimage help Belgian and foreign projects?
It should first of all be pointed out that Belgium is the land of co-productions; it is something that has always been in our DNA. We’re too small to produce projects entirely by ourselves, and there are always exceptions, but when the budget surpasses €1 million, it’s practically obligatory to turn to co-production. We don’t have to pull the plug on reality and our habits when co-producers come to us. On the other hand, our co-producer partners are starting to change, or rather to diversify; up until recently, we tended to stick with our big neighbour, France, as a point of culture, language and… as a force of habit. Now, since tax credits have been bolstered, certain projects have stopped coming to Belgium, which forces Belgian producers to (successfully) turn to other co-producer countries such as the United Kingdom, the Nordic countries and Canada. Incidentally, Wallimage fast-tracks co-productions with francophone and anglophone Canada - thanks to the opening up of the Tax Shelter to Canadian co-productions and their entry into Eurimages, we’ve been conquering North America.
How can film projects gain access to your funding?
First of all, the foreign producer has to find a good partner in Belgium (and there are loads of them), then the Belgian partner goes to work, submitting an application at one of the five annual sessions. It’s important to point out that the backbone of Wallimage rests on two things: first and foremost… spending! And the way this is structured. To submit an application, the producer must declare that they will spend a minimum of €300,000 in audiovisual spending in Wallonia. As we’re a selective fund, we have the luxury of being able to choose, so we recommend that the board of Wallimage invests in projects that spend the maximum amount in our region and that have a demand/spending ratio of at least 400%. The second selection criterion rests on projected takings. We examine the funding plan with a view to having a share in the project’s takings… if there are any. We analyse the MGs (minimum guarantees) and pre-sales for the screenplay we’ve read. Indeed, an MG of €1 million may seem enormous for certain films but perfectly reasonable for others.
Wallimage is now celebrating its 15th anniversary. How have things changed in these 15 years for film production and funding?
Fifteen years; we’re finally teenagers. A lot of things have changed over the last few years. We’ve seen the introduction of the Tax Shelter that allows us to export our films more easily, to fund them better and to fund a whole series of projects that perhaps wouldn’t have come to Belgium otherwise. The combination of Wallimage, the Tax Shelter and, in some cases, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, the VAF and Screen Flanders, makes Belgium a real co-producing force to be reckoned with in the global audiovisual industry.