"It’s always wise for the cinema world to worry about its future: that’s how it moves forward"
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Gilles Sacuto • Producer and President, French Union of Independent Producers
The president of the French Union of Independent Producers dissected the state of the sector on the occasion of the ARP Film Meetings
The president of the French Union of Independent Producers Gilles Sacuto is attending the 32nd ARP (French Civil Society of Authors-Directors-Producers) Film Meetings which are unfolding in Touquet-Paris-Plage between 2nd and 4th November. We met with the co-pilot of TS Productions.
Cineuropa: What’s your opinion on the difficulties which cinemas are currently experiencing in luring viewers back to French movie theatres, which are undermining distributors and, by implication, producers?
Gilles Sacuto: Luckily, production picked back up faster in France than in other countries. But because cinemas were closed for two six-month periods, there were huge quantities of films waiting to be released at a very strained time. In order to better organise the market so as to contend this "wall of films", we called for temporary regulation, which sadly wasn’t put into place. This context had a huge weakening effect on the exploitation industry, and, because of the health measures in place, audiences took a very long time to return to cinemas and they still haven’t fully returned. But for the past month and a half, the numbers have been much improved, and in terms of French films, especially auteur films, lots of movies are getting good results. The paradox is that it’s mostly good American films which the market is lacking in, but that’s not something we can help with: we’re suffering from it, cinemas are suffering from it, and international film distributors are, too. We also need things to pick up again internationally speaking, so that we can keep on exporting our films, because in a certain number of countries the situation is even less favourable than in France. All of this is penalising French production today: distributors and sales agents, and, therefore, at the end of the chain, French producers, filmmakers, screenwriters and crews, because all of these things impact on how we make films.
In the short term, could this situation bring about a reduction in the number of French films being produced, and in average film budgets?
It is a worry. Obviously, it’s not what we want, especially since producers are still weighed down by certain constraints, notably additional expenses on top of the cost of films. There’s a real scissors effect between rising costs and difficulties in pulling budgets together.
What about recent debates suggesting a lack of variety and quality in French films?
I don’t think the problem has anything to do with what’s on offer, and that’s been clear since September. There’s a variety of films on offer, films aimed at appealing to a wider public which are finding their audience, others which are failing to find one, and it’s the same for auteur films. I don’t think the problem lies with the quality of films, distributors or cinemas, either. That said, there is an issue when it comes to the volume of American films, and French producers can’t do a thing about it. Asking ourselves questions about the quality of our work, post-event, is always relevant. What we’ve also heard is that going to the cinema might be seen as a fairly expensive pastime. We need to think about that, collectively. It doesn’t mean we need to slash our prices, but at a time when the question of purchasing power is very significant, I think we can afford to think about the price of cinema seats.
What’s the SPI’s position when it comes to a possible new reform of media chronology windows?
Like many actors within the profession, we’re really happy with the chronology which was approved at the beginning of the year (read our article) and with the fact that platforms are now contributing to funding the production of independent films for cinema, under the same conditions as our historical partners: with pre-purchasing, and a final cut and a catalogue which remain in the hands of independent producers. We’re also really happy with the agreement in place with Canal+ (news). The renegotiation which is currently underway only really impacts certain players, notably an operator which is also a producer (Ed. Disney), and I think that solutions are starting to be found. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just because of a tiny sticking point like this! On the contrary, all it took was some patient dialogue and negotiation for the industry to reach a compromise. It would be a really bad idea to undo what we’ve just achieved, which is largely in the general interest. What’s important is that platforms carry on pre-purchasing films for cinema from independent producers who will continue to own their works. It’s a strong signal and I hope that our friends in other European countries will also benefit from pre-purchasing commitments from platforms in their funding plans, so that their films don’t become platform films but simply remain films pre-purchased by platforms for specific broadcasting periods: films for cinema which are released in cinemas first, and are then broadcast either by subscription TV channels or by platforms, before continuing their exploitation journey on free-to-air TV channels.
Do you share the concerns behind the Call for A General Assembly for Film (article), which the SPI wasn’t a part of?
None of the producers’ organisations took part in it officially. I totally understand the concerns of professionals who might not have in mind all the agreements which have been signed by the unions. Worrying about the future of cinema is always a good thing. It’s always wise for the cinema world to worry about its future: that’s how it moves forward and develops. It’s a very good thing that the cinema world is mobilising and shouting loud and proud that it wants to stay alive in a world which isn’t always easy for it. For their part, producers’ unions, including the SPI, work hard to get agreements signed with platforms, some of whom might not have wanted to sign any to begin with, to finalise a media chronology which includes these platforms and which forces them to contribute and which they ultimately benefit from, but which is advantageous for independent producers, filmmakers, screenwriters, and all those who are part of the film industry in France. Because making platform films for platforms isn’t the ultimate goal. The aim is for platforms to contribute towards film.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.