ARP Film Meetings 2021
Industry Report: Market Trends
"The circulation of works is a matter of general interest"
Haut et Court, Pathé, Playtime, Les Films du Bal, Epithète Film and the CNC analyse the current situation at the ARP Film Meetings
While all the participants in the debate entitled "What independent creation for the future?", which took place yesterday at the ARP’s (Civil Society for Authors-Directors-Producers) Film Meetings (at Touquet-Paris-Plage from 3 to 5 November) praised the quality of French cinematic creation, illustrated this year by the Palme D’Or and Golden Lion winners among others, the conversations focused most of all on the challenges posed by the current situation and on the solutions to be put in place in order to both deal with the most pressing issues at hand and plan for the future, from consolidation to mutation.
Regarding independent distributors, who are faced with the necessity to fulfil the MG promises they had made before the health crisis and in a normal market — for films which are now being distributed in a very different French market that finds itself reduced by 30% in terms of ticket sales (and reduced even more when it comes to arthouse films) — Carole Scotta (Haut et Court) pointed out “an inability to plan ahead as long as the nature of the next 12 months isn’t clearer,” while stating that she believes things should become progressively easier. Moreover, the co-president of the DIRE (Reunited European Independent Distributors) added that even if “the industrialisation of our world is clearly headed towards the audiovisual, everything can co-exist, but there needs to be great attention paid to crossing points.”
International sales agent Nicolas Brigaud-Robert (Playtime) reminded the other participants that “the circulation of works is a matter of general interest. With multiple financing windows and a media chronology that exists all over the world, films circulate from one window to another. The new financing model is one with a single window, where a digital studio takes world rights on a film, which means the end of circulation: the works are exclusively available to the subscribers. But what is diversity when works are reserved to a happy few?” On the question of the decrease of MGs coming from exporters, his observation is frank: “Digital studios have a disruptive effect. They buy fewer and fewer films, because they produce instead. There was a period when they would get their cheque books out on the red carpets to acquire world rights (save for those few territories already sold). But now that they operate ahead in the cycle, there is a siphon effect. It used to be that exporters could spread out the risks they took on different types of films, but since a part of the market is disappearing to the benefit of platforms, which is normal since producers want to finance their films, the offer of exporters is shrinking, at the very moment when their clients abroad are struggling with financial management and solvency. On the one hand, there is the problem of access to projects, and on the other, that of the fragility of our markets: the consequence is a reduction of the MGs. However, one of the great strengths of the French industry is all of those films, both French and foreign, that are awarded all over the world and sold by French companies, which form a unique fabric of small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Producers Judith Lou Levy (Les Films du Bal) and Frédéric Brillion (Epithète Films) found common ground on one topic (the former demanding that public authorities take a firmer grip on the subject): Canal+ is no longer honouring its commitments and between €20M and €30M of its pre-buying investment commitments would still be outstanding.
According to Ardavan Safaee (Pathé Films president), “in just a few months, we have seen drastic changes. For 30 years, film financing existed in a world that had borders, where local operators created value. Today, there are no borders any longer: the industry has become globalised because of the platforms. Hence the risk for a talent drain towards those platforms which attracts talent to series, something which Pathé is trying to counterbalance by signing a few exclusivity agreements (...). On the one hand, we have reasons to be pessimistic, because cinema suffers from a lack of appeal and audiovisual media has taken over in that regard, but there is also reason to be optimistic, since there is a real renewal of talent in France (...). The question is to figure out how to promote our cinema in the rest of the world. It would be a mistake to let Americans exploit France’s cultural heritage, which is why we are producing Asterix & Obelix: the Middle Kingdom and The Three Musketeers (...). Our strategy is to produce fewer films, but to produce them better. They are not necessarily big films, although we do need a few of those to make people get out of their homes. For films to be able to exist in theatres, we need films that are exceptional and original. It isn’t necessarily a question of budget, it’s about what we are saying and who we are addressing. There are, for example, films that are weird and strange, which speak to an audience that we haven’t yet paid much attention to in France.”
CNC president Dominique Boutonnat replied to these various analyses and suggested a few avenues of action for 2022. “Today, as we come out of this crisis, we must make sure that independent distribution does not fall apart. Will it keep financing cinema as much as it once did? I am not sure. Should there be some support funds in place? Other forms of financing? (...) We must also strengthen the financing abilities of international sales agents so that they can be in a better balance of power with the platforms.” Regarding support during complicated changes, the CNC will set up a work group whose goal will be to come up with suggestions by mid-January 2022. Moreover, as announced the day before at the Film Meetings by French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, the negotiations with big exhibitors regarding programming engagements, which were interrupted by the health crisis, will resume, in particular to put a stop to the phenomenon where a single (American) film is shown on several screens within the same theatre, and to instead guarantee films an access to all theatres. This resumption of negotiations will take place alongside a reflection on the possibilities of deviating from competition law, which will share its findings in April 2022.
Dominique Boutonnat also raised the question of English works’ qualification as European works: if they were not to be qualified as European, the share of works from other European countries (notably from France) in the offering of all broadcasters would rise. Based on our information, this topic can only be discussed at the level of the European Council, where the seed of the idea has however already been planted. Nevertheless, certain large French groups which own catalogues that include many British works naturally would not be very much in favour of this change. To be continued…
Finally, the CNC president took the risk to raise the question of the definition of a film, specifically “outside of the cinema,” underlining the fact that young people “now only watch audiovisual media.” The idea seemed to be a trial balloon on a particularly contentious topic, but one which seems to echo the government authorities’ vision of the future, since it corresponds to the recently unveiled division of funds dedicated to “the production of new cultural products” as part of the France 2030 plan: €300M for new filming and post-production facilities, €100M for training, and €200M for new VR, augmented reality and immersive technologies.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.