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Jean-Paul Salomé • Director

"Where did the money go?"

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- Funding concentration is threatening the diversity of independent films, warns the film director, shortly before the Dijon Film Meetings

Jean-Paul Salomé • Director

In a French film industry that from the outside looks on top form, funding concentration for a certain type of film seems to be on the rise, making independent medium-budget productions increasingly difficult to fund. Film director Jean-Paul Salomé (about to shoot Je fais le mort - read more), vice-president of the Civil Society of Writers-Directors-Producers (ARP) organising a debate on this issue at the 22nd Dijon Film Meetings (from October 18 to 20), tells us more.

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Cineuropa: To what extent is funding concentration on the rise in the French film sector?
Jean-Paul Salomé: Films supported by groups are clearly quite expensive to produce and they benefit from more funding than the same projects, with equivalent subjects, offered by independent producers. Really big films (costume dramas, historical drams etc) have always been very expensive to make, but what is strange -- and more worrying -- is that inflation is affecting standard, contemporary comedies shot in Paris or in the provinces. So-called “middle-of-the-range” films (“films du milieu”) are supposed to be increasingly cheaper when made by independents, whereas they are increasingly more expensive when they come from groups. Films that are made on a €7 to 8m budget by a group are made for €4m by an independent. When you see some films and what they cost, you think: “Where did the money go?” They’re just very expensive middle-of-the-range films, whereas they shouldn’t be.

How exactly does this affect television pre-acquisitions?
Channels continue to finance independents, but they are tightening their belts. While they are strongly increasing their investments in films by groups, they are lowering the levels [of investment] for all other films. Public channels are however making an effort and often choose more difficult films. But today, for example, M6 would no longer co-produce Harry, He’s Here to Help. Funding has been considerably reduced.

And what of other sources of funding?
Before, there were certain middle-of-the-range films for which one could expect minimum guarantees for video rights or rights abroad. That has disappeared. For video, it’s because of piracy and because VoD has not yet taken over from DVD in terms of receipts. As for rights abroad, few independent productions find money before finishing the film. Groups have the capital to fill in this gap and can take a risk that independents can no longer afford. It creates an important differential on these middle-of-the-range budgets.

What are the long-term risks of this phenomenon?
The gulf is widening, with a tendency towards the polarisation of production. At a certain point, the axe might fall and certain independent films might no longer be made. We risk ending up with more commonplace films, intended to reach a wider audience, a notion that no one really masters. As for films on fairly sensitive topics, at higher levels of investment, fear is becoming more generalised and leads to being cautious, thinking “Beware of the subject”, “We shouldn’t do this, we shouldn’t do that.” There is this risk of rendering ideas and cinematic material commonplace because of rentability and the hope of at least finding one’s funding.

What is the reason for the inflation of budgets?
It starts with actors’ salaries, which causes ripple effects and a generalised inflation on films by groups (more comforts on set, a larger crew, etc). But in the United States, when actors accept to work on independent films, they are paid almost syndicate wages: The money is kept for making the film. I can’t see French actors doing that for the moment. We are told that they are making efforts, but it’s minimal. This all means that it has become very difficult for independent producers to continue making their films in decent conditions.

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