French Media Players Reflect on Successes and Setbacks From a Wild 2021

Entertainment industry heavyweights from France are sharing thoughts on their successes, the challenges they faced in a year overshadowed by COVID, as well as predicting what’s in store for the movie business in 2022.

Some of the country’s milestones in 2021 include the implementation of the E.U.’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) to get global streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV Plus to start investing 20% of their annual revenues in French content, which broadcasting authorities (CSA) expect to be from €250 million ($282 million) to €300 million ($330 million) on average annually.

The country’s strict windowing rules are also getting a significant revamp which will allow streamers to have an earlier access — possibly 15 months — to newly released movies, compared with the current 36 months. While the indie film biz and the box office have been weakened by the pandemic, the French industry managed to get local pay TV group Canal Plus to invest €600 million ($680 million) in French and European films from 2022 to 2024.

Variety interviewed the following nine French industry leaders who played an important role this year:

Manuel Alduy, who joined France Televisions from Twentieth Century Fox in January and is head of cinema and international development. Under Alduy’s watch, France Televisions joined forces with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of public service media which BBC in the U.K., ARD in Germany and Rai in Italy to co-produce series; and signed a major deal with the Cannes Film Festival to become co-sponsor of the prestigious event.

Ardavan Safaee, the president of Pathé Films, which made three epic films which rank amongst France’s highest-budgeted and most ambitious, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Notre Dame Brûle” (€30 million), “Astérix et Obelix, l’empire du milieu” (€60 million) and “The Three Musketeers: d’Artagnan” (€60 million).

Elsa Huisman, the founding partner of Avocats 111, an entertainment law film whose client roster ranges from filmmakers such as Ladj Ly (“Les Miserables”) and Romain Gavras (“The World is Yours”) to contemporary artists like Claire Tabouret and authors such Guillaume Musso (“The Reunion”).

Nathanael Karmitz, the co-CEO of MK2 which runs a leading arthouse cinema chain in Paris and Spain. The company’s film division delivered several critically acclaimed films this year, including Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” and Celine Sciamma’s “Petite Maman,” as well as Jonas Carpignano’s “A Chiara” and Andrea Arnold’s “Cow.”

Harold Valentin, founder and producer at Mother Production, whose best-known credit is “Call My Agent” whose fourth season won the C21 Award on top of the International Emmy Award for best comedy. Valentin’s banner is co-producing the U.K. remake of the show with Headline, Pulse and Amazon, and will soon start production on a “Call My Agent” special.

Cecile Felsenberg, co-founder of the talent agency UBBA (Un Bien Bon Agent), whose client roster includes Melanie Laurent, Gael Garcia Bernal, Julie Delpy, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Millepied, Dany Boon and Guillaume Canet.

Victor Hadida, the president of Metropolitan Filmexport, one of France’s biggest independent distribution groups, who is also president of the distribution guild FNEF and BLIC, the union representing the French film industry. Hadida played an active role in creating the new decree implementing the E.U.’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS), as well as the deal with Canal Plus and took part in negotiations to establish new windowing rules.

Vanessa Dijan, founder and producer at Daidai Films, which delivered its first film this year, Fred Cavayé’s period movie “Adieu Monsieur Haffman,” created with publicist Karolyne Leibovici a group for women in the industry called Girls Supports Girls. Networking events gather CEOs such as Gaumont boss Sidonie Dumas, filmmakers like Mounia Meddour (“Papicha”) and agents, including Elisabeth Tanner (who inspired the character played by Camille Cottin in “Call My Agent!”).

Laurence Lascary, founder and producer at De L’Autre Coté du Periph’, a banner which has produced some of France’s rare movies with predominantly Black casts, for instance the comedy “The Climb.” Lascary is also a co-founder and board member of the advocacy group Collect 50/50, which this year released a study called Cinégalités which surveyed the representation of people in front and behind the camera, taking into account their ethnicity. It’s a breakthrough considering that it’s unconstitutional in France to collect data on the racial, ethnic or religious background of citizens.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of the pandemic on the industry and the way you work?

Hadida: I believe that it has accelerated the change of tastes and needs of our audiences, and our industry’s digital turn, as well as the way film markets will happen. Festivals will still be primary launchpads for projects or movies but we see that film markets will now now will be year-long. That said we’ll still need some gatherings at markets to bolster creativity and opportunities at all level in our community.

Safaee: The way we approach content, talent relationship, the chase for IP and what is the right distribution avenue (theatrical, TV, streaming) and timing (the windowing revolution) for each project are among the things that have definitely reshaped our industry. On the management side, working with people remotely has sometimes brought more efficiency but we lost a lot of human interactions along the way and probably part of a sense of a common purpose in a company. I don’t think it is really for the best.

Karmitz: The most profound impact will be on movies themselves. In this era of overabundance, only the most original and radical films will survive. New stories will emerge from this period. The rest will be the industry adjusting itself to trends that were already there and transitions that have already existed in the history of film.

Alduy: For the movie industry, COVID has accelerated three existing trends : a lower number of mid-range budget films that get theatrical releases, less talent availability and pressure on costs due to the boom of content demand from streamers, and a tightening of market conditions to achieve success in theaters and on TV. It’s quite a Darwinistic moment… But movies still have a greater long-term value than series, so I stay optimistic.

Huisman: Everyone has realized that we are now able to work and build relationships from almost anywhere in the world. The pandemic has accelerated a global vision and understanding of the market. The worldwide success of shows such as “Call My Agent!” or “Lupin” also confirmed an appetite for local language premium productions. French screenwriters, directors and producers will be increasingly encouraged to write ambitious stories with the perspective that their series or films could possibly (or at least much more likely than before) travel worldwide.

Felsenberg: A sense of vulnerability while facing a virus which is mutating; it’s a very unpleasant feeling. With cinemas closing in some countries Northern Europe, we’re worried that France will be next. The audiences have not fully returned to cinemas and theaters.  The economic impact could be harsh for the talents we’re working with.

Dijan: This is the first time in history that a virus has changed the whole of society, and I think it will continue to influence the way films are distributed and watched — films that get theatrically released will have to be a premium event and stronger than what can be found elsewhere on platforms.

Lascary: It will not be as simple as before to produce films… I think, or I hope, that the toughening of the market will lead to something positive, more meaningful films, more ambition.

Valentin: The TV industry probably benefited from the pandemic (albeit some interrupted productions) because people were watching more shows. Artistically speaking, I’m really happy to be able to work so easily with some writers wherever they are, but I also think a lot about how the pandemic revealed ongoing cultural changes that our shows will need to reflect.

Who would you like to collaborate or do business with in 2022 and why?

Alduy: We hope to achieve a mutually beneficial agreement with the industry regarding the [theatrical] windowing rules for film releases, but also to foster more partnerships with other broadcasters and streamers in Europe to co-produce ambitious series that resonate worldwide.

Safaée: We recently launched a series department, so our hope is to be able to to business with broadcasters and streamers on the very first slate of series we will launch this year.

Huisman I would like to keep working with the talent that I’ve been building long-standing relationships with over the years, and to keep assisting them on premium projects. In 2022, I would like to take advantage of this growing global market to build more and more opportunities for French artists and producers on the international scene.

Karmitz: The same as in 2021, we don’t change a winning team.

Hadida: I am really excited to collaborate for the first time with George Miller on “Three Thousand Years of Longing” and with Hirokazu Kore-eda, and look forward to meeting again with great friends like David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen on “Crimes of The Future,” and Claude Lelouch on “L’ amour c est mieux que la vie.”

Valentin: We have wonderful French shows that we are working on right now, and I would love to expand on collaborations with Anglo-Saxon talents I feel so close to.

Felsenberg: I’d like to continue collaborating with our traditional partners who are making films, producers and distributors who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. It’s always terrible to see people who are passionate and deeply love films in such a delicate situation.

Lascary: Jean-Pascal Zadi (“Tout simplement noir”) because I live a lot in his universe and sense of humor. And with Collectif 50/50, we’re very eager to build bonds with more organizations which is what we’re currently doing. For instance, we’d be interested in talking to Ava DuVernay’s Array Crew company.

Dijan: I’d love to work with Ryan Murphy, Fanny Herrero, Shonda Rhimes, Julia Ducournau , Audrey Diwan, Sarah Street or Mona Chollet and the Rock (because my daughter is totally in love with him).

What’s the greatest area of opportunity for or threat to France’s film business in 2022?

Karmitz: The biggest threat is the presidential election and the rise of populism. The greatest opportunity is presiding over the Council of the E.U. because that will give us the opportunity to embolden European culture with the new impulse it needs.

Safaée: The obligation for streamers to invest 20% of their turnaround in local content is a huge opportunity, and the market will grow with the arrival of newcomers in the next two to three years. The theatrical business will have a challenging year for indie distributors and producers. Will people come back to theaters like they used to? Most distributors’ lineups are made of films developed before the pandemic: Are they still relevant?

Huisman: The greatest opportunity is the decrees that we’ve signed to increase film production and distribution in theaters and in other media. The biggest threat is the loss of moviegoers if the Covid crisis prevents cultural activities from flourishing and encourages people to stay at home. The other huge threat is if we see piracy increase and destroy all our works and value if we don’t get a new government taking further necessary action.

Alduy: If theaters continue to suffer from a significant box office drop (down by 30% during the second semester of 2021 in France) despite an incredibly wide-ranging film offering, some venues will close, and some distributors will go bankrupt or reduce their slate, and production will reduce again.

Felsenberg: The multiplication of new players like the streaming services has changed the landscape since last year. We see major opportunities to shine an international spotlight on our talent and develop ambitious projects.

Huisman: The production obligations and the increasing number of streamers in France will definitely bring many more opportunities for French talents and producers to create and produce their projects. However this invasion of streamers will definitely create strong competition with the traditional players of the cinema industry who still hope to lure back French audiences in cinemas.

Dijan: France has been under the spotlight across the world thanks to directors like Julia Ducournau and Audrey Diwan but also series like “Call My Agent!” and record breaking viewership of “Lupin.” There is certainly a “nouvelle vague Française” which is arriving in series and filmmaking and that’s boasting the appeal of other French projects on the international market.

Valentin: France has lots of opportunities with the arrival of so many streamers and many stories yet to be told, and that’s leading to a huge hunt for talent and more projects for French writers, which is excellent but also forces them to work at a higher speed which French creatives aren’t used to. We are all working to adjust to this quicker pace.

Lascary: The implementation of the E.U.’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) is a beautiful opportunity to diversify our film partners and contribute to the emerging of atypical talents.

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