From across the Channel

By Philippe Carcassonne

shakespeare-in-love-john-madden.jpg Shakespeare in Love, 1998

Philippe Carcassonne comments on film policy in France.

Regional/National Support

Unlike England, France has a long tradition of being invaded by other nations, and an equally long tradition (call it our political answer) of a centralised power. In short, there is virtually no funding outside Paris available for any cultural activity that is not initiated from Paris. And since there are virtually no films initiated outside Paris…

The only financial support that a producer may find in the provinces is soft loans, granted on a very selective basis and triggered by the notion of local spending: if you plan to spend x in this area, the regional authorities might lend you 5 or 10% of x, with a pretty low ceiling anyway. The “Lyon / Rhône-Alpes” region, by far the most generous, might eventually invest £200,000, four or five times a year. All the other regional contributions combined do not even match this figure, even though the overall investment in French film production is around £450 million. The first and only valuable advice that I can give to anyone wishing to work in France as a film-maker – get yourself a flat in Paris.

Mainstream/Cultural And Experimental

The French – always the matter-of-fact thinkers – have avoided the difficulty of defining the distinction between art and entertainment by just plainly ignoring it. The only sizeable system that takes into account the content of supported work (based on script evaluation) is our famous system of Avance sur Recettes (selective production support), generating a yearly budget, which is stagnant at around £12 million. A significant fraction of this not very significant amount goes to unquestionably mainstream films. Any other support system works according to a more or less automatic formula:

• Theatrical Levy: every French film generates about 50 pence per admission, to be reinvested in the production company’s subsequent films (roughly £60 million a year).

• Audiovisual Levy: every French film, when sold to TV, gets a tax-related bonus of 8% (average figure) of the sale price (roughly £10 million a year)

• Obligations on the broadcasters: Canal + is bound to re-invest 12% of its turnover in French production, this fraction being 3% of the total input from terrestrial broadcasters, roughly £100 million a year. 

These various mechanisms (which are indeed mechanical) have a number of consequences, some undoubtedly positive, some more ambiguous.

ken-loach.jpgKen Loach on the set of Bread and Roses, 2000

The automatic nature of the rules brings a welcome consistency to the system, reduces the bureaucratic bugs and the weight of red tape, and protects the films against the prejudices that burden too many councils, committees or commissions. But these rules, in so far as they reflect the state of the market, hardly create any framework for those who do not enjoy some kind of visibility already. The picture may be obscured by the fact that, for historical reasons requiring a longer explanation, there has always been an equivocal “dose of culture” in our mainstream production.

The cliché of the French auteur, complete with béret and Freudian/Marxist background, has still enough reality to make us believe that our film community is doing the right thing. But the trend in the industry is more and more market driven. In a matter of years and if no strong political will expresses itself, we shall have reached what may be described as an American pattern: a dominant mainstream production, deprived of any artistic ambition whatsoever, opposed to a cultural ghetto, made up of a few underground film-making forces and denied any kind of public access worth the name. Nothing seems able to survive in between…

Many of us on the continent liked to believe that Europe, both as a marketplace and as a political notion, would represent an opportunity to reshuffle the cards and inspire new formulas. For the time being, our expectation is proved wrong. The pan-European funds and incentives remain not only marginal in volume but, even more worryingly, conservative in their structure. Seen from France, there seems to be a certain British indifference towards these issues that we find hard to understand. Surely your film community can’t be overjoyed at the idea that both the blockbusters (Four Weddings and a Funeral Mike Newell, The Full Monty Peter Cattaneo, Shakespeare in Love John Madden) and the “Festival Masters” (Ken Loach, Peter Greenaway, Mike Leigh) depend on foreign funding, largely American for the first category, and largely Franco-European for the second.

My feeling is that these problems, whether they are damaging the British or the French cinema, cannot be solved at a national level.

Philippe Carcassonne is a French Producer who has produced over 40 films since 1986