World TV Markets Have Big Love for French Fare
It’s liftoff time. Powered by a crop of established producers, pay TV giant Canal Plus and a surge of international alliances, Gallic fiction production is slowly but surely taking off and landing in other countries — including the notoriously hard-to-penetrate U.S. market.
The past two years have been particularly fruitful for French drama exports, with a flurry of homegrown shows, including cop skeins “Braquo” and “Spiral” and supernatural series “The Returned,” getting snatched up in major territories and scoring high ratings.
Riding the wave, the French Consulate in Los Angeles and the Ile de France Film Commission have joined forces to bow Direct to Series, a Los Angeles-set showcase of French fiction drama. The Producers Guild and the Writers Guild are backing the event.
“In terms of the culture of moving images, America and France have always inspired each other,” says WGA veep Howard A. Rodman. “For the past 100 years, whenever American culture has bumped against French culture and vice versa, each culture has been enriched by it; it’s time for that conversation to be as robust in television as it has been in film.”
“The timing is right for an event like Direct to Series,” says conference organizer Adrien Sarre, exec director of the Film and TV Office of the French Consulate in Los Angeles. “French fiction production is now much more international-driven than it used to be.”
Among the players boosting the French drama Renaissance:
» EuropaCorp TV, the television banner of Luc Besson’s company, has notably produced the comedy-filled cop drama “No Limit,” which was a primetime hit on France’s TF1.
» Newen’s Capa Drama produced “Braquo,” penned by “A Prophet” scribe Abdel Raouf Dafri; it nabbed a 2012 Intl. Emmy.
» Gaumont Intl. TV, the L.A. arm of the French film studio, has produced two English-lingo skeins, Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal” and Eli Roth’s “Hemlock Grove,” which were picked by NBC and Netflix; it’s also developing Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Barbarella” with Canal Plus.
» Shine France Films has delivered “The Tunnel,” the French-British adaptation of “Bron” for Canal Plus and Sky Atlantic HD.
» Haut et Court, the film company behind Palme d’Or winning “The Class,” produced “The Returned” and enlisted helmer Fabien Gobert to direct a stars-packed cast including such bigscreen talent as Clotilde Hesme and Celine Sallette. Co-producer is Canal Plus.
“French-language fiction is still a niche market in Anglo-Saxon territories but it has greatly expanded,” says Mathieu Bejot, topper of state-backed promotion org TV France Intl.
Drama sales to the U.S. doubled to $4.7 million in 2012 thanks to the Netflix purchase of “Spiral” and the Hulu pickup of “Braquo.” The trend continues in 2013 with the acquisition of “The Returned” by Music Box and Sundance Channel and the pickup of “Bref” by Participant Media’s new cable channel Pivot TV.
Even in the U.K., another territory traditionally resistant to foreign fiction, pickups of Gallic fare have almost doubled, driven by the sale of “Spiral” to BBC4; “Hotel Paradis: The House of Ill Repute” to Sky Arte; and “Braquo” and “The Returned,” which sold to Fox and Channel 4, respectively.
French TV players began to look for ways to revamp their local fiction offering back in 2008. Led by Fabrice de la Patelliere, Canal Plus’s fiction division was the first French channel to put more coin into development and screenwriting. It dived into daring TV series writing in 2005 with gritty drama “La Commune” and “Spiral.” Since then, other French channels, notably Arte, have followed with such shows as the Catholic Churchset “Ainsi Soient-Ils.”