With new films from Olivier Dahan, Roselyne Bosch and Forest Whitaker in the pipeline, Alain Goldman — one of France’s leading producers — tells Nancy Tartaglione his recipe for international film-making
Although he did not set out to do so, Alain Goldman has carved a niche for himself as a producer of sweeping, fact-based productions with international ambitions. His first film out of the gate was Ridley Scott’s Christopher Columbus tale 1492: Conquest Of Paradise in 1992, and he has since cooked up 2000’s Vatel and 2007’s Oscar-winning La Vie En Rose, among others.
Currently, he has three more projects that fit that bill: a Louis Armstrong biopic from director Forest Whitaker, a Nicholas Pileggi-scripted picture about the Warner brothers and Holocaust epic The Roundup, directed by Roselyne Bosch.
“I like films that are based on a pre-existing awareness,” Goldman says. “When you can say, ‘Louis Armstrong,’ and already so many people know who he is, it’s a head start. Otherwise you can build something from the ground up and sometimes it doesn’t work — and it’s very expensive.”
“France is still very provincial. French groups have complicated relationships with the producer whereas in the US, a producer is considered talent”
Goldman feels the same way about books. He contributed to a sort of mini-revolution in France in 2000 with the adaptation of Jean-Christophe Grangé’s best-seller The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivieres Pourpres). That film, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, was part of a turn-of-the-century trend that saw French film-makers for the first time spend actively on development with an aim to mount high-profile action projects that could rival those of the US.
Indeed Goldman has no qualms about building ambitious international productions that can capture a global audience. He is not intimidated by Hollywood, having been born into the film business — his father is Daniel Goldman, the former longtime head of UIP in France. “I was cradled in the world of [Gulf+Western Corporation founder] Charlie Bluhdorn,” he says. “It was always my playground as a child. And my father instilled in me the ability to see this business in a human and conscientious way.”
Indeed, Goldman says: “I was very lucky to start out with 1492 and Casino and to be immediately immersed in the Anglo-Saxon context. But I’m also very European in terms of my culture. I love to participate in French production with films like La Vie En Rose and The Roundup which are also very exportable.”
Still, he believes that being a producer in France is harder than it was before, “and I see that because we have had a lot of success. If you have a flop it doesn’t matter, because 20% of nothing is nothing. But France is still very provincial. French groups have complicated relationships with the producer whereas in the US, a producer is considered talent.” His company, Legende, now has a Los Angeles outpost.
La Vie En Rose, says Goldman, “changed things. There’s a belief in France that you have to choose between box office and quality. My greatest pride is that we were successful in bringing together quality and quantity.”
Olivier Dahan’s film about Edith Piaf not only sold more than 5 million tickets in France, it was also one of the biggest foreign films of all time in the US and made an Oscar winner of star Marion Cotillard. The film was also “wounding” for Goldman who says, “as soon as you have success in France, you’re shot at”.
This, Goldman believes, extends from a “problem that France has with looking at itself.” He is saddened by the fact La Vie En Rose was not selected as France’s Oscar entry for the foreign-language category that year in favour of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. “By what thought process can you think that film is French?”
The timing of La Vie En Rose also coincided with an equity infusion from French investment vehicle Serendipity, which is held by industrial giants Pinault and Bouygues and which took 35% of Legende’s capital in the process.
“There’s a belief in France that you have to choose between box office and quality. My greatest pride is that we were successful in bringing together quality and quantity.”
Legende and Goldman are using those funds to continue with a slate that will include two or three French films and one big international production per year.
Currently in development are the Whitaker-directed Armstrong biopic (he stars in another Legende production, My Own Love Song, which Dahan directed in the US); Brothers, the story of the Warners which Goldman says he hopes will become “a grand classic”; a French film La Belle in the vein of Papillon from director Florent Siri and starring Jean Dujardin and Benoit Magimel, and two comedies, one with the unlikely subject of slavery and the other about a retirement home that is taken hostage.
The Roundup, which he says is poised to be “the French Schindler’s List”, opens in France through Gaumont in March. Directed by Goldman’s wife and sometime collaborator, Bosch, the film is based on the story of the roundup of Jews in Paris in July, 1942, as told from the point of view of Joseph Weismann who was a 10-year-old boy at the time.
“To find the energy necessary to do a film, whatever it is, is always difficult if you are not motivated by the story,” he concludes. “When I do a film, I put myself in the place of the audience and ask, ‘Do I really want to see this?’ and then I say, ‘How much am I willing to lose?’”
• Alain Goldman grew up in Paris and Jerusalem.
• He studied in Paris at Université Paris 1, where he received a business degree (DEA de finances), and in Jerusalem, where he received a BA from theHebrew University of Jerusalem.
• Goldman was head of sales at CDG, notably handling the RKO catalogue from 1986-87.
• He was head of sales at MK2 Diffusion from 1987-89, and president, MD, of MK2 Diffusion from 1989-92.
• Goldman created Legende Productions in 1992 when he produced his first film, 1492: Conquest Of Paradise
• He is a member of the Cesar academy, a member of the Producers Union (UPF) and an officer of the Legion d’Honneur