The founder of Wild Bunch, which has handled some of the most distinctive films of recent years, including Eureka, pictured, explains how a "research department" has become one of the world's hottest sellers and producers.
Why did you start Wild Bunch'
We wanted to do sales differently. Historically the international sales part of Canal was in charge of Studio Canal production - mainly French productions. When they saw that this was not enough for the international market they began doing international production and pick-ups in order to bring in some high-standard movies.
When I moved to Studio Canal my frustration was that I really liked to sell Lynch or Jarmusch. But with a well known auteur it is difficult to add value. Everyone wants the movie all you are doing is negotiating the price. I was frustrated not to be able to help some new director or producer discover talent.
I proposed to Studio Canal to create a kind of searchlight division with a European network. They wanted to be a mini-major, and they all [mini majors] have a research department. They had the same problem of handling and nurturing new talent. In complete harmony with Studio Canal.
In practise what do you differently'
Everything. We are smaller, more flexible. We work for very little money. We don't stay in the same hotels. We design the poster ourselves, we answer the phone ourselves. Our structural costs are a tenth of Studio Canal, because we do everything ourselves This allows us to take some very small or daring movies.
From the service point of view we only have one person dealing with the producers, handling the material, sending it to distributors. This means when there is a problem they know who to discuss with. Altogether a stronger relationship. Unlike Studio Canal which works through agencies we do all the marketing ourselves. We are in the best position to know the specificity of our movies.
Similarly we have the same people selling and acquiring films. So we are not really selling a movie, just explaining why we chose it. We can say to a distributor: "this is a movie we do not like artistically, we just took it for the money. Perhaps you can do too."
There does seem to be a Wild Bunch flavour. What are your criteria for selecting a movie'
Director first. A high degree of singularity or originality. We will never do Gladiator 2, or any other movie that can be defined by referring to something else. We want to be surprised. With so many movies now available on TV you go to the cinema to see something that you cannot see elsewhere. That is even true of the big blockbusters with huge marketing campaigns which mean you cannot wait until it comes to video or TV. With our limited marketing resources we are therefore involved with films which you have to go to the cinema to see. We look for theatrical titles. In France where the quality of production is very low we can get involved where there is no free-TV involved [in the finance]. Movies like Baise Moi or Child's Game have no free-TV.
How do you finance your pictures'
We have become a producer by default. Ideally we would like to see every movie available on the planet and pick up those we like on a simple distribution basis for the highest commission possible. Very quickly you realise that this cannot happen because there is competition. So we start becoming involved on a script basis.
We put up an amount of money which is sometimes a high share of the budget. Then we start thinking that we should become a co-producer and have some equity also. When we control equity we think why don't we also control the movie artistically. We would like only to be doing international sales, but according to the amount of money people are asking, we become co-producer or producer.
As a consequence - and I know that a lot of producers do not find us very easy - we get very involved in script development and editing. We put up [proportionately] a lot of money and find that we cannot accept some movies and refuse to take delivery until we are satisfied. If we were purely a sales agent we could not behave like that.
Have you changed the way in which you finance pictures'
Not really. We have a credit line from StudioCanal. If we want to do things outside the credit line - if we had spent everything that we are allowed by StudioCanal - then we look for partners, who can take in hand that excess money. We are now co-producing one with Kinowelt that is an example of that. We could have done it without Kinowelt, but we wanted to do one other movie and so we split the risk in order to extend further our credit line. We will do more of this in the future.It is not that we are afraid of the movies, but that we want to do more movies and protect the credit line.
We are also approached by every kind of German fund, because we are the ideal structure for them. We don't take much equity. We are the perfect kind of international sales agent, because our money is cheap. The funds want equity and need a sales agent. StudioCanal would not be interested as they want to be co-producers. We don't, although we are often obliged to because of the amount we invest. Once again, we become producers by default.
This is especially the case in France where the producers don't care about the quality of the product they produce as long as they can finance it. Once a movie is financed they move on to the next one. In every economy where there are a lot of subsidies or other obligations of investment the quality of product is automatically a bit lower. If we don't control the artistic level, we cannot rely on them to do it for us.
Is that the same whether you are producing a European movie or an Asian one'
We forbid ourselves to co-produce or produce in France because people are doing it in France and we don't want to take work off people in France already doing it. When we co-produce it is mostly Asia or non-Canal Plus territories. We don't really co-produce in Spain or Italy therefore. If we need a big amount of money we ask StudioCanal if they are interested in co-producing it. If someone is asking for $1m out of a budget of $3m then we will ask StudioCanal to be a co-producer. [Devil's Backbone was not done this way. We co-bought it instead.] We are interested in putting up that $1m, but once again it is stupid not to control any equity. We won't co-produce as Wild Bunch in a StudioCanal territory.
How do you define your relationships with StudioCanal and StudioCanal France'
StudioCanal France is what is called an operating company of StudioCanal, the main group. It is one of six. StudioCanal France has its own specificities which are cultural and historical. And our credit line comes from StudioCanal France.
How big is the credit line'
I'm not sure I'm allowed to say. But last year we used not even half of it. It is in our nature to be very conservative. We are not Kamikaze. We don't need so many movies. We have too many this year and will have less next year. We are happy to know that we still have some money available. The less we use, the more independence we have from StudioCanal. This year we will use everything and perhaps a bit more from partners. Next year we will return to a mid-range position.
Our problem is not the amount of movies, but that because of the kind of movie we make everyone wants to go to Cannes. So there is a concentration of our activity around Cannes. In Berlin we had only one. If we spread them evenly through th