It has been eight years since Nicolas Eschbach left the corporate comfort of French commercial broadcasting giant TF1, where he was head of sales and acquisitions, to launch independent company Indie Sales in May 2013. “We announced the company in Cannes and spent the festival working on acquisitions for our first slate. Then we headed to Toronto with Moomins On The Riviera and Jean-Pierre Améris’ Marie’s Story,” recounts Eschbach.
This year, the company has arrived with one of its strongest Cannes line‑ups to date. Eschbach and his team — led by sales and marketing executive Florencia Gil and Simon Gabriele, who oversees acquisitions and works on sales — are handling sales on six Cannes titles.
In official selection, it has Bruno Dumont’s Competition film France, starring Léa Seydoux as a celebrity reporter who tries to withdraw from the public eye; buzzed-about debut feature Playground by Laura Wandel, which world premiered in Un Certain Regard; and Flore Vasseur’s environmental documentary Bigger Than Us, executive produced by Marion Cotillard. In the parallel sections, it represents Directors’ Fortnight title Magnetic Beats and Critics’ Week opener Robust, starring Gérard Depardieu and Déborah Lukumuena, as well as true-crime drama Bruno Reidal: Confession Of A Murderer.
“We had been talking to buyers for three weeks already by the time we got here, thanks to the Pre-Cannes Screenings,” says Eschbach. “We didn’t show our Cannes films, preferring to wait for the festival to get the reactions of the press and the industry that’s here. The films have come to us via a variety of avenues. Simon Gabriele pilots acquisitions and does the rounds of all the markets and project events. We then all talk it over. I also bring in projects via my network of producers.”
Robust, for example, arrived on the slate via Isabelle Madelaine at Dharamsala, for whom Indie Sales previously handled Claire Burger’s Party Girl, while France is lead produced by longtime contacts Jean Bréhat and Rachid Bouchareb at 3B Productions. Denis Carot, who is one of the producers on Bigger Than Us alongside director Vasseur and Cotillard, produced Marie’s Story.
Indie Sales’ high-profile Cannes comes at the end of a challenging two years for the company. Before the pandemic hit in early 2020, it was rocked by the sudden death of co-founder and producer Eric Névé at the age of 57. Névé, who oversaw Indie Sales production and co-production activities under the banner of sister company Indie Prod, had been a driving force alongside Eschbach at the company.
“It was a very difficult period,” admits Eschbach. “Thankfully, Eric’s wife Maud Leclair has picked up the baton. She is also involved in production so it works well.”
Key productions over the years have included Stefano Sollima’s organised-crime thriller Suburra with Riccardo Tozzi and Marco Chimenz at Rome-based Cattleya, and Netflix-acquired drama The Ruthless with Angelo Barbagallo at Bibi Film. “I knew Riccardo and Marco from my TF1 days where I handled Romanzo Criminale, while Eric had strong ties with Barbagallo,” explains Eschbach on the firm’s Italian connection.
More recent co-productions include Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic’s Quo Vadis, Aida?, which the company also sold. The Oscar-nominated drama, revisiting the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, involved producers from nine territories spanning Bosnia & Herzegovina, Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Turkey. “That was a fantastic adventure, which continues because the film is still set to come out in a number of countries in the coming months,” says Eschbach.
It was just one highlight of a fruitful 2020 for Indie Sales in spite of the pandemic. “Of course, it was a tough year but some good things came out it,” says Eschbach.
The company forged closer ties with US buyers, selling Adventures Of A Mathematician to Samuel Goldwyn, Quo Vadis, Aida? to Neon and Dead And Beautiful to Shudder. Online releases of Quo Vadis, Aida? by Curzon for the UK and Neon in the US saw it head into the upper echelons of the indie streaming charts.
Looking back at the progress of Indie Sales over the last eight years, Eschbach acknowledges it has been a rollercoaster ride, but expresses satisfaction at the same time.
“I learned a lot at TF1, but I’ve never looked back,” he says. “I was 45 when I launched the company. There’s something special about creating your own label and building a team. It’s great to be independent.”