When veteran producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam first came to Cannes in the 1970s, he slept in a tent. Some 40 years later, the former Gaumont and EuropaCorp exec is on the Croisette with his fledgling company Stone Angels and opening night film Grace Of Monaco. Melanie Goodfellow reports.

French producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam may be a regular at red carpet premieres and private industry screenings, but his favourite place to watch a film is in a provincial cinema mingling with the public.

“I like to sit in the seats by the staircase leading to the security exit, mixing in with the audience, and listen to what they say about the film as they leave,” he says.

No such anonymity will be afforded him at the premiere of his latest production, Grace Of Monaco, which opens Cannes on May 14.

As he steps onto the red carpet alongside director Olivier Dahan and star Nicole Kidman, it will be a defining moment in his 40-year career.

The $30m feature is his most ambitious project since his acrimonious split in January 2011 from Luc Besson and EuropaCorp, the company they built together over a decade.

Le Pogam admits the rupture left him reeling. “In 2009 and 2010, I had absolutely no idea that our discussions would take such a violent turn,” he says.

He started working on Grace Of Monaco within months of leaving the company.

“I’d heard that Arash [Amel] was writing a script on spec and got in touch via agents.

“I was immediately struck by the quality of the writing and the unusual way he looked at Grace Kelly’s life, as a woman with difficult choices to make,” said Le Pogam, who first read the script in July 2011.

Set in 1962, the film follows Kelly as her outwardly fairy-tale marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco and life at the palace begins to unravel.

“I was more at ease with the idea of a European director rather than a US one — I was worried an American take might be a bit cliché-ridden — and suggested Olivier to Arash,” says Le Pogam.

They auditioned more than a dozen actresses in the “search for Grace” until a “miraculous meeting” between Kidman and Dahan.

“By Cannes 2012, I had the principal cast and director and was looking to shoot in September. I was able to start talking to international buyers, which I did with Lotus, or Inferno as it was called back then,” says Le Pogam, referring to Jim Seibel and Bill Johnson’s Los Angeles-based company. Cannes regulars might recall seeing Le Pogam that year ensconced in the alcove just to the right of the Majestic Hotel bar, locked in meetings.

Actor and producer Uday Chopra boarded a little later, under the Yash Raj Films Entertainment banner, the Los Angeles-based English-language focused offshoot of his family’s Yash Raj Films in India.

“I didn’t want to sell the film to the US on the basis of the script and Uday’s involvement helped close the US gap,” says Le Pogam. The Weinstein Company acquired the US rights in March 2013, after the late 2012 shoot.

A hands-on approach

In the meantime, Le Pogam had also launched his Paris-based production and distribution company Stone Angels in early 2011.

Productions and acquisitions to date have included Nabil Ayouch’s Morocco-set God’s Horses, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Comme Des Freres by Hugo Gélin, Kim Chapiron’s La Creme De La Creme and the forthcoming zombie picture Maggie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, brought to the company via Lotus and Swiss financier Silver Reel — which also collaborated on Grace Of Monaco.

For the time being, Le Pogam has suspended attempts to break into distribution, handing La Creme De La Creme to Wild Bunch Distribution and Grace Of Monaco to Gaumont.

“We’re a small structure of just six people. I’m in the process of setting something up which is more structured, more industrial. But in my immediate post-Europa life, I wanted to take a more hands-on approach,” he says.

“We’ve got a lot of projects in development and are about to go into another important phase of production,” adds Le Pogam, who will not reveal further details except that the projects are “more international than French” and include a trio of co-productions with Chinese media mogul Bruno Wu.

Royal connections

The opening night screening of Grace Of Monaco on May 14 comes 59 years after Kelly hit the Croisette as the head of a US delegation at the 1955 edition of Cannes. It was during this trip that she met Prince Rainier III at a photo shoot at the Palace of Monaco.

The French press have reported that Kelly’s son Prince Albert is furious about the film and the Monaco royal family is boycotting the opening night.

“I read that story, too, but Monaco’s royal family doesn’t traditionally come to Cannes,” says Le Pogam. “They’ve never asked to see the film so I’ve never been in a position to refuse it.”

The other talking point for the premiere is which version of the film will screen. Dahan’s public outburst in French newspaper Liberation earlier this year, in which he intimated that Harvey Weinstein was trying to force a re-cut, has lead to speculation there are two versions.

“There never were two versions,” says Le Pogam. “Like all ambitious productions, there were discussions and arguments and at a certain point Olivier panicked thinking he was going to be dispossessed of his film, but there was never a question of cutting any version other than his.”

Grace Of Monaco will be released in France and a number of international territories during Cannes; by the end of April there was no word yet when it will hit US screens.

“I don’t have an answer to that,” says Le Pogam. “Harvey abandoned his original release date, which I think is normal given the film is opening Cannes. I guess he’s waiting to see how it goes down in France.”

This, meanwhile, will be Le Pogam’s 40th Cannes. “My first Cannes was in 1975. I slept in a tent in a friend’s garden in Antibes and devoured five or six films a day. When you see that many films over a 10-day period, you get to a point where you’re physically sick.”

The 19-year-old Le Pogam was manager of La Clef cinema in Paris’s Latin Quarter at the time, having arrived in the capital from his native Brittany a year earlier.

“I grew up in the countryside by the sea and I was going to become a veterinarian, but I also had a passion for theatre and one of my drama teachers advised me to go to Paris,” recalls Le Pogam.

“It was then I discovered cinema. I must have watched 500 films that first year, easily. I spent a lot of time at La Clef and when the manager left, I suggested as a joke to the owner that he should put me in charge and he did. I was there 18 hours a day.”

Le Pogam later joined distributor Tony Moliere in 1976, handling classics such as Andrzej Wajda’s The Promised Land, Carlos Saura’s Cria Cuervos and Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, before heading to French major Gaumont in 1981, staying there until 2000 when he left to set up EuropaCorp.

Some 30 years after his time at Les Films Moliere and his early years as head of programming at Gaumont, Le Pogam says he still loves to spend time in France’s provincial cinemas.

“I know them all, one by one. I have less time these days, but whenever I get the opportunity I like to see films outside Paris. France is very centralised, but the capital accounts for one fifth of the box office and real French life isn’t in Paris, it’s in the provinces.”

Looking to the future and plans for Stone Angels, Le Pogam says he does not intend to replicate what he achieved at EuropaCorp.

“I still have huge affection for EuropaCorp, even though it’s changed. I loved the fact that in a relatively short space of time we were able to create a name, a mark and a place where films were welcome — both French and international,” he says. “But I’m not into structure for structure’s sake, but rather creating a place where film-makers can feel at home and evolve.”

Pierre-Ange Le Pogam

  • 1975 Le Pogam breaks into the industry as manager of La Clef cinema in Paris.
  • 1976 He briefly manages Marin Karmitz’s flagship 14 Juillet-Bastille cinema before going to work with arthouse distributor Tony Moliere.
  • 1981 Heads to Gaumont as head of programming.
  • 1985 Promoted to head of Gaumont’s distribution arm, in charge of acquisitions, marketing and distribution.
  • 1992 Masterminds a distribution joint venture between Gaumont and Buena Vista International and becomes president of international and marketing.
  • 2000 Le Pogam leaves Gaumont to set up EuropaCorp with Luc Besson.
  • January 2011 After months of wrangling, he leaves the company.
  • March 2011 Le Pogam launches Stone Angels.

Pierre-Ange Le Pogam will be one of the speakers at Winston Baker’s International Finance Forum on Friday May 16 in Cannes. Screen is a media partner of the event. Grace of Monaco financier Claudia Blümhuber and David Glasser of The Weinstein Company will be amongst the other speakers.