All lights went green lastyear in the French production sector.

Production volume in Francereached an all-time high of 212 features; total production spend on Frenchfeatures or majority French co-productions soared by 34% from Euros861m in 2002to Euros1.15bn; and foreign investment doubled from Euros182m to Euros364m.

According to new data fromthe National Cinema Centre (CNC) the number of features qualifying as Frenchpassed the 200 mark for the third year running and the number of Frenchinitiated films has doubled in ten years from a low of 89 in 1994 to 183 in2003.

Among the French-initiatedfilms, mean budgets crept higher, showing a rise from Euros4.44m to Euros4.63m.But the median figure fell from Euros2.82m to Euros2.60m, demonstrating a gapbetween the most expensive films and the lowest cost films that continues togrow.

The CNC data shows that thenumber of films costing more than Euros10m rose from 14 in 2002 to 18 last yearand that their share of the total investment in production climbed from 37% to45%. (The number of very low-cost films, i.e. less than Euros1m, has remainedstable at 41 for the third year in succession after a dramatic leap between2000 and 2001. Of these 17 were feature-length documentaries.)

Although the French financingsystem is frequently criticised by its neighbours as not being sufficientlyopen to foreign productions, the data shows that that there are a growingnumber of co-productions. Fully 43% of French initiated films were structuredas co-productions, up from 35% in 2002, 27 in 2001 and 23% in 2000. And amongthe majority-French pictures 90% were shot in French and only five in English.These included the Euros59.7m Two Brothers (Deux Freres) by Jean-Jacques Annaud and the Euros34m DannyThe Dog, by Louis Leterrier.

At the big-budget end of thescale, the UK was the most active co-production partner accounting for nine ofthe 17 majority-French pictures budgeted at over Euros7m. Four of these weretri-partite productions involving Italy, Germany or Spain. Five big-budgetpictures were also made as bi-lateral co-productions with Italy.

The traffic was not all oneway. French investment in foreign co-productions rose from Euros34m in 2002 toEuros69m last year. But the number of foreign films concerned dropped from 37in 2002 to 29 in 2003.

Of the six big-budgetpictures where French producers took a minority position Canada was the partneron three, Spain one and the UK three including by far the largest, theEuros182m Alexander.

Indeed the Oliver Stone-directedpicture has such a large impact on this section of the figures that the CNCfelt it necessary to restate them without Alexander. On this measure Frenchinvestment in the remaining 28 foreign co-productions totalled Euros32m. Italso shows that the French financial commitment to Alexander is a massive Euros36.3m.

The CNC provided datacovering the always thorny issue of pay-TV channel Canal Plus'sinvolvement in the production sector. It showed that it bought pay-broadcastrights to 108 films (109 in 2002) for a total value of Euros129m (Euros122m in2002). While that is up 5% on the previous year the broadcaster's shareof production budgets has declined steadily since 1999, when it accounted for25% of the average budget, to 18% in 2002 and 16% last year. Canal Plus'increasingly powerful satellite rival TPS licensed 16 French films and paidEuros22m.

The data on the location ofproduction throws up contrasting messages. The total number of weeks ofproduction increased by 8% to 1,445 weeks of shooting, compared with 1,342 in2002, the average shoot for a French film settling at 8.2 weeks. Shooting inFrance however dropped from 978 weeks to 910, a drop of 7%. The drop would havebeen 9% had the number of weeks in France by minority-French co-productions notdoubled from 15 weeks to 31.

The overall French figuresalso mask the second year of decline in the use of French non-studio locations(785 weeks compared with 877 weeks in 2002 and 942 in 2001) and the second yearof growth for studio shoots. These reached 94 weeks in 2003, compared with 86in 2002 and 65 in 2001.

Post-production work wasmore likely to go abroad. Of the 183 wholly or majority French films last year,32 did their post-production abroad. The UK accounted for 15 of these andBelgium nine. Similarly, eight French films took their undeveloped negative tothe UK for processing.