Quad, the French producer trio behind Heartbreaker and Intouchables, tell Melanie Goodfellow why they believe their projects enjoy popular and global appeal

It is the first Friday of December, just two days after Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s Intouchables has attracted its 10 millionth customer in France. The headquarters of the film’s production company, Quad, is in a refurbished ball-bearing factory on the outskirts of Paris and is a hive of activity.

“We do everything from development to post-production here,” says Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, who created Quad as an advertising agency in 1993. He expanded its activities into film a decade later with Toledano and Nakache’s debut picture Just Friends (Je Préfere Qu’On Reste Amis) in 2005.

“They came to us and seduced us with their idea,” says Duval Adassovsky of the film-makers with whom he enjoys such a fruitful relationship. “We clicked artistically and humanly. We already knew we wanted to make feature-length film. They were the catalyst for turning that desire into something concrete.”

Starring Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Paul Rouve as two men who turn to singles agencies and speed-dating nights in the pursuit of love, Just Friends was a modest hit, registering some 333,000 admissions.

Six years later, Quad’s latest collaboration with Toledano and Nakache, Intouchables, is a box-office phenomenon. It has grossed more than $85m since being released by Gaumont on November 2 and is the biggest film in France this year. The Weinstein Company (TWC) has picked up a raft of international rights including US.

“We just try to make films that we like,” says Duval Adassovsky, who was joined at the helm of Quad’s feature film operations by Yann Zenou (who previously worked at Mars Distribution and StudioCanal) in 2007, and Laurent Zeitoun (a scriptwriter by training) in 2009.

“We take strategic decisions jointly,” Zenou explains. “On a day-to-day basis, I focus on finance, Laurent on script and development and Nicolas on production but we’re not restricted to these areas. We pretty much talk everything over together.”

Intouchables is very much a breakthrough picture for Toledano and Nakache, following Those Happy Days (Nos Jours Heureux) about the staff of a children’s holiday camp in 2006 and So Happy Together (Tellement Proches), a tragi-comedy about a dysfunctional family in 2009.

“We discovered the subject for Intouchables before shooting So Happy Together,” recalls Duval Adassovsky, referring to the real-life story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, which inspired the tale of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy tetraplegic and an unemployed man from the Paris projects with a prison record.

“Eric and Olivier didn’t feel capable of making it at the time… it was too sensitive,’ says Duval Adassovsky of the tragic nature of the subject matter. “It was only after making So Happy Together, which was closer to their reality and easier for them, that they felt ready to make Intouchables.”

By that time Quad had started developing its own films in-house and attaching directors who had worked on its advertising campaigns, such as Pascal Chaumeil, Bruno Chiche and Alexandre Coffre.

This formula scored the company its first sizeable hit, Heartbreaker (L’Arnacoeur), a romantic comedy starring Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis, which took $37m in France in 2010 and sold to 30 territories worldwide.

Co-written by Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner and Yoann Gromb and directed by Chaumeil, the film was co-produced by Universal Pictures International (UPI) which distributed it in France; Kinology handled international sales. The UK’s Working Title Films has acquired the English-language remake rights.

‘We want more control over the remake process’

Nicolas Duval Adassovsky

Quad has put the Heartbreaker team back together for Fly Me To The Moon (Le Plan Parfait) which is now in post. The adventure romance stars Diane Kruger in global pursuit of a travel writer played by Dany Boon, the director and lead of French hits Welcome To The Sticks and Nothing To Declare.

The $34.9m (€26m) production, again involving UPI and being sold internationally by Kinology, wrapped at the end of November after an 11-week shoot which took in Kenya, Russia, Belgium and France. Zeitoun co-wrote the script with Gromb, finding inspiration in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s 1975 Le Sauvage, starring Catherine Deneuve and Yves Montand.

Further Chaumeil project Living Is Better Than Dying (Vivre C’Est Mieux Que Mourir), about a dreamer on the run from the police and slated to star Duris and Marion Cotillard, was scheduled to shoot over the summer but is presently on “stand-by”.

“Marion Cotillard had agreed to do the film but then she signed up for [Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises], which pushed back the shoot. On our side, we decided there was room for improvement,” says Duval Adassovsky. “We still believe in the concept but are rethinking it. We might recast and possibly shoot it in English.”

English-language debuts

Quad is also set to make Chaumeil’s first English-language feature Diamond Dogs, an adaptation of Alan Watt’s Nevada-set psychological thriller about a high-school football star with a dark side.

“It’s an independent film with a small budget, not really a studio film,” says Duval Adassovsky. “The plan is to shoot it in Nevada next autumn. Executive producer John Goldwyn is helping us out in the States.”

Further productions on Quad’s slate include Né Quelque Part, a co-production with Jamel Debbouze’s Kiss Film, in which the actor will play a French man of Algerian origin who finds himself trapped in Algeria after a cousin steals his papers when he pays a visit to his father’s hometown. The project is due to start shooting in February.

The company is also working on its first feature-length animation La Véritable Histoire Des Petits Rats De L’Opéra, the tale of an orphan who inveigles her way into the legendary Paris Opera Ballet School at the end of the 19th century.

Montreal-based film-makers Eric Warin and Eric Summer, who conceived the idea, will direct. The UK’s Carol Noble, whose credits include the children’s TV series Charlie And Lola, co-wrote the script. Duval Adassovsky says a Canadian studio will probably do the animation work.

Quad has also acquired the rights to Joseph Joffo’s children’s classic A Bag Of Marbles (Un Sac De Billes), about the writer’s experiences as a young Jewish boy with his brother, fleeing Nazi-occupied Paris to the south of France.

The company is also spearheading the development of the English-language remake of Intouchables, for which TWC has a first-look option to acquire.

“We want more control over the remake process,” says Duval Adassovsky. “The idea is we will develop the project, hire the writer, the director and the cast, in ‘meaningful consultation’ with The Weinstein Company… who may or may not acquire the final package.”

“We will have to do a cultural adaptation,” explains Zeitoun. “We want to keep the theme of solidarity and mutual aid but appreciate the model of the bourgeois versus the projects doesn’t necessarily work everywhere”

Beyond this, Quad will be involved in Toledano and Nakache’s next feature.

“We will definitely be collaborating again, we’re just not sure on what. They have several ideas but nothing concrete as yet. They are true auteurs. We suggest things to them but in the end they have their own ideas,” says Duval Adassovsky.

Nicolas Duval Adassovsky

  • Duval Adassovsky started as director of production at Orphée Arts in 1985. He moved into producing ads for Paris-based agency Only You from 1987 to 1993.
  • Founded Quad Productions as an ad agency in 1993, winning contracts for Renault, Volkswagen, Toyota, Carrefour, Garnier, Nintendo and Levi’s.
  • In 2003, he expanded Quad’s operations into feature film with Just Friends.
  • From 2007, Quad developed projects in-house with directors who work on its commercials, including Pascal Chaumeil’s Heartbreaker, Alexandre Coffre’s Borderline and Bruno Chiche’s Small World.

Yann Zenou

  • Zenou started out as director of production at shorts company Lazennec Tout Court from 1998 to 2000.
  • He worked at Mars Distribution from 2000 to 2003, working on campaigns for films such as The Magdalene Sisters and Irréversible.
  • From 2003 to 2006, he worked in Mars’ marketing department, handling campaigns for titles including Million Dollar Baby and Fahrenheit 9/11.
  • In 2005 he moved to StudioCanal as head of development, working on projects such as Frédéric Lepage’s Sunny Et l’Eléphant.
  • Moved to Quad as a producer in 2007.

Laurent Zeitoun

  • From 1996 to 1998 Zeitoun collaborated with comedy writer, producer and director Dominique Farrugia at Barbes Film Company.
  • He studied screenwriting at UCLA from 1998 to 2000.
  • On his return to France, Zeitoun founded Script-Associés in 2000, working as a script doctor for companies including TF1 Film Productions, Chez Wam and Ardimages.
  • In 2004, Zeitoun co-wrote his first feature-length script, The 11 Commandments. In 2009 he wrote Heartbreaker with Jeremy Doner and Yoann Gromb, joining Quad as an associate creative producer the next year.