Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval says thrust of Le Monde editorial distorted by “sensationalist” headline.
Wild Bunch co-chief Vincent Maraval says he is staying out of the debate prompted by his Le Monde editorial, calling for a rethink of the French film financing system, until it returns to the “substance” of what he wrote.
The Paris-based producer and sales chief told Screen the recent controversy, dubbed Maraval-gate by the local media, had been caused by the ‘untruthful and sensationalist’ headline — “French actors are paid too much!” — written by Le Monde above his editorial.
“This has prompted a poujadist and corporatist response, when the aim was to highlight the fact that a very good film financing system which is the envy of the world has gone adrift. When the debate returns to the substance of what I wrote, I will express myself,” he said, referring to 1950s French populist politician Pierre Poujade.
Maraval’s 1,700-word editorial published in Le Monde on December 28 – lamenting spiralling star salaries and production costs and the resulting number of unprofitable French films - has unleashed a heated debate on France’s film financing system which shows no sign of abating some 12 days on.
Government orders “assize”
French Culture and Communications Minister Aurélie Filippetti announced on Monday she had ordered the National Cinema Centre (CNC) to organise an “assize” on the matter on January 23.
“It will allow everyone around the table to explain just how precious the system is,” she said in an interview with Canal Plus’ popular news and talk show Le Grand Journal on Monday evening. Maraval told Screen he is not planning to attend.
Based on a 10.7% levy on cinema tickets, the proceeds of which the CNC manages; broadcaster obligations and also regional funds, national and regional tax incentives and Sofica tax shelters, France’s film financing mechanisms are among the most comprehensive in the world.
Maraval said that the TV obligations – stipulating free-to-air channels plough 2.4% of revenue into French films and pay-TV channels, 9.0% - were responsible in particular for the inflation in costs.
System under pressure
Many local cinema professionals have said Maraval’s comments are unhelpful at a time when the system, with a 60-year history, is under pressure on a number of fronts.
This year, the ruling Socialist Party is siphoning off $200m (€150m) of the CNC’s funds and has also slashed the budget of state broadcaster France Televisions by $111m (€85m), or 3.4%, as part of a national debt-cutting plan. Parliament also recently passed a 3% VAT hike to 10% on cinema tickets scheduled to take effect in 2014.
Beyond its borders, France is also embroiled in protracted negotiations with the European Commission over a CNC levy on telecommunication players diffusing audiovisual and film content via their networks.
“With the current left wing which isn’t at all favourable towards French cinema, this editorial could have an extremely counter-productive impact,” commented producer Marie Masmonteil of Elzévir Films, who is also the president of Bloc, an umbrella body acting as a liaison between all the country’s film guilds and unions.
Florence Gastaud, managing director of the Association of Authors, Directors and Producers (L’ARP), wrote in a blog that she supported the gist of Maraval’s editorial but added: “These are dangerous times. Detractors of French cinema are bizarrely numerous at the moment. In the French parliament, there are a number of deputies who want cinema’s skin… Let’s hope they won’t be stupid enough to use Vincent Maraval’s comments to unravel our system.”
Compounding these fears, TV chief Nonce Paolini, managing director of TF1, told Le Figaro newspaper that the broadcaster was “ready to reduce its obligation” in a rethink of a system he described as “outdated and costly”.
Maraval claims refuted
In the backdrop, a number of actors, directors and producers have refuted Maraval’s star wage claims. Producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam told financial television channel BFMTV that Maraval had been right to signal problems in the system but that targeting actor salaries had been misplaced.
“Actors who command salaries of €500,000, €800,000 or €1m are extremely rare and when they do it’s at the initiative of independent producers who have nothing to do with public subsidies or state broadcasters,” he said.
Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius, whose The Artist was sold by Wild Bunch, also supported Maraval’s attempt to spark a debate on the current system but said the real challenge was not star salaries but rather how to incorporate the implications of the digital age into the country’s film funding model.
Dany Boon – star of hit pictures Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis) and Nothing to Declare (Rien à Déclarer) – told Le Journal du Dimanche that Maraval’s figures regarding his earnings were “completely false”.
He added that none of his productions had ever received public money but that the box office of Welcome to the Sticks and Nothing to Declare, had contributed some $19m (€15m) to the coffers of the CNC through the levy on tickets.
Part of the industry has come out in support over Maraval’s attempt to start a debate. Director Bertrand Bonello said the producer was “right to say French cinema is too expensive. Why is it that Americans make incredible films for two million euros while it costs us four millions to do something in the same vein which doesn’t get seen.”
Maraval was originally prompted to write the editorial by the political furore surrounding Gérard Depardieu’s decision to renounce his French citizenship in protest over a new 75% tax on high earners.
The Wild Bunch sales chief said the real scandal was instead the fact French films increasingly no longer turned a profit, amid rising above-the-line costs pressured upward by unrealistic star salaries, but nobody cared because the losses were absorbed by France’s film financing system.
In spite of the storm whipped up by the editorial, Maraval is standing by his proposal for a new system of back-end obligations for actors in films that qualify for a TV obligation, tax credit, regional fund or the CNC’s automatic advance on receipts funding. “It would help reduce budgets without touching the salaries of talents of films that work at the box office,” he said.
The CNC-organised meeting on January 23 promises to be lively whether Maraval decides to attend in the end or not.