Record number of films made amid falling investment. Independent producers sound alarm over finance squeeze. 

French film production hit record levels in 2012 despite a drop in local and foreign investment, France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC) revealed in its annual cinema production report.
The CNC said it had approved 279 feature-length pictures in 2012. In total, 209 of the pictures were “films of French initiative” (FFI) – 150 of which were 100% financed in France and 59 of which were majority French co-productions. The remaining 70 pictures were foreign majority co-productions. 
Practically all French productions seek CNC approval because it is a prerequisite for tapping into the body’s system of selective and automatic support — only one or two micro-budget pictures do not apply – so the resulting data is a good indicator of what is going on in the production sector.
Despite the rise in films to 279 pictures from 272 in 2011, budget estimates indicated that overall investment dropped by 3.4% to €1.34b ($1.72m) in 2012, from €1.39b ($1.78b) in 2011, mainly due to falls in broadcaster investment.
“The production scene remained lively despite the increasingly tense financial context tense,” said CNC president Eric Garandeau.
“There were a record number of films but investment dropped and 2013 doesn’t promise to be particularly joyful,” he added, explaining broadcaster investment was expected to drop further in 2013 due to advertising losses and, in the case of the state broadcasters, public spending cuts.
The CNC’s head of research Benoit Danard said the higher number of productions was due mainly to a rise in feature-length documentaries and animations. In total, 42 documentaries and 12 animation pictures were approved in 2012, against 37 and 10 in 2011.
The rise in animation features was particularly noteworthy, said Danard, because 10 of the 12 pictures were majority French productions, against just five in 2011. These pictures ranged from comedian Jamel Debbouze’s €30m caveman caper Pourquoi j’ai (pas) mangé mon pere to the €4m Phantom Boy, the latest film from the makers of the Oscar nominated A Cat in Paris, Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol.
Budget breakdown
Breaking down the investment figures, the CNC study showed that investment in French productions dropped by 5.5% to €1.07b.
Total French investment fell to €1.03b, with input into FFI’s dipping to €966m from €1.01b. Foreign investment into FFIs fell to €98.7m from €118.2m
The figures also revealed an increased polarisation in the budget spread for French productions with the number of films budgeted at less than €1m rising to 58 against 47 in 2011 and the number of films costing over €15m increasing to 18 against 12 in 2011. 
The number of pictures in the €4-7m range fell to 25 against 38. The average budget fell 6.5% to €5.1m, against €5.45m in 2011.
In another indicator that productions were being financially squeezed, FFI shooting days in France fell by 11.8% in 2012 to 6,064 days in total – with the average film shoot lasting 37 days, the lowest duration in a decade.
Broadcaster investment falls
A key factor weighing on the local production sector in 2012, especially for medium budget productions, was the drop in broadcaster investment in film.
Overall, broadcaster investment fell by 5.6% to €359.02m.
Pay-TV channel investments dipped by 1.2% to €231m, mainly due to the closure of the Canal Plus-owned TPS Star in 2012.
The key pay-TV investors were Canal Plus, Cine Plus and Orange. Canal Plus remained the most important broadcaster investor, putting €186.5m into 130 films, 113 of them FFIs. The sum marked a 2.3% increase in investments on 2011. Cine Plus invested €24.02m in 121 films and Orange, €18.52m in 18 pictures. 
Free-to-air broadcaster investments fell by 12.6% to €127.3m in 109 films, due to falling advertising revenue and public spending cuts for state broadcasters.
As a result, the number of CNC-approved films without a broadcaster attached rose to 111, or 39% of approved films, against 98 in 2011.
The data revealed that private free-to-air channel TF1 cut cinema investment by 34% in 2012 to €34.1m, investing in 17 films with an average budget of €13.3m. Rival channel M6 increased investment by 60.7% to €22.03m in 12 titles. 
Investment by public channels France 2 and 3, traditional backers of mid-range art-house pictures, meanwhile, dropped by 11.9% to €64.14m in 60 pictures. France 3, which backed Oscar winners The Artist, Amour and recent festival hits such as The Nun and Populaire cut film investment by 19.4% to €22.21m in 26 pictures against 31 in 2011. 
Co-productions siphon-off cash
Outward investment into majority foreign co-productions, meanwhile, rose by 6.1% to €276.6m. In total, there were 129 co-productions with majority foreign co-productions increasing by 7.7% to 70 pictures against 65 in 2011. Overall investment in all of the co-productions, however, fell 1.2% to €716m.
Breaking this down, French investment in majority foreign co-productions rose 10.9% to €58.6m, against €52.8 in 2011. International investment in majority foreign co-production involving French producers rose 4.9% to €218m against €207m in 2011. 
For majority French co-productions, French investment dipped to €341.5m from €346.9m. Foreign investment fell to €98m from €118.2m.
The lion’s share of the majority French co-productions were produced with Belgium and Luxembourg, followed by Germany and Italy. 
The first two territories are popular destinations for French producers due to their generous film tax incentives. Recent modifications to France’s cinema tax breaks, bringing them into line with those of neighbouring territories, could result in less investment leaving France as of the second half of 2013, noted Danard.
Key partner nations on the majority foreign co-productions included Germany, which was involved in 18 co-productions, Italy (14), Belgium (11) and Spain (9).
There were five Franco-British co-productions in 2012 Christopher Granier-Deferre’s Normandy-set Le Weekend, Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem and Dan Mazer’s I Give it a Year.
The head of Independent Producers Syndicate (SPI) Juliette Prissard said the study revealed a “disastrous situation” for France’s independent producers working in the mid-budget range. 
“It shows there is less and less money available for medium-budget films,” said Prissard.
“The polarisation of the budgets shows that its harder and harder to finance films by less established directors,” she added.
She added that the study was further indication that France’s tradition of fostering cultural diversity in cinema was also under threat. 
The production report was one of three CNC studies released on Tuesday alongside reports on production costs in 2012 and distribution costs in 2011.