The number of feature films involving French producers remained steady at 300 productions in 2018, but the level of investment dropped 15% to €1.2bn year-on-year, according to the annual production report of France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC).
The in-depth study, published March 18, revealed the number of feature films spearheaded by French production companies increased 6% in 2018 to 237, against 222 in 2017, but investment fell by 12.1% to €957m ($1.1bn), from €1.1bn ($1.2bn) in 2017.
There were a further 63 features involving French producers as minority partners. Investment for these films stood at €168.6m ($191.5m).
The combined investment for all 300 films registered by the CNC in 2018 was €1.1bn ($1.3bn), against €1.3bn ($1.5bn) in 2017, representing a 15.2% drop.
French investment in French films stood at €890.5m ($101m), down 13.9% on 2017, accounting for 93.1% of the total investments.
International investment in these majority French productions rose 21% to €66.4m. French investment in non-majority co-productions came in at €36m, against €53m in 2017.
Overall, French producers were involved in 118 majority and minority co-productions hailing from 42 different countries, representing 39.9% of the films registered by the CNC in 2018.
Key co-producing partner countries included Germany (13), Belgium (13), Italy (11), Spain (6) and Switzerland (6). There were two CNC- registered co-productions with the UK.
The CNC’s annual report on the cinema production in France is based on the data of all films to have received its seal of approval over the year, either at the investment or production stage.
Nearly all productions involving a French producer, either as a majority or minority partner, apply for this approval as it is a pre-requisite for tapping into one of the body’s many support schemes.
Only a tiny percentage of films made in France do not apply to the CNC. This data gives an accurate picture of the current situation for film production in France.
The CNC figures also showed the average feature budget fell 17.7% in 2017 to €4m ($4.5m), with the median budget dropping 24% to €2.68m ($3m)
The number of so-called “films du milieu” – films budgeted at between €4m to €7m ($4.5 to $7.9m) – rose to 56 productions against 49 in 2017. The number of films budgeted at less than €1m also rose significantly to 69, against 48 in 2017. Just 33 majority French films had budgets over €7m, 16 less than in 2017.
TV investment plummets
One of the most significant developments in the French production scene in 2019 was the fall in investment from the French public and private broadcasters
Investment by free-to-air channels, both public and private fell 22.5% to €281.7m ($319m) in 175 films, 18 films less than 2017. It was the lowest level of TV investment in a decade.
Breaking this down, investment by pay-TV channels fell 24.1% to €160.5m ($181m) in 164 films, against €211.5m in 2017, 13 less than in 2017. Investment by free-to-air channels fell by 20.1% to €121.2m ($137m) and went into 116 films, 12 less than in 2017.
Analysis of these investments showed that the public free-to-air channels invested in a more varied selection of projects by budget while the private channels focused on bigger budget fare.
Canal+ accounted for 70% of the overall pay-TV investment, its lowest share in a decade, while Orange Cinéma Séries saw its share remain steady at 17%. Overall, Canal+ invested €114m ($129m) in 120 CNC-registered films in 2018, 25.5% less than 2017 when it invested €153.69m ($173.8m).
In 2018, 125 French films registered with the CNC without a broadcaster attached, accounting for 41% of the total films registered. A decade ago, just 26.5% of French production did not have a broadcaster partner.
Falling distribution and international sales revenue
Another finding that will be of cause for concern for producers and filmmakers is the fall in income from theatrical distribution deals as well as video/DVD rights and foreign sales.
The total income from all these sources stood came in at €144.4m ($163m) in 2018 across 238 films, some 30.3% lower than in 2017.
On average this income accounted for 15% of a film’s budget in 2018, against 18% in 2017.
Breaking the figure down, €69.3m of this investment was generated by group mandates covering different release windows.
The CNC study showed that 213 films benefited from a theatrical release mandate, although 25 of these agreements did not involve a minimum guarantee. Distributors invested €20.8m ($23.6m) at the production stage in 2018, 5.3% less than in 2017.
The average investment across the 213 films came in at €190,000 but the CNC noted that this was necessarily indicative of the reality because there was a concentration in investment on a handful of films.
“Six films benefitted from a distribution contract worth more or equal to €500,000, accounting for 34.5% of the total distributor investments in 2018,” said the body.
In terms of international sales, 183 films registered with the CNC in 2018 had an international sales deal in place. The CNC noted, however, that 128 of these accords did not come with a minimum guarantee on the side of the sales company.
Not including films in a grouped distribution mandate, 173 films achieved foreign sales deals in 2018 for a total sum of €51.2m ($58m), for an average of €300,000 (340,000) per film, equal to 7% of the average budget. The total sum compared with €81.9m ($92m) in 2017 and €114.15 ($129m) in 2016.
Again this did not represent what was going on in reality as 11 films benefited from an international deal worth more than or equal to €1m, accounting for 43% of the total.