The French film industry has been frozen by the corona virus crisis, yet we have to keep rolling
When the lockdown was announced in France, all activities were suspended. In Paris, filming was interrupted and entire districts froze.
The inhabitants of Montmartre would remain stuck in 1941 movie set of Fred Cavayé‘s next upcoming film: Adieu Monsieur Haffmann. The fictitious shops and posters of German propaganda would remain up, much to the surprise of the local inhabitants.
With film production currently at a stalemate, the lack of production threatens to interrupt the film industries cycle of production and distribution. Films will be produced and then will try to be shown at festivals. If the film happens to be successful, it will be sold to distributors to be released in different cinemas around the world. After the film has to been sold to the cinema is made to be shown to the widest possible audience, it is here that the film gets more exposure. Finally, the last stage of a film is its release to the general public whether it is a DVD or a film in video on demand or on a streaming platform – this is known as the retirement stage of a film.
“Festivals allow films to be showcased, especially if they are selected in the biggest festivals…” said Clément Chautant, Head of Festivals for Indie Sales, in a previous interview.
“We only have to imagine a world without all these advantages to understand how much they are missing if they cannot take place. An enormous amount of films are produced every year, and the absence of a festival means that they all exist in equal measure (except that some will benefit from greater financial support to exist), so it is very difficult to allow films to find their audiences.”
What are the initiatives taken by festivals to try to get around this and pick up the pieces?
“Each invented different solutions, but soon a partnership with Festival Scope and Shift72, two companies that provided technologies that were reassuring to the industry and easy to use for audiences and festivals, was established. Other festivals were postponed but opted for hybrid solutions: organizing physical screenings but also investing in online, for all audiences who could not make the trip or were afraid of large gatherings…”
Despite many festivals having decided to cancel their upcoming events, many have pulled together to support the industry. In a spirit of solidarity and to offer spectators the opportunity to have a festival just for them, 21 festivals from around the world such as the Cannes Festival, Annecy, Berlin, Venice, Tokyo, Sundance, Toronto, BFI London and many others have mobilized to create a totally free festival on Youtube for ten days. On May 29th, the festival started: We Are One: A Global Film Festival.
In an interview for Le Monde, Director Thierry Frémaux explains, “If the International Film Festival could not take its usual form, we needed it to present itself differently. But not for it to disappear.”
Indeed, by announcing a selection, this official selection is a way of supporting these films with a distinction, a “Cannes 2020 label.” For him: “Deciding to deliver an Official Selection is the best way to help cinema.”
Concerning the closure of cinemas, whether they are independent cinemas or large duplex cinemas, it is a real disaster. As in all sectors, all activities have been postponed.
In France, more than 90 films have been unable to be released during the five weeks of confinement. The release of a film in is planned months in advance and it’s complicated to redo this whole calendar with so many films. The films that were supposed to be released during the lockdown will be rescheduled later. The idea would be to postpone these releases as soon as the cinemas reopen. If the cinemas reopened on June 24th, the March 11th films that requested it would be released on that day. On July 1st, it would be the turn of the films scheduled for March 18th, and so on… However this would not necessarily suit everyone and poses major problems as Alexandre Mallet-Guy, head of Memento Films explains in an interview for Le Parisien: “The films that are scheduled on these dates will not have enough time to ensure their promotion, be shown to the press, launch their advertising campaigns… They will be postponed too.”
In the same report, Eric Jolivalt, programmer of several Parisian theatres, expresses himself on another dilemma: “Some distributors who had scheduled their releases in May will insist on keeping them. The real conundrum will be between October and December, because many will postpone to this favourable and always very bottled period…” Pending the reopening of the theatres, some cinemas have already taken initiatives to the delight of moviegoers.
– La Clef is a Parisian arthouse cinema, officially closed since April 2018 but kept afloat by a committed group of cinephiles who have been showing independent films since September 2019. During the confinement, there is no question of stopping the fight: every Friday evening since April 10, the teams have been showing a film on the walls so that people living in the neighbourhood can enjoy it.
Pierre-Emmanuel Le Goff, founder of the distribution company La 25e heure, offers geolocalized home cinema sessions. How it works: one schedule, one film booked in a real cinema and a fixed rate of 5 €. In terms of revenue distribution, 40% of the price of tickets goes to the theatres. At the appointed time, Internet users-viewers log on and can watch the film from their home. It is impossible to choose a film in a “theatre” far from home: geolocation creates a form of proximity where you are obliged to choose a screening close to your home. In some cases, the system offers a meeting with the film’s teams. It is then possible to ask them questions via a chat. An initiative that may have made some people forget Netflix, which, for its part, has not been hit by the economic crisis.
Indeed, according to Le Monde, subscriptions to video-on-demand (VOD) services have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the containment linked to the coronavirus epidemic. NPA Conseil, a company quoted in the article, claims that the number of “streamers” has risen from 2.7 million in the same period in 2019 to 5 million in 2020. A mobile audience analysis company Sensor Tower, the Netflix application was downloaded 8.3 million times that same week, a figure double the pre-containment average. Single movie purchases or rentals also doubled.
Following this rise in popularity, distributors are wondering about the best way to show their films to the general public during this period of containment.
In France, the National Film Centre (CNC) has relaxed the media chronology during this period and in an exceptional way by taking new measures. Some works released just before the confinement are already visible on VOD and others will be distributed directly online. Usually, the distribution of a feature film is prohibited on DVD or VOD for four months following its theatrical release.
Since May 11th France has been gradually losing its confidence and the film industry is gradually resuming its activities. This is the case of filming, which has been able to resume since 2 June. However, with the new security and distance measures, filming will not be the same, as Fred Cavayé confided in an interview with FranceInfo Culture: “We were a team of about forty people, at least, with complicated sets. It was already a complex management, we had to keep an eye on the set at the end of the day, and it’s going to become even more complicated when we start up again. (…) the teams will be reduced. We’re going to have to adjust the organization, which has an impact on the script.” He also adds: “I am in the process of rewriting the film to adapt to the new measures imposed by the epidemic. For example, I had planned to reenact the Vel d’hiv raid with 200 extras, well I found a much more sober solution, and one that works better, at least we’ll see… Same thing for a cabaret scene with 70 extras that will be reduced to four. (…) After that, we’ll have to see how we’ll be able to organize ourselves on the set. I had a kissing scene for example; now, with the distance imposed, how can I shoot it? For a while, these new conditions will change a lot of things that will impact the writing and the directing.“
Filming has resumed and is now almost finished. The famous sets in Montmartre will soon be removed and everyone will gradually return to their former lives. To finish, the director confides: “So as not to hide anything from you, I would like the film to have as much notoriety as this set had. There has been such media coverage on this street, I’ve had calls from the United States, there have been stories in the press, on television, on the internet… “. We hope that all these beautiful projects will see the light of day and that the film Adieu Monsieur Haffmann will be as successful as its setting.