Are French Screen Actors Overpaid?




French cinema had a calamitous 2012 says Vincent Maraval, founder of the film distribution company Wild Bunch, and it wasn’t because Gérard Depardieu, took umbrage over his tax bill and upped sticks for Russia/Belgium.

Dany Boon during the filming of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Credit: Wikipedia)

No, says Vincent Maraval, a distributor and producer, writing recently in Le Monde it is because French actors are paid too much and film-making is too expensive. French film-stars enjoy their status, he says, enriched by public funds and protected by l’exception culturelle —  the cultural exception. Leaving out say 20 Hollywood stars and one or two in China, the salaries of French stars, and more importantly the salaries of French non-stars, are a true exception culturelle today, he adds.

All the important French films of 2012 bombed says Vincent Maraval, losing millions of euros: Les Seigneurs, Astérix, Pamela Rose, Le Marsupilami, Stars 80, Bowling, Populaire, La vérité Si Je Mens 3, etc. Not one movie was profitable, except perhaps for Le Prénom, a fact that serves to disguise what everyone in the industry knows full well: French cinema survives because it is increasingly subsidised. Even its biggest commercial successes lose money, he says, blaming “the miracle” of French cinema financing, a system which he claims benefits “only a minority of parvenus”.

Not long after this stream of film angst and as if to prove his point, Le Figaro released its latest annual ranking of earnings by France’s top movie stars  :

1 – Dany Boon, 3.6 million euros (4 movies)
2 – Gérard Depardieu, 2.3 million euros (4 films)
3 – Catherine Frot, 2.2 million euros (3 films)
4 – Gad Elmaleh, 2.1 million euros (3 films)
5 – Alain Chabat, 2 million euros (1 film)
6 – Patrick Bruel, 1.8 million euros (2 films)
7 – Marion Cotillard, 1 , 7 million euros (2 films)
8 – José Garcia, € 1.6 million euros (2 films)
9 – Jamel Debbouze, 1.5 million euros (1 film)
10 – Mathilde Seigner, 1,475,000 euros (3 films)

For the second consecutive year and the third time in five years, Dany Boon emerges as the highest paid actor in France and Europe, according to Le Figaro’s ranking.

The actor rose to the top following the success of his movies Welcome to the Sticks and Nothing to Declare, and despite the failure of Le Plan parfait (A Perfect Plan), for which he received 3.5 million euros or 15% of the film’s budget.

Indeed adds Vincent Maraval, “Dany Boon, hero of la France profonde and a man who today dwells in Los Angeles, earned sums that left Gérard Depardieu in the dust — 3.5 million euros for Le Plan Parfait, a film for which box office takings were too low even to pay his fee! Not to mention the one million euros he earned for a brief appearance in Astérix, a film Maraval says trashed the “boxoffice take/actor’s cachet per minute on the screen…” ratio.

Gérard Depardieu at Cannes film festival (Credit: Wikipedia)

Maraval’s blast comes as France’s 2012 box office blasted past 200 million ticket sales, earning around $1.8 billion, for the fourth year running. French films sold a record-breaking 130 million tickets abroad in 2012 according to America’s Variety website.

In Le Monde Maraval launched considerable controversy when he maintained the system of funding French film “benefits only certain ‘overpaid’ film-stars.”  After Hollywood, Maraval wrote, France holds the world record in terms of the average cost of film production — 5.4 million euros, whereas the average cost of an independently-made US film is some 3 million euros.

Maraval’s solution? Cap actors’ salaries at 400,000 euros a year with a top up from deferred percentages, for films made under the French mandatory TV investment funding system. Actors who want higher salaries, he suggests, should seek out private funders happy to reward them on a basis of their true “commercial value.”

His remarks strike at the heart of the French “cultural exception” under which TV channels both public and private are required to help finance the cinema industry – and which has resulted in a flourishing audiovisual sector since World War II, epitomised perhaps by film-makers of La Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave).

This in turn is part of France’s cultural imperative aimed at securing an enduring and global role for the French language through culture. In this the audiovisual sector — TV and cinema — holds “a very serious key to understanding ‘being’ in France” (Dagnaud pg 18, 2004) cited here.

Taking up the cry in the New Yorker movies editor Richard Brody, author of “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, writes:  “At Slate.fr, Jean-Michel Frodon, formerly a critic at Le Monde and editor of Cahiers du Cinéma, thinks that the critique is “quite right, even if incomplete” and that its “scattershot accusations” are “dangerous, because they risk being the ones most frequently taken up by those who would use this text to attack a system that also, and foremost, has decisive virtues, as well as by those who profit from it….” Frodon contends that an even more grave abuse of the system is committed by producers themselves: the overproduction of films, the number of which “has more than doubled in fifteen years”—because of the system of subsidy, which allows producers to skim budget for overhead even on unprofitable films. But, above all, Frodon notes, the system, despite its abuses, has brought into being a remarkable array of movies of great artistic merit; his list is long and includes many films that haven’t been shown here (in the US) yet, but also includes, quite rightly, “Holy Motors” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” And it’s true that any system that produces such masterworks has automatically justified its existence. Yet the list also includes a few films that are far from masterworks and that perhaps owe their existence solely to a system that depends on their existence—and on their recognition as meritorious works of art—as its self-justification.”

Coming to the defence of the system Eric Garandeau, head of Centre National du Cinéma (CNC), said January 29 if the way French cinema is funded  is not “perfect”, it is “perhaps the least worst of all and it is thanks to the CNC that French film auteurs (those who supply the art cinema market) are able to exist alongside big film makers. If there is excess, it should be adjusted, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater “, he added. Commenting on the controversy over Maraval remarks he said: “We will continue to defend our model in the belief that no system is ever perfect…”.

Sylvain Bursztejn, a producer with Sequoia Films, agreed that some actors might be overpaid, but called Vincent Maraval a “populist” and said he regretted his attempts to stigmatise an “awesome” funding system.

Watch this film clip of Intouchables a run-away box office success:

As the polemic developed a group of independent Young Turk film-makers weighed in. Nicolas Anthomé, Mathieu Bompoint, Aurélie Bordier, Nicolas Brévière, Emmanuel Chaumet, Sébastien de Fonséca, Guillaume de Seille, Stéphanie Douet, Christophe Gougeon Juliette Grandmont, Céline Maugis, Christie Molia,  Thomas Ordonneau,  Gilles Padovani, Fabrice Préel-Cléach,  Charlotte Vincent, Igor Wojtowicz  put their names to a joint article in Le Monde on January 23: “French cinema is run by a group of managers who despise everything that is complex. It has never had so much money (1.13 billion euros in 2011 compared to 360 million euros in 1994), it has never produced so many films (207 in 2011 against 89 in 1994) nor enjoyed such record-breaking box office. However, its production has never looked so formatted and market-obsessed… We are back to pre- Nouvelle Vague days…  If filmmakers from around the world envy us — and some even honour us by making films here — it is not because they are inspired by strong artistic emulation, but because in France there is money to be made from films. Moviegoers, television, Internet, taxpayers, everyone participates in financing French cinema… Our group represents a third of France’s low budget films, we  made 59 films in 2011 with budgets under 2.5 million euros but our emerging cinema is under-funded and under-distributed.”

Meanwhile and co-inciding with the opening of the Berlinale  the Council of Europe February 8 released its latest pan-European statistics on the health of the industry. These  suggested that despite difficult economic conditions France remained  firmly near the top in terms of the health of its audiovisual sector.

The report: “Cinema admissions in Europe down overall, but some countries make big strides”noted: “The top four EU territories (France, UK, Germany and Italy), together accounting for almost two-thirds of EU admissions, declined by 2.8% in 2012, with reductions in France and Italy outweighing gains in the UK and Germany… National films’ share of cinema admissions tends to fluctuate from year to year depending on the strength of local releases in the given year. For Europe as a whole, national market share is estimated to have fallen slightly to 13% in 2012, from 15% in 2011. The highest national market shares were reported by Turkey (46.6%), France (40.2%), the UK (32.1%), Denmark (28.5%) and Finland (28%).”

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

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