A version of this article appears on the French in Motion website.
Despite fundamental differences between the American and European film production models—free-market profitability versus state-supported culture—the desire for transatlantic projects is stronger than ever before. The opportunities for the two production models to converge, and the related challenges and successes, were the subject of a March 2nd panel hosted by French in Motion, UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as part of the annual “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema” series.
The American independent film industry has long envied the public subsidies behind their European counterparts, so it is tempting for an American producer to think of international coproductions as a way to get a piece of the action. The reality is more complicated, according to Jay Van Hoy of Parts & Labor, the producers behind American Honey and Frank & Lola. “It took us a while to understand that that whole system is designed to keep Americans out.”
International co-production treaties allow film producers to access the benefits of both countries, ranging from public grant money to tax rebates. A European nation like France adheres to some 60 such agreements, but they won’t have one with the U.S. To take full advantage of the treaty system, a European project with U.S. scenes might “cheat” and shoot them in Canada instead, said Gaëlle Mareschi of Kinology and Fluxus, two French production companies.
Americans discover that European financing benefits come with higher expectations for compensation and work environment. The result can be an overall increase in a film’s budget, said Nathan Silver, the director and producer of Thirst Street, which was filmed largely in France and will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. The national differences also factor into day-to-day difficulties; French crews thrive under a director’s creative freedom and a schedule designed around cultural norms—they observe standard mealtimes and are legally entitled to be served alcohol. To successfully film in the U.S., French producers must be willing to shed their traditional, more fluid style in favor of rigid American union rules and location permits.
Still, with an understanding of the available resources, and a willingness to think creatively, there are ways to make it work. A film by American producers can still qualify for European status if it accumulates enough “points” by employing European directors, writers, cast and technicians. Justin Taurand of Les Films du Bélier, whose feature Heal the Living premiered at this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, brought up the “Cinémas du Monde” grant from the French National Center for Cinema, which is designed to support non-French language films and for which Americans can apply. International tax credit, revised in 2016 to encourage filming in France, can also be applied to an American-French coproduction. Meanwhile Mareschi highlighted the generous support system for short films in France; foreign-language films may receive full funding as long as the production company is French.
David Hinojosa of Killer Films, the producers of Carol, said he required very little U.S. equity for his upcoming film about the French writer Colette, starring Keira Knightly. A coproduction with the U.K., the film received generous funding from the British Film Institute, and the producers decided to film in Budapest for additional economic advantages.
Challenges abound, but the results can be incomparably rewarding. “For me, working in France was my best shooting experience,” said Silver.