The Europeans are coming: why our film-makers don't need Hollywood any more
The big draws at this week's Venice Film Festival are notable for one thing: they have not required US money
Wednesday 31 August 2011
It boasts one of the strongest British casts to reach the screen, has a Swedish director, is financed in France and will premiere next Monday at the Venice International Film Festival. As such, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is perhaps the biggest among a growing crop of films with one thing in common: they have never touched the Hollywood hills.
In a major industrial shift away from the home of movies, the Venice festival, which starts today, will screen the world premieres of a handful of high-profile films financed and produced in Europe.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the eagerly awaited adaptation of John Le Carré's 1974 novel, was financed in full by the major French company StudioCanal. "This is a movie with strong appeal for European audiences and with European talent. That includes producers Working Title, the [Swedish] film-maker Tomas Alfredson and this fantastic British cast [Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy]. The domestic market for this is Europe, not the US. The US is an upside," Olivier Courson, the chief executive of StudioCanal, told Screen International this week.
Mr Courson's view underlines the hope European producers now have that they can get big, international movies off the ground without looking to the Hollywood studios. The belief is that the European market is large enough for them to recoup their costs regardless of what happens to the films in the US.
Roman Polanski's new film, Carnage, adapted from the Yasmina Reza play and starring Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, is produced and financed in France and put together as a French-German-Polish co-production.
David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, about the rivalry between Freud and Jung, is also largely European financed (although it lacks British investment despite being produced and written by Brits – Jeremy Thomas and Christopher Hampton – and filled with British acting talent).
Setting up a pan-European "super studio" with the financing, marketing and distribution power of the Hollywood behemoths has long been the Holy Grail for producers this side of the Atlantic. Invariably, they have come unstuck. Alexander Korda and J Arthur Rank in the 1930s and 1940s, EMI and Goldcrest a generation later and, more recently, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment in the 1990s all followed the Euro studio dream. In the end, they simply didn't have the resources, access to worldwide distribution, or the ruthlessness to compete against Hollywood.
Now, a new breed of European producers thinks it has cracked the problem. The StudioCanal business plan is based on having companies in three major European territories – France, the UK and Germany – which, combined, represent 60 per cent of the European market. StudioCanal produces local films in all of these territories but also has the scope to make international projects on its own, or with Hollywood partners.
Given Polanski's continuing problems with the US authorities following the statutory rape charge against him more than 30 years ago, he has little choice other than to work out of Europe. However, what is increasingly apparent is that other European directors, who once would have headed to the US to further their careers, are now able to make films of scale and formal ambition at home. It is also clear that Americans are keen to work in Europe: to take advantage of the soft money schemes and regional funds that exist in the region.
Before the Europeans get too carried away though, they should note that the US market remains hugely important to them.
Films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Carnage and A Dangerous Method may have been made and financed in Europe but how they are received by US audiences and critics will go a long way to determining how successful they can be. They might recoup their costs in their own back yard, but the North American market still matters if they're to turn into box-office hits.
All three films are being tipped for awards. Come Oscar night next spring, one prediction can safely be made: if they do win, their producers are bound to crow "the Europeans are coming!"
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