A recent study by the National Center for Cinematography, which shows a doubling of the costs and insurance of producers, raises questions from the profession about the system that links them to the two credit institutions that participate in the financing of French films.
The world of finance, in French cinema, is usually as cozy as it is secret. Almost unknown to the general public, two credit institutions, Coficiné (a company acquired at the end of 1999 from Caisse des Dépôts and now a 92.5% subsidiary of Natexis) and Cofiloisirs (a joint subsidiary of BNP Paribas, the UGC film group and of the Banque OBC), have for years been sharing a small French market, that of the financing of films. The relationship between these financiers and their customers, mostly independent producers, is starting to get worrying.
It all started with a recent study by the National Center for Cinematography (CNC), which shows that the financial costs and insurance of producers exploded between 2003 and 2004: out of 125 French films studied, these expenses almost doubled, from 26, 14 million euros to 46.84 million. Meanwhile, the profits of these credit institutions are improving: the ratio net income/turnover of Coficiné has increased from 13.5% to 17.25%.
The soaring financial costs is considered sufficiently boring for Jean-François Lepetit, president of the Chambre Syndicale des Producers de Films, to have asked the CNC for more detailed explanations on this study – even if it is to encourage the profession to ask, as soon as, at Coficiné and Cofiloisirs, to explain the very important differences in customer rates and to ask them to lower their rates. Without denying that these figures reflect a very strong progression, which raises legitimate questions of the profession, the CNC calls however to a certain “caution” on these data. Meanwhile, several films are affected by the deterioration of the relationship between producers and private financiers.
Paulo Branco, the independent producer who has been responsible for many films by Manoel de Oliveira, Raoul Ruiz, Pedro Costa and Chantal Akerman, believes that Coficiné, with whom he has been working for years, is abusing his power and putting the very existence of independent production. He criticizes “the excesses of a duopolistic system” and judges “credit rates, often at 10% or even 11%, more than abusive”.
In three of his last feature film, the rates have varied between 12.81% for Changing Times by André Téchiné, 10.81% for Tomorrow We Move by Chantal Akerman and 12.58% for Mother Christophe Honored. “It is all the more shocking that the loans of Coficiné are counter-guaranteed, up to 50% to 70%, by the State, via the I fcic – Institute for the financing of cinema and cultural industries – Coficiné, therefore, takes almost no risks, “he adds.
The most prolific French independent producer, who certainly does not display a flamboyant financial record and is sometimes suspected of resorting to cavalry methods, also accuses Didier Courtois Duverger, Vice President of Coficiné, for exercising “intolerable pressure than others, less measured, would call blackmail ” for the credit, finally obtained at the end of July, of his next film, of Santiago Amigorena.
Paulo Branco, who also took in hand the films started by his friend Humbert Balsan, who committed suicide on February 10 ( Le Monde, February 12), claims that Coficiné asked him for a written proof of his consent. Antoine de Caunes to reduce his stamp of a comedian on this film. The bank conditioned its agreement to the new line of credit awarded to Paulo Branco to obtain this letter and also asked the producer to obtain the release of the right of retention used by the GTC laboratory on a film by Francis Girod.
Because the tensions are also sharp with the world of the technical industries, in particular, the laboratories. Gildas GOLVET, head GTC, a laboratory currently in receivership, which must be taken by Eclair Group, is in conflict with Coficiné about the film by Francis Girod A friend Perfect for a romantic t. Mr. Golvet exercises a right of retention on this film in the hope that his creditors, including Coficiné, pay the total debt (0.8 million euros) of Ognon Pictures, the former production company of Humbert Balsan, in bankruptcy.
Faced with these attacks, Didier Courtois Duverger defends himself by asserting that the credit rates practiced by Coficine “vary between 4% and 11%”, which presents “very wide differences” conditioned on the balance sheets of the borrowing company and on its surface financial.
In 2004, the Natexis subsidiary lent 500 million euros to someone hundred films. “In other European countries, producers must give personal guarantees, ” he says, explaining that this practice is exceptional in France and affects less than 1% of credits it grants. One of the last to bear the brunt of such obligations is the producer Catherine Jacques, who lost her house and all that was in it for Philippe Grandrieux’s film, which bore the predestined name of Sombre. According to Mr. Roland Rappaport, lawyer of Humbert Balsan, he had also had to give a personal guarantee in favor of Coficiné to finance its projects to the tune of 480,000 euros. Added to this was another personal bank loan from a private bank, all amounting to 1.15 million euros.
As for the controversy over the estate of Humbert Balsan, Didier Courtois Duverger says that “it has no connection with the loans granted to Gemini, the company of Paulo Branco”. More broadly, he believes that “everyone has to take into account the operating procedures of the other.” Thanks to the French system, which gives us a guarantee from the State, we have also lent money for fifty-five years to Companies that have very bad balance sheets The limit of the system lies in the fact that producers are the only ones who manage their business, and it would not be absurd to ask these quality producers to take out life insurance , “he says.
“The film economy is not viable, the films are suffering from real underfunding: Canal + now only buys one film out of four today, the tax credit and the advance on recipes Finance cinema remains a risky business and, if my operating account is not positive, I will not be allowed my independence and the opportunity to finance French cinema”, he continues. The boss of Coficiné is also worried about the new prudential rules that are likely to increase, for banks, film loans by 30%. A context that deserves a cold flattening of the problems of producers and their financiers.