The French seaside town of Biarritz has been home to more than 250 international buyers this week, who headed to the first in-person Les Rendez-vous Unifrance since the pandemic.
Unifrance’s exec director, Daniela Elstner, reflects on her key takeaways from the event’s 28th edition and explores how the French industry is adapting to global demands.
This year’s edition of Unifrance Rendezvous (Unifrance RDV) in Biarritz attracted more than 250 buyers, who have come from 46 countries and travelled from as far as Australia and Japan. It has been a great experience for all of our members, to finally meet again, exchange and discuss ideas. The added value of the Rendezvous in Biarritz is the way that you can screen the programmes and then instantly formally or informally exchange. It is not rare that buyers talk about a programme over lunch, with a deal then following. After two years of solitary zoom exchanges, these kind of discussions and face-to-face meetings are really needed.
Two years of pandemic have made us very familiar with digital tools, meaning our previous screening tool had to adapt. We changed to a whole new system, the Unifrance screening room, within a short period of time as we started only after the merger [with TV France International] had gone through. We are eagerly waiting for the feedback of buyers and distributors to continue to improve it, but the screening experience went well.
Alongside supporting the business, Unifrance also provides promotion tools for French programmes worldwide, so it seemed quite natural to include screenings and artists, with a particular highlight being the launch of The Kings’ Favorite. Isabelle Adjani, Virginie Ledoyen, Hugo Becker & Josée Dayan were in attendance and a special screening was held in the Casino Theater. It was a world premiere and we were very thankful to the team for their attendance, as well as France Télévisions Distribution for their involvement. It also underlined how much these events mean to international buyers – it then becomes an emotional experience that we share together. The more you share emotions and talk about the programmes, the more the chance buyers will want the show.
Pre-sales and co-productions are needed to conquer the global market and accompany the internationalisation of French programming. In France, we are lucky to have “major” studio companies alongside independent ones, which allows for a great variety of content. Over the past couple of years, all have tended to look for international financing to complete their budgets. It gives a greater strength to all of them within the international scene. It also means that distributors have to be increasingly specialised, while producers have to be experts of the international market. That is why Unifrance is developing, in close collaboration with the CNC, more tools and actions to ensure the best support for the needs of our members.
Drama’s filmic quality
France has high-quality production skills and we have a great network of international distributors who know how to make French stories travel. At Unifrance, we have to be efficient to facilitate the lives and work of all our members. TV drama now needs to be launched almost like films for cinema. Targeting social media and international press is getting increasingly important, and artists have to be involved in the different markets. This is what Unifrance wants to put in place, and our screening of The King’s Favorite is only one first example.
The destination for French programming has shown little if any change compared to 2020, with Western Europe still the biggest purchasing region with sales of €80.6m ($80m) (down 7.4%), representing 43.3% of global earnings (the lowest share to date), and reflecting the trend of diversifying export territories. North America is in second place with sales of €23.3m (down 7.8%, a 12.5% market share), followed by Asia/Oceania at €14.7m (down 10.9%, a 7.9% market share). Sales to Central and Eastern Europe remained stable €11.8m (a 6.4% market share). These figures reflect the attractiveness of French productions internationally, with shows such as High Intellectual Potential, Paris Police 1900, La Jeune Fille Et La Nuit (a coproduction between members of The Alliance), Kubrick by Kubrick and Brazen.
However, there is much to be done to keep the sales ongoing. In Asia, a continent that closed its borders during the pandemic, Unifrance is very present, having just opened an office in Japan. We also have a representatives in China and in the US, markets that will need our attention. As for Latin America, we are working to develop our relationships and exchanges. The merger of cinema and TV within one association allows different analysis and experiences within the Unifrance team to be brought together, creating a great new energy. Now, we need to translate this into concrete action.