European film co-productions, an opportunity or a challenge?
Are European film co-productions an opportunity or a challenge? The term “co-production” means the collaboration of several producers, through their mutual resources (financial, human and material) and the allocation of risks, in order to produce a film or audiovisual product. The producers carry the legal and economic responsibility for the production and hold the intellectual property, while the executive producer ensures that the project goes into production. It can also be a simple financial co-producer, who does not hold the intellectual property of the film produced.
The details of the co-production are set by contracts between the parties, the conditions are very variable, and are supervised by international agreements between the countries concerned: bilateral treaties – 45 treaties of co-productions in France, 39 in Italy, 18 in Germany, 17 in Spain, 13 in UK – facilitate access to the national systems of subsidies and dual nationality, while the European Cinematographic Co-Production Convention, after the European Council, regulates multi-lateral coproductions or bilateral co-productions between signatories countries that have not entered into a bilateral treaty.
The international co-production naturally raises the question of the film nationality, an aspect often irrelevant artistically but nevertheless economically essential for allowing the project to reach the national support systems and enter the quotas of the national television channels. Dual nationality (or multinational) film is a legal advantage that generates direct economic benefits (funding) and indirect (box office). Co-productions can be bilateral or multilateral, and can obviously include non-European partners.
Can only a co-production motive be on finances, or can it also be artistic? Is it possible a co-production do well? Under what conditions?
Some examples of successful European film co-productions
The vast majority of European films are national productions, mainly for three reasons: on the one hand the director’s background and interests, culture and public references on the other, and finally the production system itself.
Especially since the national funding often asks for films to have national cultural significant (days filming on site, presence of actors, or team members), the co-production represents, when it is not directly justified by the subject, an artistic challenge. Sometimes, they risk expressing a diluted artistic identity under the effect of production mechanisms.
European writers and directors tend to locate their theme within their own geographical area, first by artistic relevance, because it is the territory they know and the best that suits them. From the producer side, there is a certain tendency to think first of the national market. And it is also true that the movie industry is not doing so well in many countries.
Among the independent producers, therefore, the search for the artistic coherence comes first. The films for the international market are better off if they are in the English. But the first criterion of the success it is the artistic success of the film. Sometimes stories that are very local and yet universally recognized or recognizable can be a success in foreign territories.
However, at a certain production level, it is necessary to consider the public preferences to reduce the risk of failure. But then again, a film is an offer so that we first think the artistic success of the film as a new proposal to the public.
It is obvious that the projects have a European base, strong enough, in terms of market, and this of course involves an assess of these three key areas. For the independent producers, the main motor of a co-production therefore remains the same, which is about the film itself.
To choose their filming locations, funding proposals and their partners, most of the producers follow the project depiction by the writer or director, if it includes a transnational dimension, the producer may seek to organize a co-production with a local partner. These co-productions increased in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly between France, Italy and Spain. Nowadays, tax incentives implemented by public policies at regional and national level are criteria that come into play in the decision of a film location, but which are not always decisive.
For independent films, success is primarily related to the director’s vision and consistency, the location of the film is first determined by his choice, and the benefit of a tax credit is that tax optimization resulting from this choice.
In Europe, the fragmented market of cinema leads producers to focus on national markets (language, culture …) for a majority of films, and adapt the production budget to the market size. In 2014, the largest producers were France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain (Italy had 201 films produced in the year (including 21 co-productions).
If we try to draw the main film co-production force in Europe, we can only notice the establishment of a vast diversity of partnerships.
Two very active areas are: the Franco-Belgian and the German-British co- productions. The German Incentive Policy, together with the activity of the Babelsberg Studios and Bavaria, attracts many Anglo-Saxon projects often co-produced with the United Kingdom and the United States.
Franco- Italian co-productions quite recently, under a new agreement Franco- Italian co-production (in 2003) are returning strong in numbers and quality. The Italian Film auteur, now often, has to go through France, while the rest of the production remains highly polarized by national television.
Finally, another active area of co-productions is covered by the Scandinavian countries, in particular, the prolific Denmark – Sweden partnership, as shown lately by the success of the police series Bron (The Bridge) and of big productions such as Millennium Trilogy.
Beyond national incentives policies, the European Union directly encourages co-production through funding provided by the MEDIA Program (now CREATIVE EUROPE 2014-2020). Similarly, the European Council, with EURIMAGES, actively supports the co-productions: it has supported more than 1,500 European co-productions for a total amount of approximately € 468 million since its beginning in 1988.