'Carlos' has multinational scope, funding

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CANNES -- A Venezuelan terrorist will be in Cannes this year, and it's all George Clooney's doing.

Five years ago, French journalist-turned-director-turned-producer Daniel Leconte saw Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana" and came away impressed by the international scope of the big-screen project.

"I thought: It's crazy that the French aren't doing this, just the Americans," he said.

Leconte is CEO of Film en Stock and Doc en Stock, a Paris-based production house that has produced more than 400 documentaries and several features and TV movies.

"I thought the project through beforehand," he said. "I knew that to get the budget I was looking for, for a project of the scale of a movie like 'Syriana,' I needed an international, universal topic. Then, I knew I could reach out to international producers for funding."

So why Carlos?

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Before becoming a director and producer, Leconte was a journalist who traveled the globe covering stories for TV and French newspapers Le Monde and Liberation.

"I knew the story of Carlos and had something to say about it," he said. "I wrote about many of the events and characters as a journalist at the time so the topic was close to me."

Leconte also had help from journalist Stephen Smith, who served as historical consultant on the project.

"It was more a producer's project than an auteur's project at first, the opposite of most French films, where an auteur goes to the producer to try to get the film made and the producer just serves the auteur," Leconte said.

Leconte himself wears both hats as a director and producer, so the fact that a "producer's project" like Carlos became an auteur film worthy of Festival de Cannes selection status proves that the crossover isn't impossible.

After that, "I got the money together relatively quickly," he says. "Carlos" is co-produced by Germany's Egoli and Tossell and received funding from Studiocanal in addition to French TV groups Canal Plus, CineCinema, TV5 Monde, BETV plus government body the CNC and French film funds the Procirep and Angoa International Sales Studiocanal.

However, Leconte's initial choice for director, Radu Mihaileanu, pulled out of the project.

Leconte was in talks at the time with Gallic auteur Olivier Assayas about another project the two were meant to work on. Leconte and Assayas met over lunch one day. "I said to Olivier: Have you seen 'Syriana'? Why aren't we doing this? Why aren't you doing this?" he remembers. Assayas responded: "Because nobody's ever asked me to." One month later, Leconte offered him the directing position. Assays penned the script alongside Dan Franck.


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The rest is history -- or rather, fictionalized history. "Carlos," told in three 90-minute segments, focuses on Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a revolutionary who was arrested by French police after leading a terrorist op that raided the OPEC headquarters in 1975.

"I wanted to use fiction to explore the complex character on different levels, but my initial worry was that people would see the film as an apology for Carlos," Leconte said. Leconte certainly knows his terrorists. In his journalist days, he interviewed Yasser Arafat, George Habash, Abul Abbas and even got a confession out of Markus Wolf. "All of the biggest tyrants on the planet were seducers," he said. "There's a moment where these characters make people believe what they're saying."

The project was filmed in five languages -- French, German, English, Spanish and Arabic -- and in 11 different countries for 92 days from February through July 2009. Production had to stop for three weeks in the middle of shooting to allow actor Edgar Ramirez to put on the necessary weight his character needed for the final sequences. The film also required a large-scale multi-city casting process simultaneously in Paris, Berlin, Beirut, Madrid, Damascus, Amman, Jordan, and Khartoum so that each character was played by an actor of the appropriate nationality.

While the miniseries lasts 5 1/2 hours, "Carlos" also has been adapted to a film version that lasts 2 1/2 hours.

" 'Carlos' is made for both TV and cinema -- to me, there is no difference," he said. "The Americans are really the example of the efficiency of this strategy. U.S. fiction today is of exceptional quality. TV writing inspires and changes movie writing."

In the U.S., major filmmakers aren't afraid or ashamed to show off their talents in small-screen formats. In France, however, according to Leconte, "TV is considered to be below cinema." The process of combining big-screen auteur talent with small-screen fare has been much slower.

Leconte is hoping that the success of "Carlos" will change this and convince the French TV networks to engage in ambitious projects, and convince French auteurs to accept jobs directing for TV. "Symbolically, it was very important that Olivier Assayas did this movie. His name is associated with auteur cinema."

So why did Thierry Fremaux choose to screen the entire miniseries in Cannes when a shorter more audience-friendly version already exists?

"Thierry Fremaux knew he needed to show all 5 1/2 hours to create a sensation," he said. "Putting the whole series in official selection is a way to launch a debate."

"Before, it would have been taboo to have a TV series in official selection in Cannes -- no way." Not only will the film screen in Cannes, but Canal Plus subscribers will be able to watch the full series the same night it screens at the Lumiere theater.

The Cannes screening is a victory for the project. "The challenge was to make a theatrical movie with money from television, and make a television series with money from cinema," Leconte said. "In other words, combining money from television and cinema to make two distinct works from the same shoot, a theatrical movie and TV drama. 'Carlos' is the result of this wish."

"'Carlos' marks the first synergy between Canal Plus' original programming and Studiocanal," Studiocanal's Harold Van Lier said in an interview. The film is part of the ambition of both companies to partner on international TV series in the future.

Van Lier added: "It's definitely a unique event. To have Cannes paying tribute to a mega TV production is incredible. I think it will create a lot of publicity," Van Lier said.

Studiocanal will release the film version in France in the Fall and has already pre-sold the miniseries and film package to several territories across the globe, including the film version to IFC and the miniseries to Sundance in the US. "We're trying to replicate that distribution model in as many territories as possible where we can promote both formats," Van Lier said. The series will premiere on the Sundance channel before a theatrical release through IFC in the Fall after screenings at the Telluride and New York film festivals. "We have a commercial approach of course, but also a festival and arty approach," Van lier said, adding: "The production scope and challenge were humungous."

"I think that it's one of the great untold stories and terrorism is something that really shapes our lives today. Carlos has institutionalized international terrorism," the film's German co-producer Egoli Tossell's Jens Meurer said in an interview. One third of the film was shot in Germany with a German cast. "It shows what Germany and France can achieve in terms of larger scale films in Europe."

The film will premiere in Cannes on Wednesday and all of the many parties involved are hoping for a positive response.

"It's been my life for five years," Leconte says of what has become his passion project. "We're the first to do this type of thing in France. I hope it gives others ideas."
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