'The Artist' Director Michel Hazanavicius Slams French System for Inflated Salaries

Roundtable Michel Hazanavicius Portrait - P 2012
Joe Pugliese

Roundtable Michel Hazanavicius Portrait - P 2012

The Oscar-winner calls out directors and producers for padding their fees.

Five months after producer Vincent Maraval took to the pages of newspaper Le Monde with a rant that caused such a crisis of confidence within the French cinema system that actors had to publicly defend their salaries, Oscar-winner Michel Hazanavicus (The Artist) has taken to the same paper to once again criticize the nation's state-financed funding system.

While Maraval’s screed berated what he characterized as middling actors with outsized salaries (the embattled Gerard Depardieu among them), Hazanavicus calls out all top-of-the-line talent for angling for large salaries upfront as an added cost to the filmmaking process and takes on the entire funding system, calling it “gangrene,” “inflationary,” and a “bubble.”

“The fact that the people who make movies – directors, writers, actors, technicians and producers in some cases – are not financially interested in the success of the film causes behavior that perverts the system," writes Hazanavicus.

Instead, he states, big names charge bigger salaries during the funding stage instead of counting on a successful film to break records -- or break even -- upon release. He continues: “The game, for certain productions, becomes on one hand to inflate quotes to get the most money for funding, and on the other hand to spend the least amount of money while making the film – resulting in the underpayment of technicians, outsourcing, and asking for discounts, etc., in order to make a high quantity of movies, regardless of the quality.”

To address the issue, he notes the system should flip its focus and share in gross receipts instead of grossly inflated salaries: “It’s the only way to restore confidence, and to reduce the cost of films.”

He also calls for reform to the very system that funds these films.

The protective French financing system relies on an intricate series of taxes and fees -- spread from major television networks to individual moviegoers – filtered through the government’s CNC film board that subsidizes everyone from first-time filmmakers to veteran directors, which resulted in over 200 movies made in France 2012. It was a hugely successful year for France’s films, with over 200 million tickets sold within the country’s cinemas alone, and both Cesar-winning The Intouchables and Luc Besson’s kidnapping sequel Taken 2 breaking records abroad.

TV networks are required to set aside 3 percent of their budgets towards the film financing system; as a result they push for broadcast and family-friendly fare. The result is often broad and slapstick comedies that are lacking in originality. As VOD services such as Canal Plus’ Canal Play Infinity grow, and services such as Netflix and Amazon’s LoveFilm have announced plans to enter the domestic market by 2014, Hazanavicius says we have to look at these newer technologies and bring them into the financing system.

“We must agree to say that the Internet is television, and television is the Internet, and to the consequences of these new definitions, including funding,” says Hazanavicius. France has been pushing for ISPs to be taxed but has faces opposition from the European Union regulators that fear it would threaten internet freedom. He calls for the government to stand up against the EU to affirm France’s position and vision for the future of the funding system “if we want to prevent the collapse of cinema like some of its European cousins.”

He concludes: “The cinema makes us happy, makes us laugh, moves us, entertains us, but also makes us aware, and reminds us that we have a common destiny.”