French Election: How a Le Pen Victory Could Affect Hollywood

Marine Le Pen - Getty H 2017
Courtesy of Getty Images

European media and entertainment types are keeping a close eye on Sunday's contest, which will be followed by a runoff in May.

France heads to the polls Sunday for the first round of a highly anticipated election in an unprecedented four-way race that could see far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen reach the two-candidate runoff next month that will decide the country’s next president.

Polls released Thursday ahead of a final televised round of live interviews with all 11 candidates — and before Thursday night’s targeted terror attack on police on Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees dominated the news cycle — indicated that independent candidate Emanuel Macron held a slight lead with 25 percent. Le Pen followed with 22 percent, while center-right Republican candidate Francois Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon were tied at around 19 percent.

The take-away: It's too close for anyone to call.

The runoff of the top two candidates will take place on May 7, just before the Cannes Film Festival.

Hollywood has taken note of the election, which will decide who replaces Francois Hollande, to some degree. The far-left Melenchon has become somewhat of a media darling among pro-Bernie Sanders celebrities, including Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Eve Ensler and Pamela Anderson.

But he resembles Sanders only in his firey anti-corporate speeches and has much in common with Le Pen, as he too wants to leave not only the EU and euro currency, but NATO as well.  

In France, Juliette Binoche has come out in support of Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, and director Valerie Donzelli was spotted at one of his rallies. Actress Celine Sallette has lent her support to Melenchon, while Macron has singer Francoise Hardy in his camp. Mathieu Kassovitz is lodging a "vote blanc" as part of a protest movement.

Le Pen hasn’t caught on with French celebrities, though they are traditionally less vocal than their American counterparts, and if she has famous fans, few appear ready to take the risk of a backlash by publicly supporting her. 

While Le Pen has done her best to soften the rhetoric of her outspoken and anti-Semitic father Jean-Marie, going so far as ousting him from the party he founded, the new National Front leader has firmly established her nationalist credentials with calls for an immigration ban and ban on any overtly religious symbols including Muslim headscarves, but also Jewish yarmulkes and Sikh turbans.

She’s prompted comparisons to Donald Trump because their anti-immigrant sentiments are similar. But Trump was a reality TV star and personality before he rose to political prominence, and Le Pen has grown up in the political spotlight. She’s alternately courted and sparred with the media her entire career. She makes good television and has certainly delivered audiences: her interviews toppled a series of ratings records across TF1, France 2 and M6 last fall and earlier this year.

TV and radio airwaves go dark at midnight Friday on political chatter until Sunday’s vote, with results revealed after 8 p.m. local time that day, or 11 a.m. L.A. time.

Here is THR's closer look at how the election outcome, especially if Le Pen wins, could change the French and European film and media industries.

Frexit and co-production pain?

While the pro-EU Macron is favored to win the presidency if he makes it to the runoff, Donald Trump proved that election forecasts can be way off. A possible Le Pen victory would be the latest ripple in the recent global wave towards populism. And following the U.K. vote last summer in favor of Brexit, it could bring about a domino fall of the European Union.

Le Pen has said she wants out of the political union, its free movement rules and its currency. While there are limits on her powers, she has said she would call for France’s own Brexit-like referendum within six months.  

A vote in favor of a "Frexit" would require a constitutional amendment in France, which some say won't be easy to reach. She’d need her party to overwhelmingly win the upcoming parliamentary elections to support the three-fifths majority needed to pass any amendment in congress. But the expression of such strong sentiment would be hard for the EU to ignore and could considerably weaken its negotiating power with the U.K. as it plans to leave the union.

International co-productions could suffer if EU film subsidies are lost, and that could mean fallout for producers in France and beyond. Of the roughly 300 French films shot in 2015, 142 were co-productions, many with the country's European neighbors Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain, which rely on patching together financing from across the continent.

While co-production agreements are signed individually with each country, and France likely wouldn’t seek to renegotiate these immediately, they largely depend on open borders and ease of movement, which could be wiped out by a burdensome visa system or outright ban should Le Pen have her way.

Return of the franc and production boom?

Whether Le Pen could even quit the euro is in question as her plan relies on the easy agreement of all the other European countries, but she has said she would aim to create a new franc and immediately devalue the currency to increase French exports.

That could make France an even more attractive shooting location as a significantly cheaper currency would boost Hollywood bucks.

Hollywood benefits largely from the new TRIP tax incentive program, which gives a 30 percent rebate to any non-French production up to €34 million, or $37 million.

Le Pen is unlikely to change the structure of a rebate that has lured films like Mission: Impossible 6 to Paris and TV productions, such as Sky Atlantic’s pricey Riviera shoot, to Nice.

Since the French film industry turns out about 300 films each year under its film funding system backed by a tax on movie ticket sales within the country, Hollywood blockbuster shoots prop up small indie films, and this would be unlikely to change.

Foreign labor tax?

Le Pen has also promised a 10 percent tax on labor contracts for foreign workers, so any producers, technicians, or even artists that are signed with a French production company would be subject to this added fee.

That would create extra costs, or work to find other skilled labor, for entertainment companies. 

The "intermittent" system, under which qualified film technicians, such as editors and camera operators, dip in and out of unemployment benefits when not shooting, would be modified, though Le Pen has not said how.

Film and TV companies rely on this to avoid long-duration contracts with workers, with some companies keeping upwards of 20 percent of their workforce under this scheme. So any impact would surely be felt in the sector.

Less focus on piracy fight, no to acquisition sprees.

Hollywood and French companies' fight against piracy could also be affected as Le Pen has vowed to abolish HADOPI, the government’s anti-piracy arm. 

While viewed as somewhat toothless and with little direct power, the agency’s three-strikes system has sent 7.6 million warnings to illegal downloaders since its creation in 2010, with 1,300 cases sent on to prosecutors. The agency has said second warnings fall off so precipitously because users stop pirating after getting a warning.

It isn't clear whether Le Pen would launch any alternative ways to combat piracy.

The broader regulatory environment for media and entertainment companies would also see a shake-up under Le Pen.

In what could be interpreted as a shot across French entertainment conglomerate Vivendi’s bow, she has proposed an order against "industrialists" buying up media assets. While she hasn’t laid out specifics of who would be the target of such an order, Le Pen has famously clashed with journalists from CanalPlus, going so far as to publicly cancel her subscription to the channel she called full of “contemptuous bobos.” But practically she could move to block chair Vincent Bollore’s acquisition of other assets, including Ubisoft.

In comparison, the pro-EU centrist Macron would set out to privatize what’s left of France’s state-owned media and telecom company Orange (formerly France Telecom), offloading its 23 percent stake, which could open the way for a flurry of strategic consolidation within the telecom industry.

This could lead the way for Orange, which carries HBO titles exclusively in France and runs a development studio in L.A., to acquire assets from the beleaguered Bouygues, while Vincent Bollore’s Vivendi could also offload its troubled CanalPlus pay TV arm. If big assets start changing hands, the Quatari-owned BeIN Sports pay-TV network is also seen as possibly coming into play.  

While Macron hasn’t revealed much if anything of his cultural plan, his reform-minded policies and independence are thought to lead to change in policies that restrict big business, which include the current film funding scheme that diverts TV network revenue to cinema investment at the detriment of developing their own series. He could also shorten the waiting periods that protect theatrical releases and keep films off of SVOD services for 36 months, a gift to Netflix.