Germany's Wild Bunch Exec Talks Rescuing Senator, Learning From Bradley Cooper's 'Burnt' Flop (Q&A)

Andreas Chudowski
Marc Gabizon

Marc Gabizon, Vincent Maraval’s man in Germany, discusses his worst deal, why stars no longer guarantee success and the need for (calculated) risks.

Wild Bunch, the France-based European production and distribution giant, prides itself on its enfant terrible image — with designed-to-shock films such as Gaspar Noe’s 3D sex-fest Love and its legendarily debauched parties in Cannes.

So it’s a bit 
of a surprise to meet Marc Gabizon, the 49-year-old exec who runs Wild Bunch Germany. Soft-spoken, discreet and diplomatic almost to a fault, Gabizon, who is French but has spent his entire career in Germany, doesn’t fit the brass, crass Wild Bunch mold, exemplified by its chief creative officer, Vincent Maraval. In Cannes, Gabizon can be spotted scooting from meeting to meeting on his bike, as trim and purposeful as a UPS delivery man.

It’s been a busy year for Gabizon: Just before the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, Wild Bunch in Germany merged with Senator, rescuing the storied Berlin production and distribution outfit from bankruptcy. Ahead of this year’s Berlinale, he spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about balancing risk with reward, his best (and worst) deals and just what went wrong at Senator.

You’ve done a lot of deals over the years — for German licenser Telepool before joining Wild Bunch. Which one are you most proud of?

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I bought that for Germany [from Wild Bunch], and I’m just happy and thankful to be associated with a film like that. Or movies like Crash 
or Rust and Bone. Another one was The King’s Speech. Wild Bunch bought that in Toronto, together with Senator. It was a huge success, as everyone knows.

What was your worst deal?

That’s a long list. And I keep adding to it. But my first big flop was a Joseph Fiennes movie with Heather Graham: Killing Me Softly. Have you heard of it? No? Well, that says it all.

What went so wrong with Senator?

That’s a very delicate subject. It’s not really for me to speculate, and this isn’t
 meant as a criticism, but the film business 
is extremely volatile. You make two or three decisions that prove to be wrong and that can have drastic consequences. That happened with Senator. They have been hugely important in the German film industry — they’ve had a major influence on German film, with big hits like The Miracle of Bern.

But there also have been times when, maybe in the euphoria of a recent success, they may have lost sight of the economic risks. It happened after they went public on the Neuer Markt, and it happened after [French comedy] The Intouchables was such a huge success in Germany [earning $80 million for Senator]. The company invested in many new productions — German productions, international productions. They went all in just as the market was changing. Cinema releases were becoming more risky, and the ancillary markets, like television and home entertainment, were less dependable.

You see, film is a great business. It’s fascinating, but it’s also dangerous. You can’t forget about the risks, even when you’re successful — maybe especially then. There’s always a risk, but you have to make sure that if you have a flop, it doesn’t topple the whole company. Don’t bet the house on one or two titles.

That’s going to be an issue going into Berlin, where you’ll again be pre-buying films based on cast and script. Recently you bet big to pre-buy Bradley Cooper-starrer Burnt, which flopped. What went wrong there?

As is so often, it’s a bit of a puzzle when a film that seems to have it all doesn’t work. The U.S. release was a big disappointment. It’s very painful, because it’s a really good film. 
It might be it was perceived as not being romantic or feel-good enough. Maybe that cost it. Then there’s promotion. Bradley Cooper was unable to come to Germany to promote the film. That certainly hurt it. I have the feeling people just missed the movie. We had a great response from the ones who did see it, but that does not compensate for our disappointment, of course.

What does that say about the presale market 
in general?

We have to learn from disappointments like Burnt. We have to be more careful: Does the story really have what we need? Can we lock in the talent, contractually, to do promotion for the film in Germany? That’s becoming increasingly important. It’s very different than it was six, seven years ago, when stars were more or less a success guarantee.

So has Wild Bunch lost its edge? The company used to be associated with the most shocking and controversial films out there.

Well, even Wild Bunch in France has changed a bit from the old, edgy image. Of course, Wild Bunch is an independent, and we want to keep that ethos: trusting good filmmakers, bringing provocative and innovative movies to the screen, but not as an end in itself. The movies we do have must have a certain commercial potential, however cutting-edge or experimental they may be. And sometimes the experiment is the commercial selling point. [German drama] Victoria was a dream combination: a great art-house film, edgy, original, which won awards and found an audience. But I’d be lying if I said I knew it was going to be successful. That surprised all of us.