Separate checks for Sony, Gaumont

French major seeks 'balance'; U.S. distrib to up output

The divorce papers were finalized Sunday as the end officially arrived for the three-year joint distribution venture Gaumont Columbia TriStar France.

As the U.S. studio and French major go their separate ways, the Columbia TriStar label is taking on its mother studio's name, Sony Pictures France. Sony's 32-strong team will continue to be run by Eric Brune, with Alexandre Bihn heading up the marketing division and Etienne Reynard head of sales.

From now through the end of the year, Sony will release six films in French theaters including "Hostel: Part II" on July 11, "Daddy Day Camp" on Aug. 15 and "Surf's Up" on Oct. 24, for a total of 15 films in 2007. The studio plans to increase its theatrical output in the territory to 18-22 films next year.

After a successful 2006 boxoffice that featured "You Are So Handsome," "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" and "The Valet," Gaumont is hoping for a strong second half of 2007 with seven titles including Michel Boujenah's "3 Friends" on Aug. 22; Christine Carriere's "Darling" on Nov. 7, starring Cesar-winner Guillaume Canet; and Djamel Bensalah's "Big City," starring only children, Dec. 12.

"We'll miss our colleagues at Columbia, that's for sure. The collaboration was productive and allowed us to become the top French distributor in 2006. We released 85 films in three years and shared many great moments together," Gaumont marketing chief Francois Clerc said.

Gaumont's distribution structure will remain relatively unchanged, with Clerc leading a 17-person team that includes marketing director Matthieu Daversin and sales director Francoise Dauvergne. However, films produced or co-produced by the French major will be given closer attention than before. "We think that, today, the time devoted to the release of a film is just as important as the money," Clerc explained.

Gaumont aims to release about 10 films per year, with eight already on tap for 2008 including "MR73," Olivier Marchal's follow-up to "36"; Isabelle Mergault's sophomore pic "A Widow at Last"; and "Rock the Boat," an animated version of "Some Like it Hot."

Gaumont also has high hopes for "Chrysalis," a futuristic thriller from Julien Leclercq, and "Two Worlds," a family adventure comedy directed by popular Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde.

The company has several English-language films in the works such as Sean Ellis' psychological thriller "The Broken," starring Lena Headey and Melvil Poupaud, and Vincenzo Natali's "Splice," currently casting. The film is co-produced by Steven Hoban.

"We want to balance our lineup by making both French and international films," Gaumont CEO Christophe Riandee said.

Gaumont plans to release one or two English-language movies per year but doesn't foresee quickly jumping back into marriage with another studio. "We're going film by film," Riandee said, "Depending on the film, we'll co-produce with U.S. studios, but we're not bound to one studio in particular."

Gaumont also hopes to strengthen its relationship with the individual movie theaters.

"We need to see eye to eye with the theater owners because they're the ones in touch with their clientele on a daily basis. They know the profile of their spectators, their expectations," Clerc said. Gaumont plans to continue to regularly invite theater owners to production sets and organize contests in the provinces in order to create buzz for its films. The distributor will collaborate with Havas Entertainment, a new structure focused on media buying, strategy, marketing and cross-branding.

Sony's former spouse also plans to distribute one or two acquired films starting Oct. 10 with BBC-Greenlight environmental co-production "Earth."