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The Age of French-American Shows

American production companies are looking for inspiration, sets, and film crews in France. To meet the growing demand from digital platforms, our two national cinema industries are trying their hands at glocalization, a new form of collaboration rooted in France’s rich cultural heritage.
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Camille Cottin and Matt Damon in Stillwater, shot in Marseille. © Jessica Forde/Focus Features

Here we are, America! On the pop-up stage at the Casa Cipriani hotel, in Lower Manhattan, Camille Cottin, Laure Calamy, and Thibault de Montalembert linked arms and performed a brief dance. The three actors from Dix pour cent were delighted. On November 22, 2021, six years after it was first broadcast on the France 2 channel, the all-French show (renamed Call My Agent! in the United States) received an International Emmy Award for Best Comedy.

Producer Dominique Besnehard credits the style similar to the works of François Truffaut – tenderness and cruelty, panache and frivolity – and the portrayal of “a tragicomic France” for the success of this witty story about a Parisian talent agency in which real celebrities play their own roles with a hearty pinch of self-deprecation. Meanwhile, Fanny Herrero, who created the first three seasons, speaks of the effective combination of French obsessions and neuroses (“our chaotic, touching side”) with American-style production and screenwriting. The series’ four seasons (a fifth is underway) were featured on Netflix, which “enabled a local show to be watched all over the world,” adds the French producer. “Twenty remakes, including in India and Canada, have already been sold.”

The triumph of Call My Agent! flatters the pride of French cinephiles, who have a conflictual relationship with American cinema driven by a fascination for its stories and stars coupled with a mistrust of the all-powerful Hollywood machine. This latest International Emmy Award, which follows those given to Braquo (2012), The Returned (2013), and Spiral (2015), proves that French shows can offer a highly modern, Gallic take on a very American format and genre, whose success is explained by a blend of cultures and styles.

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American Financing, French Filming

Acquired as a complete package by Netflix, Call My Agent! is just one form of partnership developing between the historically competing but increasingly compatible French and American film industries. As well as sets staffed by French-American teams using France as a backdrop and source of inspiration, shows including Emily in Paris (extended for two more seasons), and movies such as Wes Anderson’s comedy-drama The French Dispatch, filmed in Angoulême, U.S. producers are creating a new type of cooperation known as “glocalization.”

This portmanteau word combining “global” and “local” describes shared responsibilities. An international platform takes care of production and financing, but the show itself is developed and filmed locally. This has nothing to do with remakes, in which rights are purchased but the spice of the original dialogues and the charm of the initial cast are lost, resulting in a number of unsuccessful adaptations (notable examples include Just Visiting and The Upside, the unsuccessful American take on Intouchables). The new idea is to cash in on the creativity of the filming country while drawing on the wealth of its history and folklore to extract the best narratives. This is the vision of Valérie Mouroux, director of film, TV, and new media at Villa Albertine, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ new cultural institution in the United States. Showcased via a global distribution network, these productions can beat all records in terms of audience numbers.

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The show Lupin, financed by Netflix but directed by French studio Gaumont, made actor Omar Sy a truly ”glocal” star. © Jonas Unger/Vogue
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The Call My Agent! team receives the International Emmy Award for Best Comedy in Manhattan, November 22, 2021.
Call My Agent! creator Fanny Herrero (center) and the cast of Standing Up, her new Netflix show. © Mika Cotellon
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French actress Camille Cottin, who shot to fame with Call My Agent!, recently played a part in the film House of Gucci. © MGM

Everyone stands to gain something from the new concept. By combining local culture and global impact, these shows provide American platforms – which have often harvested all possible subscribers in their native regions – with a new reservoir of viewers. With 222 million users across the world, but just 8 million in France, Netflix has hardly reached full capacity. For French creatives faced with reduced financing from national networks, this new box office offers a great opportunity. After a few hesitations about royalties and the control exerted by U.S. partners over the final version, the smartest in the profession have understood their choice: Either create productions in partnership with Netflix or Amazon, with a chance to reach a global audience if their work is a success, or settle for satisfying but dwindling numbers of moviegoers.

Omar Sy and Camille Cottin: Glocal Superstars

Marseille, a scandalous show focused on the Mediterranean port city starring Gérard Depardieu, and the first French series produced by Netflix, failed to gain the following it had hoped for, despite being wildly popular in Brazil. However, Lupin, an adaptation financed by the American streaming service but directed by French studio Gaumont, was a huge hit. In just 28 days, more than 70 million viewers delighted in the new adventures of the gentleman burglar, a very French hero, filmed in Paris and Normandy. Netflix saw an opportunity. After receiving the Rose d’Or Performance of the Year Award for his role in Lupin, actor Omar Sy signed a massive, multi-year contract with the platform and was catapulted into the position of executive producer in October 2021. The same success story has been seen with Camille Cottin, one the main characters in Call My Agent!, which has seen her give sterling performances in the all-American productions Stillwater and House of Gucci. And after being hired by Netflix, showrunner Fanny Herrero has just finished Standing Up, a series taking viewers behind the scenes of the Paris stand-up comedy world, available on the platform since March.

This marriage of convenience has not stopped tensions from arising between the two cinematic ecosystems, which are each founded on different visions: arthouse cinema for France, which tends to see itself as the sole guardian of the film world; and entertainment for America, which has recently become mired in the one-upmanship of the Marvel and DC Comics franchises.

In exchange for the free movement of their shows in Europe, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and others have agreed to finance the production of French movies and shows for up to 20-25% of their revenue made in France. What’s more, Netflix has announced a budget of 45 million dollars for financing movies aimed at French theaters. All that is left to negotiate is an agreement on “media chronology,” a system of time slots that open one after the next to guarantee a period of exclusivity for each distributor. In the United States, movies can be streamed on platforms 45 days after their theater release. This contractual rule has been adopted everywhere – except in France. Netflix is required to wait for 15 months, and Disney and Amazon have to wait for 17 months! Movie buffs and fans of different shows hate these constraints, and are still hoping for a deal that will satisfy both those who enjoy going to the theater and those who prefer in-home entertainment.

 

Article published in the April 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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