Film Fund-amentals: Lucky Luc Goes Hollywood

The great thing about the internet is the widespread availability of information. Lots and lots of little strings of information, all floating in the free-fall zone of the Web. So much information that people rarely have time to contrast and compare — and we all end up with more loose strings than a mad knitter.

Just take last week’s series of announcements. Luc Besson, the French master of style over substance, announced his intention to build the first ever mega-studio in France (see Variety, June 11). Paris Studios, which will be a joint venture between Besson’s EuropaCorp and Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications, will cost an estimated $42 million to construct and will provide France with a rival to Britain’s Pinewood Studios.

My goodness. This has to be the greatest idea since EuroDisney. The whole plan is weighted on the idea that American film companies will come dashing over to shoot big productions on a grand scale in a big Hollywood way. Gosh, now George Lucas can film all those Star Wars and Indiana Jones films right in Paris (where, no doubt, he will gain extra pounds from the infinitely superior catering). Why, this has to be the greatest thing since Samuel Bronston discovered Spain back in the early 1960s (note to the young: Bronston was a producer who built a large studio in Spain, produced several biggie epics that briefly gave employment to the Spanish Army and then went belly up).

Too bad the heyday of the major sound stage approach to movie making is basically over. Arguably, James Bond movies (along with the British government) are among the few things that keep Pinewood a semi-go operation. Thanks to CGI, green screens and the whole digital revolution, the need for large sets has declined to such a degree that many of the related industries have suffered.

This was demonstrated by the impending closure of the 20th Century Props warehouse in North Hollywood (see The New York Times, June 18). With an inventory of more than 92,000 items, 20th Century Props has been a main provider for both movies and TV shows as well as special event presentations. But with the current mix of the bad economy and the drastic drop in TV production, the company is no longer able to stay in business.

Which is interesting to note, because companies like 20th Century Props existed to fill the gap caused by the way the studios gutted their own prop departments (as well as sound stages, back lots, contract employees, etc., etc.). The major studios unloaded most of these divisions because various shifts in production (along with the advent of TV) made it economically unfeasible to keep them. Now, even more shifts in both production and economics are making it almost impossible for the subcontractors to stay in business.

So go tell Luc that this is a really un grand moment to become the Gallic answer to Louis B. Mayer. Maybe he can go to North Hollywood next month and pick up some deals at the yard sale?

At the other production extreme, last week also saw the announcement of the formation of DF Indie Studios (see The Hollywood Reporter, June 14). Headed by Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, DF Indie Studios is looking to produce an average of 10 to 12 movies a year with a maximum budget of $10 million per film. They have already received commitments from such producers as Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Ridley and Tony Scott (though personally, I didn’t think the Scott brothers could order lunch for under $10 million — maybe they need to work with Lucky Luc).

In response to this announcement last Monday, there were a few quiet nods and some dismissive murmurs out of Hollywood, so it’s a good thing that DF Indie is sitting up shop in New York. They have a basically sane business model that wouldn’t last a single nano-second in Hollywood. They also have a good support system thanks to people like Ted Hope (though I’m still not sure what the Scott brothers are even doing here). Oddly enough, they’re taking an approach that might once have been referred to as the “European” model. Tres bizarre, since some of the Europeans appear determined to reinvent la nuit americaine (and a very dark night it could be).

So many loose pieces of string. But somewhere in these assorted strands is both the folly and the hope of the future. It will be extremely interesting to see what emerges from DF Indie. As for Paris Studios, it should make for an interesting tourist site. Maybe they should build an amusement park to go with it?

— Dennis Toth