Are France’s actors getting paid too much?

Last Updated: March 3, 2014By Tags: ,

In an op-ed published on December 28 in the French daily Le Monde, Vincent Maraval, president and C.E.O of Wild Bunch, a major European distributor, decried what he views as the excessive pay earned by certain French actors with few, if any, titles turning out a profit. The blame, according to Maraval, lies in the French movie financing system. “Why pay these fees if the results do not materialize at the box office?” “Why would a renowned French actor, be it Vincent Cassel, Jean Reno, Marion Cotillard, Gad Elmaleh, Guillaume Canet, Audrey Tautou, or Léa Seydoux (pictured) who appear in films limited to our market, earn between US $ 800,000 and 2.50M,” he added, “whereas when they get a role in an American film, whose market reach is global, they’ll content themselves with a $350,000 payday?

This latest polemic, on the heels of the recent Depardieu scandal, has the same familiar odor as a ripe brie. Are the country’s taxpayers left holding the bag?

French actor Dany Boon, who like his compatriot Omar Sy (“Les Intouchables”) lives stateside in Los Angeles, earns enough money to put Gérard Depardieu to shame. He got paid U.S. $4.5M for “The perfect plan” and yet B.O. returns were not sufficient to cover his fee.

Neither the French government’s film office CNC (Centre National de Cinématographie) nor the Ministère de la Culture have responded to Maraval’s j’accuse.

France’s film industry is heavily subsidized, with direct and indirect payments lavished via direct state funding and advances on box office returns. And yet, among the country’s top ten box office successes—taking into account an average 220 releases per year—only one film will actually turn out a profit.

“The film industry is able to counter these losses through TV licensing,” Maraval wrote in his op-ed. “But without the state’s subsidies programs like Star Ac (France’s“American Idol”) cinema would’ve long ago been wiped out of the programming grid.”

Various personalities, like actor Sam Karmann (“Fear City”), have countered Maraval’s opinion piece by stating that bankable actors in France are few and far between.

Serge Toubiana of La Cinémathèque Française wrote in his blog that actors’ high pay was more a result of market forces, especially as influenced by the television industry (private and public), rather than by the film market itself. Toubiana went further, claiming that producers’ fees should potentially be looked at, too, as being too high, noting that the mounting costs of making a film in France can be attributed to inflation across all departments, not just actor pay.

Reading all the various opinions on the matter have led me to believe that high actor pay is only a small part of the problem: film production, like everything else, has been affected by inflation in a difficult European economy. The fact that the top percentile of France’s thespians gets a disproportionately high fee is not going to bankrupt the system, nor is it a reflection of a possible overreliance on state subsidies. The American film industry is faced with the same issues, and traditionally the method has been to increase the number of overall films produced per year so that the one and only profitable film per year can be turned into two or three.

Henri Ernst, general manager of UGC, France’s second largest producer and distributor, was reached for this article but no comments were returned.

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