By Jesús Silva
We talked to Alexis Hofmann, Head of Acquisitions of BAC Films, about their line-up, the marketing approach of their company and some distinct traits of the French market. Like many other independent distributors in the country, Hofmann calls for specific support to address cinemas reopening in France, due to the high number of films expected to be released in the upcoming months.
What are your company’s line up and editorial policy? What is your strategy for acquisitions?
BAC Films is specialised in developing, financing, producing and releasing cutting-edge independent films for the French market and beyond. The company has a very long history, but the current direction is young and wants to support a new generation of filmmakers. Our line-up is very eclectic in terms of genre and nationality. We work with talents from all over the world, focusing on director-driven and festival films with commercial ambitions. We also acquire many animated feature films.
BAC Films is releasing between 8 and 10 titles every year. It’s not a lot compared to other French independent distributors, but we want to work as much as possible on each film, before and after the release. That’s why we are very selective in terms of acquisitions. In recent years, we have shown particular pride in the rise of talented directors such as Ruben Östlund, Kirill Serebrennikov, Maïmouna Doucouré, Park Chan-Wook or Kaouther Ben Hania. For us, it is essential that our films are screened at A-list festivals, as the exposure we get is vital to launch the film afterwards.
How is your local market in terms of complexities and particularities?
The French market is very rich and dynamic. We are very lucky because we have the support of different institutions, particularly the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée). We have one of the strongest cinema industries in the world, after India and the USA. At the same time, there are so many films released every year that the market becomes very competitive. Between 10 and 15 films arrive in cinemas every week. Even if the network is composed of more than 2,000 theatres, the main difficulty for us is to arrange the booking: to find the best release date, to secure a good number of screens and to give the films a chance to find their audience during a reasonable time, not only for 2 or 3 weeks.
The French audience is greatly attached to theatres. Of course, the platforms and the VOD market are growing a lot and becoming more established, but going to the theatre is still in our culture. Theatrical distribution will always be the first target. We are open-minded, and we are already working with platforms, but I think there is space for everyone.
How do you see your job as a film distributor? What is the added value it provides to the market?
We want to discover new talents who bring something unique, with an original point of view. That’s the reason why we are involved in many first and second features. We try to support our directors over the years and share our passion with the biggest audience possible. We consider ourselves as a bridge between the filmmakers and the audience, always trying to stay open to the world.
As for our role in the industry, I think our place is crucial because we are one of the first desks of financing for French productions, and for other European films through pre-buys. It is really rare to get funding for a French feature without a distributor attached to the project. We are in the frontline in terms of financing, together with the producers.
What is the most successful or innovative promotional campaign for a European film that you had so far? What was its secret ingredient?
For The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017), we worked with important art institutions such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which is quite unusual. During the promotion, we played with the classic tools of advertising. For example, we launched a campaign with good and bad reviews using the same artwork, inviting the audience to make their own point of view. Eventually, the film made 400,000 admissions in France.
Another example would be Cuties (Maïmouna Doucouré, 2020). For this film, we decided to maximise our investments in social media and to work directly with influencers in the fields of fashion, culture and politics. During the tour with the director, we were thrilled to see that the audience was very mixed and multicultural. Even though the film was released between the two lockdowns, it still managed to make over 100,000 admissions, which is a real success for a title like this — a first feature, with non-professional young actors and dealing with a complex topic.
On a more general note, we work with two main approaches for our film promotion: a more classic one, with posters and trailers in cinemas, media partnerships, … And also a more innovative approach with digital marketing to engage with a younger, less cinephile audience.
What is the usual repartition of income between each release for your films (theatrical/VOD/TV/ DVD/…)? How is it evolving?
Everything depends on the cinema box office. All the film revenues are derived from the theatrical success of our films. We mostly focus on cinema admissions rather than working on titles for their TV or SVOD value. On average, 70% comes from theatrical, 20% from TV and 10% from DVD and VOD.
As of today, we can only see that our revenues come mostly from the cinemas, while the increasing TVOD sales don’t compensate for the decaying VOD and DVD revenues — because of the lack of French policy regarding piracy — and the diminution of TV sales.
When it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, were there any specific measures put in place to help you mitigate the effect of the crisis on your businesses? How will this affect the circulation of independent films in the near future?
The CNC is doing its best to support the French distributors, and we can feel lucky compared to other countries. The distribution support fund has been multiplied by 2 for the admissions made in 2020, and they have also approved a reimbursement of the P&A costs for the films that were just released — or about to be released — in theatres after the last lockdown. As for the general measures approved by the French government, we can apply for partial unemployment, state-guaranteed loans and various minor economical supports based on the loss of turnover.
The recent government announcements are really good news. Nevertheless, we are anticipating a rough period after 19 May, when cinemas reopen in France, as the number of films will be greater than usual. We hope that we’ll have other support schemes from the French authorities to tackle this situation. Otherwise, we will just suffer a lot financially and be even more picky than usual in terms of film acquisition. There are discussions between the government and the different unions to coordinate the reopening, but nothing has been decided for the moment.
On a more personal note, what brought you to film distribution? What is your day like, and how should tomorrow look in your view?
Since I was a kid, I always wanted to work in the cinema industry. When I turned 18, I started working on film sets while studying cinema and literature at university. Later on, I got a half-time job at the CNC, and that’s when I discovered the world of film distribution. I completed my formation with a graduation at La Fémis. This job feeds my passion for cinema, and it is a wonderful opportunity to share it with other people.
As Head of Acquisitions, my daily life consists of being open to the new trends in our industry. I’m watching many films and also reading a lot: scripts, books, comics, newspapers. Currently, I’m travelling and meeting people in front of my computer, but usually, I’m networking at festivals and other professional events all around the world, proposing directors and producers to benefit from the energy and the expertise of David Grumbach and the BAC Films team.
Concerning the near future, I’m optimistic. Things will come back to “normal”, even if it takes time. The French audience is really missing going to a film theatre, and we are doing our best to give them back this collective experience as soon as possible.