Backup helps secure funds for 'English'



by Alison James

Org supplies coin for Cassavetes feature

PARIS -- Zoe Cassavetes' Sundance-competing debut feature "Broken English" was partly shot in France and features some well-known Gallic thesps, but, predictably, it doesn't have a cent of French money in it.

Stringent Gallic regs make it pretty much impossible for a U.S. project to get money in France, unless a Gallic company opts to co-produce outside the French system (as Jean Labadie's Bac did with "Broken Flowers").

However "Broken English" does owe a debt to Paris-based Back Up Films, which was instrumental in getting the film financed.

Project was just a script when the French company secured its first backer, Japanese distributor Phantom Films. Back Up also got Melvil Poupaud and Bernadette Laffont on board as cast, alongside Parker Posey, Drea de Matteo and Gena Rowlands. Posey plays a young American woman who falls for but then loses sight of a French lover, played by Poupaud.

In the French marketplace, where most companies involved in film are either producers, distributors or sales agents, film financing agency Back Up is something of an oddity.

"We don't produce, we don't sell. We work rather like U.S. agents, helping to package and finance projects," explains founding partner Olivier Aknin, who handles distribution deals.

The company came into existence five years ago, "practically the same time that Canal Plus became more selective in its pay TV deals," recalls Aknin. Fortunately for the startup outfit, French producers suddenly found themselves in need of some extra help to finance their projects.

Since then, Back Up has helped secure coin for more than 15 films ranging from Radu Mihaileanu's "Live and Become" and Cannes prize winner "Tropical Malady" to black-and-white animated pic "Renaissance."

The outfit works mostly with French producers, but also has provided its services to the likes of Spain's Alta Films, securing Franco-German pubcaster Arte as a co-producer of the Venice Days-screened "Angosto," or London-based Alain de la Mata's Blue Light, with whom it worked on Finnish film "The Visitor," by Jukka-Pekka Valpeappa.

The company also brought together a group of private equity investors to fund the Karl docu "Lagerfeld Confidential," which will screen in the Berlin Film Festival's Panorama section next month.

"Although there isn't any money available in France, Paris is an international film hub artistically and financially and there are actually a lot of resources here," says Aknin, who co-founded the company, along with David Atlan-Jackson, in charge of acquisitions; Jean Baptiste Babin, who handles business and legal; and Joel Thibout, who deals with structured financing.

Backup also manages its own $5 million film fund, Coficup, through France's Sofica tax scheme. The fund invests in projects selected by a committee that includes Wild Bunch sales exec Carole Baraton, Pyramide Intl. topper Eric Lagesse and MK2 topper Nathanael Karmitz. To be eligible, films must qualify as French, either because they are French, or because they originate from one of 40-odd countries that have a co-production agreement with France.

The fund specializes in gap financing for projects that are about to go into production, putting up money that will be recouped later from international sales.

"Our main criterion is that a film must have international scope," Aknin says.

With indie film coin becoming an ever more precarious balancing act, in France and elsewhere, Aknin believes more and more producers will turn to the kind of specialist help offered by companies like his.

"Producers in France used to do their own TV sales. Now they go to people who can do it better than them," Aknin says. "The industry is professionalizing."


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