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2004-10-01

 

Olivier Aknin of Paris-based Backup is one of a growing number of producers’ reps whose job it is to assemble finance for indie pictures.

To cynical critics of outside intervention in the film industry, France’s Backup Films must be a serial offender. The company is one of a growing band of producers’ representatives in Europe, and France in particular, that make a living from keeping one step ahead of the regulators. Film-makers, on the other hand, love that Backup up is able to bend the rules on coproduction; or, failing that, simply throw away the blueprint and start again.

That was the case with Automne, one of three films it presented in Toronto this year. “Everything about this project was impossible,” says Olivier Aknin, co-director of Paris-based Backup. “The director was an American who spoke no French, but wanted to make the film in French, in France and in Black and white. It really was a terrific script, but was going to cost $6 M to make. Even when Irene Jacob and Laurent Lucas committed to it, the film was still wrong because of the points system.”

Eventually, the director Ra’up McGee managed to find a cache of private equity and turned to Backup to see if it could be made cheaper. Aknin started showing McGee’s documentary work to agents and simultaneously found a line manager who slashed the budget. Eventually it was made for under $2,5 M (€2 M), with Backup also acting as sales agent. The genre film, which blends an American look and music with elements of French auteurism, was warmly received at Toronto and hopes of a US sale are high. “The first income will pay off the deferrals,” says Aknin.

Fronting the international distribution side of Backup, Aknin works closely with David Atlan-Jackson on “project acquisition”, Joël Thibout on equity and bank finance, and Jean-Baptiste Babin on co-productions and legal affairs. Their other notable credits include advising on Raoul Ruiz’ $2,3 M Un livre à rendre and Asbury Park, by first time director Beata Henrichs, in which Larry Clark is also involved.

“We see ourselves as producers’ reps and packagers. We have a strong preference for starting at script stage. Our criteria for getting on board is international viability,” says Aknin. “That’s how we became involved with (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cannes competition title) Tropical Malady, which we came across at Cinemart 2003.” It was also the case with first-time Belgian director Fabrice DuWelz’s shocker Calvaire, which showed in Toronto’s Midnight Madness section. “The problem in this case was to make it qualify as French. Again, that is what the producer needed us to deliver.”

Aknin says Backup does not set out to be a producer itself, but it has established a sister company Closeup Films, which acts as a co-producer when necessary. It was the French partner on the Shadow Dancer, the $10,5 M comedy drama about a writer, his agent and the writer’s daughter produced by Italy’s Movieweb and the UK’s Studio 8. It stars Harvey Keitel, Claire Forlani and Giancarlo Giannini.

Aknin’s analysis of the current Euro-financing jigsaw is both refreshing and down-to-earth: “There are more and more soft money territories and more money is becoming automatic. But we also need to raise more money from distributors. There is plenty of equity money available, but the trick is to sort out the good sources from the bad ones.” Even the cynics would not begrudge Backup and growing band of production advisers helping prevent producers from being ripped off.

Patrick Frater
October 1, 2004

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