Rodolphe Buet Sets Out Newen Connect Cinema Strategy As EFM Kicks-Off – Deadline
Newen Connect CEO Rodolphe Buet is happy to be back in person at the Berlinale’s European Film Market after the three-year Covid-19 hiatus.
“It’s fun to be in Berlin. When I started in the industry in 2005, my first market was Berlin with Studiocanal,” he says.
In the interim, Buet rose through the Studiocanal ranks to become president of distribution and marketing from 2015 to 2017, overseeing the rollout strategies for Paddington and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy among other major films.
He was appointed CEO of Paris-based Newen Connect in 2020, piloting its creation in the wake of TF1’s 100% acquisition of Newen Studios out of the merger of their distribution arms TF1 Studio, Newen Distribution and Reel One International.
He has spent the last three years steadily putting in place a structure in step with the convergence between the audiovisual and cinema worlds, appointing Leona Connell as Chief Commercial Officer last September in a role giving her oversight of international and French markets for both film and TV.
On the eve of the EFM, the company also announced the promotion of Alice Damiani to SVP International Film Sales, taking over from Sabine Chemaly, who had held the role since 2012.
TV dramas and shows make up the bulk of Newen Connect’s slate, but Buet is on a mission to grow the cinema side and the company arrives at the EFM with its strongest feature film slate of recent years.
Highlights include Italian director Piero Messina’s dystopian fantasy reflecting love and loss Another End, starring Gael García Bernal, Renate Reinsve and Bérénice Bejo; Guillaume Maidatchevsky’s live-action animal drama Kina & Yuk and Marco La Via and Hannah Ladoul’s comedy-drama Funny Birds, starring Andrea Riseborough, Catherine Deneuve and Morgan Saylor.
French titles include Mr Putifar’s Wacky Plan, starring Christian Clavier as a retired teacher who plots revenge against former unruly pupils as well as Frédéric Forestier and Antonin Fourlon’s Open Season, about a couple who discover their newly-acquired dream house in the countryside, comes with ancient hunting rights on its land for local villagers.
Newen Connect will also market screen Philippe Lacheau’s new hit comedy Alibi.com 2; Denis Imbert’s On The Wandering Path, starring Jean Dujardin as a writer and adventurer who embarks on a challenging trek as he recovers from a serious accident; and Frédéric Quiring’s Our Tiny Little Wedding, starring Camille Lou and Ahmed Sylla.
Buet says the line-up reflects Newen Connect’s strategy and vision focused on three core types of film.
Firstly, mainstream French films produced by TF1 Studios and TF1 Films Production (Alibi.com 2) as well as TF1 Studio’s long-time French distribution partner UGC ( Putifar’s Wacky Plan), which perform well at the local box office and also have international value.
Secondly, features produced by production labels under the umbrella of Newen Studios, overseen by former Studiocanal colleague Romain Bessi.
“Most the companies are focused on audiovisual but there are growing number of companies also involved, partly or wholly, in cinema,” says Buet.
These include the UK’s Fictionhouse (On Chesil Beach, The Courier) and Joi Productions (Blue Story), in which Newen-owned Ringside Studios took a minority stake last year; Denmark’s Nimbus Film (Festen, A Lucky Man) and Moonshaker (Le Brio, Play) in France
“With Romain Bessi and Nathalie Toulza Madar (TF1 Studio Deputy CEO) we want to focus our efforts on films for which we have the most rights possible,” says Buet.
“Our mission is to accompany Newen’s producers in a way that helps them get their projects financed and made, and then connect them with as big an audience as possible, growing our cinema footprint at the same time.”
The third axe is English-speaking projects initiated by third-party producers such as Kevin Macdonald’s John Galliano documentary, for which Newen Connect is showing first images at the EFM, as well as Funny Birds and Another End, says Buet.
Funny Birds is lead produced by Melita Toscan du Plantier, the driving force behind the Marrakech International Film Festival, under her new banner Tosca with Julien Madon at Federation-owned company Cheyenne Productions.
Another End is the latest production from Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima and Carlotta Calori’s award-winning Rome-based film and TV company Indigo Film.
“We met with Carlotta and the team to talk about a separate TV project, and they also talked about Another End.
“It’s a great story set in a dystopian world where it is possible to meet up with dead loved ones for a final time to share one last thing. I immediately said I wanted to be involved. They managed to bring in a great cast – Gael Garcia Bernal, Bérénice Bejo and Renate Reinsve. It’s a fantastic package to bring to the market,” he explains.
Buet acknowledges it is a complex time for feature films as the theatrical market continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic but he remains optimistic that the public will return to cinema theatres in the long run.
“When a film has real added value the public comes back and films find their public. Avatar is a good example. Astérix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom is a good example. I think that the public will return progressively, but when people return to theatres they want to feel the trip was worthwhile,” he says.
He also views the changes in the market as an opportunity, explaining that he has pushed a creative, multi-platform approach at Newen Connect under which films and series can be funded and distributed through a mixture of different partners and release windows.
“Our profession as producers and distributors is to find the audience whether it’s in a theatre or on a platform, so our directors can create their stories and tell what they want to tell. A film that works well theatrically at home could then be hit via streaming elsewhere,” he said.
He cites the example of the French comedy Spoiled Brats, which TF1 Studio and TF1 Film Productions co-produced. The film grossed $3.9M at home and then made it into the Top Ten on Netflix at the end of 2021.
Quizzed on his thoughts on rival French content group Mediawan’s recent move into the U.S. with the acquisition of Brad Pitt’s Plan B, Buet said it was unlikely Newen Studios and Newen Connect would ever attempt a push across the Atlantic in a similar fashion.
“I don’t envisage a time when Newen Connect will go up against the likes of Film Nation or AGC. They’re very good, they know their job and they already do a great job accompanying American producers,” he says.
“Newen Studios is a European Studio. My job is to accompany European producers and talent in Europe to develop and grow Newen Studios and Newen Connect on the ground. We have enough talent and stories in Europe to do that.”
This would not preclude producers under the Newen umbrella from working in the US, he adds.
“If we have a fantastic talent that wanted to work in the U.S. from our experience at Studiocanal, Romain and I have the contacts,” he says.
The bulk of Newen Connect’s wider slate is TV-related and Buet will be one of the speakers in the Berlinale Series program this year.
He candidly reveals, however, that he still has a special passion for cinema.
“I love being in the cinema and discovering new talent and new faces. Roughly 80% of my business is TV and 20% is film. But I’ll let you into a secret. I watch Apocalypse Now at least twice a year to refresh and clear my mind, to make sure I am still in touch with what it means to produce fantastic footage and images,” he says.
“I think this helps me in the terms of the projects we select, as I am first about passion projects over business projects, projects which are distinctive and bring something beyond the mainstream, although delivery remains key.”
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