EXCLUSIVE: In a rare double interview, Sidonie Dumas, CEO of France’s oldest film company Gaumont, and Vice CEO Christophe Riandee, tell us about transforming the storied theatrical business into a major TV player in Europe and beyond.
Gaumont, producer of international shows including Lupine (one of Netflix’s biggest ever hits), Narcos (the streamer’s first global foreign language success), Barbarians and The President, currently has TV outposts in Paris, LA, London, Berlin, Cologne and Rome. The duo discuss corporate growth, their recently announced slate deal with Paramount + and what’s next for their hit franchises.
The company, which continues to produce and distribute movies, is working on four foreign-language series for Paramount +: horror-thriller The Signal led by showrunner François Uzan (Lupine); dystopian thriller Desolate Future from Argentinian filmmaker Lucia Puenzo; German dramedy Anywhere from creator Jana Burbach (COM)Bad Banks); and French thriller Impact from Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (The Staircase), Antoine Lacomblez (Laetitia) and Severine Werba (Spiral).
These originals arrive while Gaumont already has 40 TV projects in different stages of production including Narcos season six (US) Barbarians season two (Germany), Lupine season three (France), Damage (UK) for Netflix, The President (US) and Totem (France) for Amazon, Kaiser Karl (France) for Disney, and animated series Stillwater (US) for Apple.
DEADLINE: Tell us how the Paramount deal came about? Why did you choose them over Netflix or another streamer for this deal?
CHRISTOPHE RIANDEE: Well, we didn’t choose them. They chose us. Paramount approached us around six months ago. Given that they’re launching around the world, they are looking for partners who have a very good understanding of the streamers and there is a limited pool of companies like us who produce shows in Europe, Latin America and the US We can produce shows that hit globally for them.
SIDONIE DUMAS: It’s very important for us to work with everyone, of course. We started out working with Netflix and will continue to do so. There isn’t an exclusive element to the Paramount deal. We are producing shows with Netflix, Amazon, Paramount, HBO, Disney, Apple, and linear broadcasters such as BBC, Sky, TF1, ZDF and more.
DEADLINE: How are the dramas with Paramount being greenlit?
RIANDEE: Each of our offices have their own commissioning power and a counterpart at Paramount with whom there will be discussion. Paramount greenlights the show internally.
DEADLINE: How lucrative is this deal for you?
RIANDEE: Significantly lucrative, I would say.
DEADLINE: Transformatively so?
RIANDEE: I wouldn’t say so because we have 40 shows in prep and production with many different streamers in many countries.
DEADLINE: What is your confidence level in Paramount + being able to cut through to audiences given the amount of competition there is in the streaming space now?
RIANDEE: It’s a new player so I think they are learning from all the other existing platforms. I’m assuming their adjustment will be quick because there have been quite a few platforms that have come before them.
DEADLINE: Lupine is one of the biggest-budget French shows ever, if not the biggest ever. You’re re-teaming with Lupine co-creator Francois Uzan on thriller The Signal. What can you say about the scale of that show and the other shows in the deal?
RIANDEE: Paramount approached us because we have a history of making global hits like Narcos and Barbarians (season two of that is in post and we’re writing season three now). Like any other streamer they want local shows for their local countries mixed in with global hits. That’s what we want to produce with them. The Signal is going to be a pretty big project if it’s shot in French. There’s still a conversation about whether to make it in French or English because the story takes place on an island. It will be big because there are a lot of effects, set-pieces, monsters etc.
DEADLINE: I noticed that the slate leans into horror and thrillers but doesn’t have a comedy. After the success of Call My Agent are you on the lookout for more French TV comedies?
RIANDEE: Like many others, we want to produce lighter shows and lighter movies, for sure, because that’s the big trend of the market nowadays after two years of lockdown. We’re doing a lot of comedies on the theatrical side in France and we are aiming to do more comedies on the TV side. That was not the trend four or five years ago in the market but nowadays everyone wants comedy so we’re working on it.
DEADLINE: Filming is ongoing on the next season of Lupine. How returnable is the show and could we see spinoffs?
RIANDEE: There are spinoffs in the works but we can’t say much about them. Once we finish part three we’ll see how it goes and if we’re going to move forward. Of course we’d welcome more, but Netflix will ultimately make that decision.
DEADLINE: And how long can Narcos go on?
RIANDEE: Six seasons is already something to be proud of. We are in discussions because we want to keep moving forward but no decision has been made so far. As producers we’d love to continue but that decision will also be up to Netflix.
DEADLINE: Could we see Narcos spinoffs?
DUMAS: Everything is possible given the big success it has had but nothing is confirmed for the moment.
DEADLINE: Gaumont is the world’s oldest film company. The exhibition business has been a major part of your lifeblood for decades. You pivoted away from that a few years ago to focus on TV and film production and to concentrate on making shows for the streamers. How much of Gaumont’s business is weighted to TV today?
DUMAS: TV is becoming the most important side of the business. That’s natural because we’re only doing theatrical in France.
RIANDEE: We have more countries working on TV. We will also be making movies for platforms and other companies but we’re not currently making theatrical movies in other markets.
DUMAS: We will maintain what we’re doing in France, what we’ve been doing for nearly 130 years. We have a tradition that we want to maintain. Our transition was not about forgetting theatrical or traditional broadcasters.
RIANDEE: We want to consolidate in the markets we have entered. Our size in the UK and in Germany could be a little bigger because we want to do more. We have many developments in place that are going to be announced in the coming weeks and months. In the UK we’re just starting a drama series Damage for Netflix and we have multiple developments in place and we’re hiring people.
DEADLINE: Where does it make sense to open next?
DUMAS: Spain. It’s not done but it’s the logical next step. We want to be methodical and we want a common level of expertise in all our territories.
DEADLINE: Will you be looking to sign talent and creatives to production deals?
RIANDEE: Whatever makes sense for creatives. Last fall, we signed a deal with Birdman co-writer Armando Bó with whom we made The President. This is to develop series and films together.
DEADLINE: Gaumont US had a bumpy ride some years back, including the acrimonious exit of former head Katie O’Connell Marsh. How is it doing today?
RIANDEE: It’s doing well. We announced a reorganization last year so that all the Americas divisions would be housed under one roof and one leadership led by Nicolas Atlan: US live action, Latin American content, animation etc. We’re expanding and hiring people and want to do more in Latin America following the success of Narcos and The President.
DEADLINE: The company’s overall balance sheet a couple of years ago was challenged. Your results up to December 2021 looked quite a bit better. What is the outlook?
RIANDEE: Our annual results were published recently. After two years of suffering because of Covid (movies canceled, shows postponed, additional costs etc), our end of 2021 results showed positive P & L. So, we are happy with that. It was a tough six months at the beginning of Covid but we managed to develop a lot during the pandemic.
DEADLINE: And you continue to have an international sales team, right?
RIANDEE: There’s an international sales team selling movies and TV but a lot of our shows are made with streamers who want the world so our team is relatively small compared to the likes of BBC Worldwide and Sky.
DEADLINE: Hollywood continues to look into Europe and further afield for acquisition and investment opportunities. You’ve always been a family business. Do you see that continuing?
DUMAS & RIANDEE: Yes…
DEADLINE: It’s certainly a fertile time for international companies. France and French companies are a big part of that…
RIANDEE: I think it’s important to note that we’re not only a French company. We are also a British company, a German company, an Italian company, an American company. We have French roots but we see ourselves more global than that. We are very proud to be French and we are big supporters of French talent but we’re also proud to have expanded in the rest of the world. We also support German talent, Italian talent. Frontiers are disappearing and shows are traveling more. We are at the beginning, I think, of another big change.