Depardieu’s Exit Spotlights French Film Industry Salaries

Gérard Depardieu and Vladimir Putin.Photo:

Gérard Depardieu and Vladimir Putin.

In the aftermath of French Actor Gérard Depardieu’s very public departure from France —and subsequent bid of “Zdravstvujtye!” to Russian citizenship —Vincent Maraval, founder of French film distribution company Wild Bunch S.A., has entered the controversial dialogue surrounding high-earning individuals facing large tax raises under President François Hollande.

Casting light onto the source of French actors’ substantial salaries, Maraval explained that, “French actors are wealthy thanks to public money,” in a December 28, 2012 article titled “French Actors are Paid Too Much!” appearing in France’s Le Monde newspaper.

“Why is it that a French actor of renown […] earns for a French film — [which] have a limited market beyond our borders — fees from €500,000 to €2 million ($664,000-$2.6 million), while as soon as he or she makes an American movie, for which the market is global, they content themselves with €50,000 to €200,000 ($63,000-$265,000)?”

“French government agencies are funding the arts, culture, and the movie industry,” explains Sylvain Charat, a public affairs consultant, in a recent piece for Forbes.  The French National Center of Cinematography and the Moving Image (CNC) funds film productions, distributing government subsidies specially allocated for the dissemination of French culture worldwide via its numerous government-funded motion pictures.  As of February 2012, the CNC was estimated to have the equivalent of $1.3 billion in liquid assets, disbursed by 46 committees to French film producers, filmmakers, and actors.

It seems that too much money may be allocated to the CNC, artificially driving up the cost of French movie production and grossly inflating the salaries of its stars.  Maraval questioned whether or not French taxpayers — the primary source of funding for the French film industry — are receiving a true return on their (unwilling, unwitting) investment, and his answer is decidedly non. 

According to Maraval, “Astérix, at [a production cost of] €60 million ($80 million), had the same budget as a Tim Burton film. Stars 80 cost more than The Hangover or Ted.  Populaire was more [to make] than Black Swan or The King’s Speech!”  Despite their budgets, these films are, as Maraval later points out, “unknown across [French] borders,” and “limited to the French market only” — seemingly undermining the very justification of their considerable government subsidies.

Beyond the exorbitant cost of French film production comes the unbelievable salaries of its actors.  Vincent Cassel, an “A-list” French movie star, made just $300,000 for his turn as the sleazy ballet master in the 2010 American film Black Swan — which made over $330 million worldwide.  Back home, he earned nearly seven times as much ($2 million) for Mesrine, which made just $30 million globally.  As Charat suggests, this kind of disparity indicates a system in which people are paid “more than what they are really worth” — creating the entitlement complexes of personalities like Depardieu, who profit from public finances while scorning the very taxes that propose to replenish them.

So while Depardieu and his fellow thespians of a financially inflated industry might find themselves longing for a more “free market” tax structure for individuals of their bracket, Maraval’s observations suggest that such a system would create better French film — and destroy many egos along the way.

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