Vincent Maraval on Taking a Bet on Johnny Depp, the Need to Take Risks

Backing a film in which Johnny Depp will play French King Louis XV is what Wild Bunch International head Vincent Maraval describes as part of the risk taking that is essential to this business.

In a keynote interview with CAA Media Finance’s Roeg Sutherland at San Sebastian’s first Creative Investors Conference on Monday, Maraval discussed his 23 years in the business – failing to bet on “Black Swan,” but going for it with Depp’s first film since the Amber Heard trial. 

“The film [“Jeanne du Barry”] is that sometimes we need to take a risk, and this risk is much higher,” said Maraval. “We are doing Johnny Depp playing Louis XV. People said don’t do a movie with him, but we liked it. I remember the discussion we had with the producer behind it who said: ‘Do you think we are doing something stupid?’ I said: ‘Probably, but what’s left if not?”

“Jeanne du Barry” is based on a screenplay co-written by France’s Maïwenn who will star in and direct the French-language film. 

Netflix is releasing this French-language production on SVOD, after a theatrical release in France. Wild Bunch is handling international sales. 

Maraval said during the keynote that his “Jeanne du Barry” partner Netflix was positive for the business. 

“Netflix is a real force for us,” he said. “Of course I work with them, and I think their chance to survive is cinema. The studios controlled 90% of the market. For the first time in history, there is an independent company that has control. We know it won’t last, and that it will be a parenthesis in history that the independents controlled the business. People complain about them but I think it’s our chance.”

He added: “We need to be able to take advantage of the streaming business to get stronger. I think that cinema distribution will survive for sure but it will be different.”

During the talk, Sutherland described Maraval as a big risk-taker. Maraval pointed out that it doesn’t mean that he always makes the right decision. The company passed on Darren Aronofsky’s Natalie Portman starrer “Black Swan,” which made more than $329 million worldwide.

“If I had made that film, I would have been incredibly rich and have been able to finance independent films forever,” he said. 

Like Netflix, Wild Bunch has also made changes to adapt to the business. The international pre-sales market has declined, as the streamers have arrived. 

It merged with Germany’s Senator in 2015, and has a network of other partners. 

“Today we have a structure in Spain and Italy. We try to do Eastern Europe and Asia, but it’s more difficult now in Asia. The idea is to create outside some small entities that generate IP,” he said. 

They have also expanded beyond international sales to become what Maraval calls a “co-producer,” to help producers make films at an earlier stage.

“I think when we made changes we knew that international sales was no longer the main business we should be dealing with, so we decided to source talent and become a co-producer,” he said. “We decided we needed to control more at the source.”

Taking risks on his type of “radical cinema” as he called it has paid off in more ways than one. Maraval said Wild Bunch survived the pandemic much better than companies doing middle of the road films, even if his type of cinema is more risky to make. 

“We never realize when we take risk which is why we take risk,” he said. 

“We failed when we were developing the company where we should have taken more time to think about the structure, but we always failed because of passion. By doing something we should not have done we got somewhere. I don’t individualize the losses. If we lost money on say [Gaspar Noe’s)] “Enter the Void,” it lead to us doing other films.”

Although decisions do sometimes create false impressions.

“It’s Wild Bunch. It’s the same guy that told me ‘Black Swan’ was weird,” Maraval quipped. 

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