Remplacer un réalisateur : conditions et difficultés
Sébastien Lachaussée & Elisa Martin-Winkel

Sébastien Lachaussée & Elisa Martin-Winkel

Replace a director under French law : circumstances and difficulties

The production of a film is generally based on a relationship of trust and collaboration between the producer and director of such film. Nonetheless, sometimes difficulties may arise during production. The case may be, this can create a blocking position, which which may lead the producer to consider the replacement of the director in order to allow the completion of the Film.

It will be recalled at first that the collaboration between director and producer is legally established in the article L 121-5 paragraph 1 of the Code of the intellectual property in these terms: « An audiovisual work shall be deemed completed when the final version has been established by common accord between the director or, possibly, the joint authors, on the one hand, and the producer, on the other. ».  Accordingly, the establishment of the final version of a film necessarily requires an agreement between the director and producers of said film.

A historical example of difficulties in this respect is that of the disagreements between Jacques Prévert and Paul Grimault and their producer, as part of the production of the animated cartoon « La Bergère et le Ramoneur ».

Having established that the authors committed various breaches during the performance of their missions « Prévert by not submitting to a summons, and Grimault, abandoning at the wrong time and without major reason his duties in a job (…) that he had pledged to bring to a successful conclusion « , the Court of cassation authorizes, in order to allow the completion of the film the use by the producer of the part of their contributions already realized « , while maintaining the possibility for the authors to oppose a denaturation of such contributions as part of their moral right (Cass. 11 civ, 13 avr. 1959).

Prior such decision of the French Court of Cassation, the litigation inspired the legislator who provided to counter the situations of blocking the following  by a law dated March 11 1957 that If one of the authors refuses to complete his contribution to an audiovisual work or is unable to complete such contribution due to circumstances beyond his control, he shall not be entitled to oppose use of that part of his contribution already in existence for the purpose of completing the work. He shall be deemed the author of such contribution and shall enjoy the rights deriving therefrom. ». This provision, which has become article L. 121-6 of the Intellectual Property Code, offers a favorable outcome for the producer.

The establishment of this legal provision results from a desire to support producers, as the rapporteur before the Council of the Republic explained the reasons for the choice made as follows: “I indicated the very serious disadvantages that could arise from a social point of view. It is difficult to admit that a single author who believes, rightly or wrongly, that his moral rights are violated can prevent the film from being completed and thus put hundreds of employees, technicians and artists out of work.” (Cons. Rép., séance du 31 octobre 1956 : JO 1er nov. 1956, p. 2153).

Such legal provision has been little invoked, but remains applicable as evidenced by its application pertaining to the production of the film « Les Yamakasis, les 7 samouraïs des temps modernes ». As a strong disagreement between the producer and the original director of the film arised, the latter was replaced by the producer but strictly refused the use of his unfinished contribution. In view of the facts, the French court analyzed that the failure of the director, is equivalent to a refusal to complete the film, in particular because the latter has expressly indicated in writing such refusal and refused to attend the production meetings. Thus, the situation implied the application of the article L. 121-6 of the Code of the intellectual property in favour of the producer.

In such circumstances, the producer shall always remain very cautious. Simple disagreements do not necessarily constitute a refusal to complete a director contribution. The latter must result from serious deficiencies of the director (refusal to go on the set or the studios of post-production etc.). Moreover, as the director retains his moral rights on his previous contribution, the producer must be particularly careful when editing the film.

Finally, Article L 121-6 of the Intellectual Property Code also applies to situations where the director is prevented to complete the film for reasons of force majeure. This provision raises few comments except that there again the producer must be cautious in order to respect the moral rights of the author.

It appears that if replacing a director is possible in extreme circumstances, it remains complex and depends on the casuistry of each project. In this context, resort to specialized law firms seems wise for producers to ensure the legal security of their projects, as for filmmakers who have disagreements with the production of their films.









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