Can You Say 'Second Shot' in Chinese?

French movie producer Patrick Zuchowicki is mining the past for potential remakes, in search of a good story to (re)tell.


“We’re a little like a flea market,” explains French-born producer Patrick Zuchowicki about content "remaking", one of the hot topics at the CoPro 14 conference in Tel Aviv last Tuesday.

Like at a flea market, Zuchowicki uncovers gems hiding in the piles of junk. He dusts them off, culturally speaking, and repackages them for a new audience. But first he has to convince potential buyers that there's life to be found in yesterday's treasures and that your two-hour documentary would look great as a 12-part TV drama.

To whom is he selling this remade fare? To TV and film producers, publishers, game developers, or anyone else wanting adaptation rights for their markets, be they in North America or East Asia.

Zuchowicki and his Los Angeles-based company Basic Lead are partnering with the Paris-based The Media Faculty to produce the third annual Remakes Market conference in Los Angeles this November with a special focus on documentaries.

As sources of content increase and production costs fall, thereby offering more abundant production possibilities, there is a crying need for good stories, says Zuchowicki.

Documentaries are based on everyday life stories that can be wonderful, or stranger than fiction, and are particularly in demand. For example, at the Sundance Festival last January, HBO purchased the rights to "Indie Game: The Movie", a documentary film about video-game developers, which it now plans to turn into a drama series.

Zuchowicki – who also founded the DISCOP digital entertainment market, which identifies new markets in central Europe and in Africa - is looking for documentaries that can be turned into TV shows or even feature films. But to ensure a successful transition, he needs a product with a proven track record, not an untried idea, he said in a phone interview from Paris.

Lost loves

Four Israeli documentaries might fit the bill. One is "The Lost Love Diaries", where a woman finds the courage to read the diary of her first love 65 years after his disappearance in World War Israeli. The second is "The Children of Tehran", which details the harrowing trek of 700 Polish children to pre-state Israel in 1943. The third is "Operation Mural: Casablanca 1961", which follows a similar story of 530 Jewish children making their way from Morocco to Israel in 1961 and last is "The Simhoni File", which traces the efforts to solve a mysterious 1956 airplane crash during the Sinai campaign.

Zuchowicki addressed several other issues that arise when original content is reborn in a new form, from culture gaps to economics, and why remakes are so popular these days.

Can a culture gap be too wide to translate content from one country to another? Indeed, Zuchowicki says. "But I believe a good story is a good story regardless of where it comes from. There are obviously stories that are influenced by cultural background. These stories cannot be adapted, or wouldn’t make any sense in another cultural context. But there are some stories, regardless of where they come from, whose plot lines are universal. We see our work like detectives, trying to find new stories from various sources. For example, this year we're exploring documentaries and newspapers." 

When it comes to publishing, he said, discussions are taking place with the New York Times and with Condé Nast, both of which sell rights to their content. "With the New York Times, for instance, we're trying to get to their obituaries, because there you have great biographies that can be enough to give you the impulse for a film," he says.

"We try to find stories that are not necessarily mainstream but can be just the right thing for a passionate producer, including Hollywood’s biggest, such as the Weinstein brothers, Warner Brothers, et cetera."

One reason remaking has become popular, he explains, is the sheer size of the emerging markets. "The Chinese are buying a lot of remake rights because they have a huge market over there," he says: why would they want to reinvent the wheel if it already exists?

"Adaptation rights make a lot of economic sense. There's a new market for archival material, a lot of stuff uncovered after the breakup of the Soviet Union, for example, that offers unbelievable stories," Zuchowicki says. Today's audiences are both fragmented and inundated with content. Remade material can come across as new.  The bottom line is that for producers, it's a way to produce at lower cost.

"The movie business has always relied on adaptations of previous material. One of my heroes, Sam Spiegel, a producer who worked for Universal in the 1920s, represented playwrights from the Czech Republic and from Germany. The idea of mining old work to create new content is not a new one," he adds.

Some of the remakes on American television, series such as Charlie’s Angels, Prime Suspect and The Firm in last year’s fall season, didn't so well. It seems that sometimes people just like the originals.

"That's been a big industry trend in the last couple of years. A lot of old films were made into new films; a lot of old series were made into new ones. But it’s not an exact science. Sometimes it’s really just part of the strategy of the studio to hang onto rights before they expire. The reasoning behind those decisions is not always clear."