London and Paris-based Films Constellation head Fabien Westerhoff officially announced the launch of its in-house production arm Constellation Productions exactly a year ago, during the 2022 edition of Cannes.
Twelve months on, the exec is taking stock with a sense of satisfaction.
“Projects are often announced and then you never know whether anything really happens,” he tells Deadline. “In one year, we’ve managed to create a diverse slate of films that are actually getting made.”
The first film to come down the pipeline will be UK director Alice Troughton’s first film The Lesson, starring Daryl McCormack, Richard E. Grant and Julie Delpy, which world premieres at Tribeca in June.
Westerhoff takes a producer credit alongside London-based producer Camille Gatin at Poison Chef Production, Cassandra Sigsgaard at Jeva Films and Judy Tossell at Berlin company Egoli Tossell Film.
With his sales background, the exec financed the film through Focus Features and Bleecker Street.
“It was a wonderful adventure. Being part of it as a production house and setting up a debut feature with an American studio is a great achievement, and something we’re very excited about.”
“It’s an interesting example of a project where my producer role was to help with talent packaging, coproduction structuring and financing alongside my production partners, who developed the IP and brought it to us, and something that is a little bit different from the classic kind of sales work that we do with pleasure on other titles.”
Next up on Constellation’s sales slate is Durga Chew-Bose’s first film Bonjour Tristesse starring Chloë Sevigny, Claes Bang and Lily McInerny and Nailia Harzoune which is currently shooting in the South of France.
Westerhoff, who is an executive producer under the Constellation Productions banner, co-financed the film. The film is lead produced by Canada’s Babe Nation Films and Elevation Pictures as well as Germany’s Barry Films and France’s Cinenovo.
Constellation Productions is also gearing for the shoot of Paradise, the first film of Canadian director Jeremy Comte, whose short film Fauve was Oscar-nominated in 2019.
“We’re shooting the film in Ghana in September,” he says. “It’s a unique story about two young men on different sides of the globe, one in Quebec, the other in Ghana, whose destinies collide when an internet love scam goes awry.”
The company co-developed the film with Cinenovo and Elevation, with Sara Murphy (Licorice Pizza) and Ryan Zacarias on board as executive producers.
“They brought the project to me and introduced me to the filmmaker. I am very much indebted to them,” says Westerhoff of the executive producers. “As a minority French co-producer, our role has been to raise finance in Europe, bringing in Arte France Cinemas on board as a coproduction and license partner, and we’ll also be selling the film worldwide.”
Film Constellation will not necessarily always take on sales on the Constellation Productions slate, says Westerhoff, pointing to the example of The Lesson which was set up at a studio, but he notes that his distribution background informs his producing style.
“There are other producers whose focus is development, others who are specialised in the physical production aspects. My focus is very much on talent and the audience, and having clarity about where it sits in the marketplace informs our decision to develop material.”
Projects in production include Carmen Chaplin’s documentary feature Charlie Chaplin: Searching for The Tramp, exploring the family’s discovery that the iconic director may have been born into the Black Patch Romany community outside Birmingham, rather than in London as was believed.
“It is a family investigation into their roots. This discovery starts an intimate conversation about who they are as children of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century,” says Westerhoff.
The doc mixes archive, contemporary interviews as well as animated segments by Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood production house Submarine, which also takes producer credit alongside Atlantika Films Wave of Humanity and Basque Films.
“This is still very much in production. We’re taking our time with it because the availability of all the different family members is something that can’t be organised in two weeks. We hope it will be ready for the beginning of next year,” says Westerhoff.
In development, the company is working on its feature-length animation The Last Dinosaur, developed and directed by UK filmmaker Ben Smith, in co-production with his company RedStar and Paris-based Fantabulous.
“I love this story because this was an original IP developed by British animation director Ben Smith. We took that IP, brought it to the marketplace and decided to set it up from the ground up. We structured the entire co-production, and production started this year.
“Obviously, animation is a longer process but it’s been a wonderful experience, coming from a point of view of finding this unique piece of IP. We knew that if we set it up with the right partners, there was value in the marketplace.
“Once we had that market validation with pre-sales that came on board very early, we basically went on a further development run to take the project to its full theatrical potential.”
Westerhoff is also an executive producer on Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s animated feature They Shot The Piano Player, which Film
s Constellation co-financed and is also handling sales. It sold North American and multiple territories to Sony Picture Classics at this year’s Cannes Marché.
“The film is going to be ready for the fall. So, expect to see it at one of the big festivals. It’s gorgeous. This was one of the first projects I came on board as I launched Film Constellation and this was a long journey of helping to structure the co-production and setting it up with the right distribution partners.
In a similar vein, he is co-producing Dance First by James Marsh which was developed with Sky Arts in the U.K. and produced by 2LE Media, Hungary’s Proton Cinema and Belgium’s Umedia.
The title will be ready for the fall and is also on Film Constellation’s Cannes sales slate alongside Coup!, Haunted Heart and Turn Me On.
“The producer hat is very different from the sales hat. Obviously, my vantage point is very much infused with my experience of 20 years in sales and distribution. My eye and the way I look at material will always be influenced by that,” he Westerhoff.