“Every film is a journey in which you spend years discovering a world, cultures, and people, before distilling its essence into a two-hour experience.”
Gregoire Gensollen is the COO at Tucker Tooley Entertainment in Los Angeles. He has worked in the finance and distribution side of the film industry for nearly two decades, with previous titles including Senior Vice President of International Distribution and Strategy at FilmNation Entertainment, where he worked on films such as The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, Room, Looper, and Magic Mike, and Vice President of International Strategic and Sales Planning at Lionsgate, where he worked on films such as The Hunger Games, Kick-Ass, Limitless, and the Saw franchise. Gensollen also cofounded and serves as president of the film production company The Ink Connection, which has produced The Divide, Cold Skin, Where is Rocky 2?, and Papicha.
In this interview, Gregoire Gensollen shares how he transitioned from studying engineering to working in the film industry, his favorite memories working in film, and what he is currently working on.
TGL: How was your childhood?
GG: I grew up in Marseille, in the south of France. I have fond memories of driving around Europe with my parents and my brother, and spending a lot of time in museums and galleries as my parents were developing their passion as contemporary art collectors. I also cherish my good times with my childhood friends, we are still close today.
TGL: You studied engineering, when did you realize that you wanted to work in film instead?
GG: I didn’t come straight to film mostly because I didn’t realize it could be a career. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone working in entertainment. It hit me when I was 25, four years into my first career in management consulting, when I traveled 5 days a week, and I’d come back home to Paris uninspired. Ironically, when my parents visited me over the weekend, I had a blast going with them to meet artists, gallerists, and curators. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t heading in the right direction. I had to work with people who inspire and stimulate me every day.
I entertained the idea of the art business for a minute since it was the only creative industry I was familiar with, but it didn’t feel right since it would be the opposite approach of my parents as collectors. Living in Paris, I would max out my “UGC Illimite” card several times a week. I started reading everything I could about film, including the autobiographies of Claude Berri and Marin Karmitz. Randomly, my cousin introduced me to a boom operator, who introduced me to an editor, who introduced me to a film producer in his 70’s, and he told me that he was happy and would never retire. I knew then that I wanted to be a producer too.
TGL: Why did you pursue being a producer versus another career in film?
GG: Being a producer is like being an OBGYN - helping talent give birth to their creative child. I cherish the relationship with artists, helping them formulate their creative thoughts and draw a path to execute their vision. I am fascinated by raw talent, creation, and understanding where inspiration comes from. I love the medium of film, the power it has on people, anywhere in the world, and from any generation. Film can entertain, move, inspire, or shock all at once. There is no other medium that has this reach and impact on people. Also, every film is a journey in which you spend years discovering a world, cultures, and people, before distilling its essence into a two-hour experience.
TGL: What are the best memories of how you started in the business?
GG: In 2006, when I started over my career in LA and was about to graduate from UCLA, I had the chance to intern as an assistant to Fred Roos, the co-producer of the Coppola family, starting with The Godfather. He had just executive produced Marie-Antoinette, which was going to premiere in Cannes. I was only an intern, but he connected me with Faye Dunaway to help her while we were in Cannes. She took me with her to all the gala events and premiere, and we ended up taking my best friend from Marseille as our driver to the Vanity Fair party, where Al Gore hosted all of Hollywood that night after the premiere of An Inconvenient Truth.
TGL: You worked at FilmNation in New York for 5 years. What was your role?
GG: I ran distribution and strategy, then I took on film finance, closing in particular financing on films such as Arrival or The Founder. I had the chance to work with an incredible team, possibly the best in the business, and the most amazing filmmakers in the world.
TGL: You are currently the COO at Tucker Tooley Entertainment. What do you do exactly?
GG: I work hand in hand with producer and former head of studio, Tucker Tooley. He produced movies like The Fighter, Limitless, We’re the Millers, Immortals…My position entails overseeing all aspects of film, TV and VR/new media financing, distribution, strategic planning, and operations for the company. I also created strategic partnerships with new technology firms and start-ups that intersect entertainment and technology.
TGL: What projects are you currently working on?
GG: We just wrapped production on Concrete Cowboys, starring Idris Elba, set in Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street stables. We are developing several film projects that we are excited about, such as The Way Between written by Jennifer Lee, the sequel to Den of Thieves, and The Street to be directed by Antoine Fuqua and currently being written by Nick Pileggi. We’re also thrilled about our TV projects, such as Going Dark, which Ric Waugh will direct and other VR/Immersive projects we are exploring.
TGL: You have also your own production company called “The Ink Connection.” How do you know when you want to work on a project?
GG: It usually starts from an encounter with a filmmaker, or from an idea that either my partner Xavier Gens or I have. We gravitate towards films that are complicated, even if we would prefer them not to be. If a project is not interesting to Hollywood, but we find it exciting, we can make it happen through our own company, as we did on Where is Rocky II?, which intersects contemporary art and cinema. Most recently, we worked on Papicha, a world cinema film directed by Algerian-French director Mounia Meddour and shot in Algeria. We are proud to have premiered Papicha at Un Certain Regard selection in Cannes this year, and we’re representing Algeria at the Oscars. If a project is truly original, I’ve never seen anything like it and I know I would want to see it, then I want to be involved in it.
TGL: What was the starting point of Papicha?
GG: Mounia Meddour, the author and director of Papicha came from documentary filmmaking, and we had produced her first fiction short film, Edwige. Mounia always wanted to tell the story of her youth in Algeria during the civil war in the 90’s. After the Bataclan happened in Paris, making this film became a necessity. She decided to write it as fiction, inspired by all the events she experienced as a young woman in a university dorm. She transposed her story to that of Nedjma, a 18 year-old student passionate about fashion design, who refuses to let the tragic events of the Algerian Civil War keep her from experiencing a normal life and going out at night with her friends. As the social climate becomes more conservative, Nedjma rejects the new bans set by the radicals and decides to fight for her freedom and independence by putting on a fashion show.
TGL: Is Papicha the first film you produced to be screened in Cannes?
GG: Yes, and it was a moving experience shared with the crew as well as our friends and family. The industry has changed quite a lot since I first attended Cannes in 2004, but Cannes is still a magic place to show your film, and a special moment I shared with Mounia, my partner Xavier, and my family.
TGL: What are the challenges and the process of being pre-selected as foreign movie for the Oscars?
GG: In the case of Papicha, Algeria quickly selected the film as their candidate, however the process paradoxically turned out to be a challenging experience once Algeria banned the film’s theatrical release at the last minute - even though a one week theatrical run in the home country is required by the Academy to qualify. Fortunately, the Academy exceptionally granted us a waiver, which is a strong message of support towards freedom of expression and female empowerment - the central themes of Papicha and still problems Algeria faces today.
TGL: What qualities make a good film producer?
GG: This profession is so complex that it requires many skills, and a film often requires many producers with complementary skills and relationships. A great film producer understands all facets of the business and has the fantastic human skill of being able to interact with literally anyone: a banker, studio head, crew member, writer, actor, director, investor, lawyer, accountant, insurer, festival programmer, publicist, and then depending on the subject a cop, prisoner, astronaut, athlete, crook, politician, scientist, refugee…The most amazing producers have a clear vision of who the audience will be, why the story and characters will touch them, and they deliver the best experience for that audience.
They also have the capacity to make the film happen and build momentum, otherwise you’re doomed in a Sisyphean cycle. They know how to push the quality up and galvanize people throughout the process - from development, to production, to editing, and even later during the sales, marketing, and distribution. Making a great film is a miracle that requires full attention every step of the way, and it has almost absolutely nothing to do with luck.
TGL: You and your wife Melissa are also art collectors. Which artists are drawing your attention recently?
GG: I am constantly impressed by the work of Tino Sehgal, who brings such an interesting perspective and comment on art through his performances. Recently, we also fell in love with the work of Christine Sun Kim, a deaf artist who humorously presents her own visualization of sound and her condition.
TGL: What is your dream project?
GG: The Panda Project, a hybrid animation and live-action project reinventing Roger Rabbit’s technique. I have been developing it for a few years with a dear childhood friend and filmmaker Clement Langlais. It’s about the last three pandas on earth. It’s a classic epic adventure, a sensitive comedy featuring three pandas that have a naive and sometimes absurd perception of our world.
TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don’t already know?
GG: There are too many, but right now I’d say Steven Soderbergh, because I love his perpetual questioning, his challenging of the status quo, and his deep understanding of the narrative filmed entertainment business. Oh, and Stanley Kubrick…wherever he is.
TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?
GG: Don’t be afraid of building your own path, and always challenge the status quo.