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Luc Besson’s mogul makeover

Company aiming for 'bigger films with bigger stars'

Luc Besson is looking more like a movie mogul every day — and it’s not just the spreading waistline.

The Gallic filmmaker last week began the process of floating his 7-year-old mini-major EuropaCorp on the French stock market.

Coin raised will go toward “bigger films with bigger stars,” says a spokesman for the company behind the “Taxi” and “Transporter” franchises, as well as “Arthur and the Invisibles.”

In France ambition tends to be frowned upon, but Besson has the stuff in spades.

Ankling Gaumont seven years ago, where he was allowed to direct but not produce, he created the grand-sounding EuropaCorp with fellow Gaumont escapee Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. Some 45 films later — many of them forgettable but most of them moneymakers — EuropaCorp makes more money than the French major. (Its revenues stood at $214 million last year, vs. $172 million for Gaumont) and was valued earlier this year at around $540 million.)

Along the way, Besson has built his own digital recording facility at a chateau in Normandy, inspired by George Lucas‘ Skywalker Ranch, and he’s planning a Hollywood-style studio on the outskirts of Paris.

But moguldom isn’t just about business — you have to espouse a cause or two.

EuropaCorp is essentially a blockbuster factory, churning-out mostly youth-skewed action fare. But at Cannes, Besson put on yet another hat as a champion of arthouse fare and friend of the deprived suburbs, staging screenings of fest selected films in usually culture-free places where the last film most people probably saw was, well, “Taxi 4.”

The “Le Grand bleu” helmer’s ecological concerns will be the next thing to come to the fore. EuropaCorp is producing “Boomerang,” a film about the perilous state of the global environment, with French photographer Yann-Arthus Bertrand. As part of the deal, EuropaCorp will make the film freely available to anyone who wants to see or show it, once the company has recouped a 10% profit.

And, finally, to be a player of any substance, a media mogul must be unafraid to blast his peers, preferably in a public exchange of insults.

Besson notched that one up recently when he complained that Harvey Weinstein was the worst distributor he’d ever dealt with for botching the U.S. release of “Arthur and the Invisibles.” Weinstein hit back by calling him a “has-been.”

Fortunately the IPO — and the Asian rollout of “Arthur” — seem to have Besson too occupied for any further sniping.

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