Mini-major a force in production and distribution

StudioCanal chief exec Olivier Courson has altered the DNA of the Gallic mini-major since he took the reins 2½ years ago. It has been transformed from a subsid of pay TV channel Canal Plus, mostly dedicated to co-financing and distribbing French movies, into a leading indie player on the global stage, albeit still part of Canal Plus Group.

With the acquisition of the U.K.’s Optimum and Germany’s Kinowelt, it gained a distribution network that gives it access to 50% of the European market.

“It is a big, big change,” Courson says — “not just a corporate change, but also a strategic and cultural change.”

To emphasize the company’s new cosmopolitan makeup, Courson points out that a majority of the managers on its exec committee are not French. For example, Ron Halpern, head of international production and acquisition, is American.

The execs also have a mix of backgrounds. Some, like Optimum Releasing CEO Will Clarke, are entrepreneurs. Other come from U.S. majors, like StudioCanal France COO Camille Trumer, who was formerly chairman of Paramount Pictures France.

Although Optimum and Kinowelt are wholly owned by StudioCanal, they have a high degree of autonomy and each has its own production slate.

Leonard Glowinski, StudioCanal’s head of co-productions and acquisitions for France and Europe, is also developing a slate of projects.

“We are now completely open to the world,” Courson says, pointing out StudioCanal gets only a third of its revenue from France and just 5% from Canal Plus.

But all films, although they may appeal to local audiences, must also travel. “We are, on the one hand, developing international productions; on the other, we are developing local films with an international potential,” Courson says. The perfect example of this is Optimum’s “Brighton Rock,” which is a co-production with BBC Films and Kudos. Kinowelt CEO Wolfgang Braun, who as head of Buena Vista Intl. Film Prod. Germany oversaw the production of “The Lives of Others,” will push forward similar projects in Germany.

StudioCanal also has a strong slate of international pics that Halpern is driving, including co-productions with Hollywood producers like Neal Moritz at Original Film, which is remaking “Cliffhanger” and “Escape From New York.” StudioCanal also has bonded with Gary Barber at Spyglass and Joel Silver’s Dark Castle.

“We have strong ambitions in production, but they are ambitions shared with partners,” Courson says.

StudioCanal additionally has an international sales arm, which was kept busy at Cannes selling stereoscopic 3D toon “Around the World in 50 Years” and Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe,” among other pics in its large slate.

StudioCanal is looking to collaborate with other parts of parent conglom Vivendi. Universal Music, through its film and TV unit, is distribbing “Around the World” Stateside, and StudioCanal may work with games division Activision Blizzard on some of its actioners.

Although this flurry of activity may suggest that StudioCanal has moved away from its auteur roots, Courson says this isn’t so. “We are developing more entertaining movies, but we also keep the link we have with auteurs. We are very director-oriented,” he says, citing “Chloe,” which it produced with Ivan

Reitman and Thomas Pollock’s Montecito Picture Co. “What we try to do is work with auteurs, but make movies for a broad audience.”

There is also room for up-and-coming talent. “We give young directors new challenges and the chance to develop more important and international projects. We want to give them access to the world audience.”

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