French major catches NWave

StudioCanal takes stake in Euro 3D house

Euro major StudioCanal has inked a long-term exclusive development, co-financing and worldwide distribution deal with Ben Stassen’s NWave, Europe’s leading stereoscopic 3-D pioneer and production house.

StudioCanal also has taken a minority equity stake in Brussels-based NWave and started pre-production with NWave on a follow-up to the Stassen-directed 3-D turtle tale “Sammy’s Adventures” (aka “Around the World in 50 Years”), a big sales hit for StudioCanal at Cannes last year.

Budgeted between E20 million and E25 million ($27 million and $34 million), the second part of “Adventures” will be written, as was the original, by Stassen and U.S. scribe Domonic Paris. Stassen will direct.

It returns the characters from “Adventures,” including turtle protagonist Sammy, but places them in a different environment, Stassen said.

The NWave deal is StudioCanal’s first corporate investment since it bought German distribution house Kinowelt in 2008, and it adds a bold angle to StudioCanal’s strategic growth.

The Canal Plus-owned movie production, distribution and financing company already boasts Europe’s biggest film catalog, direct distribution arms in France, Germany and the U.K., and burgeoning local, international and Hollywood production shingles.

And it propels StudioCanal to the forefront of Europe’s digital 3-D revolution.

” ‘Avatar’ underscored the huge appeal of 3-D. StudioCanal needs to be strongly involved in 3-D,” said Olivier Courson, StudioCanal chairman-CEO. “NWave is clearly Europe’s best 3-D company, not only in animation but also live action,” he added.

In France, the third-highest-grossing territory for “Avatar” after the U.S. and China, the 3-D titan took $142.2 million through Feb. 8; 70 percent of that was made off just 400 3-D screens in a total Gallic screen count of 5,000, Courson noted.

Stassen made his first 3-D film in 1994, for theme parks, and since 1996 has directed eight Imax pics. He is one of the world’s only directors, along with Robert Zemeckis, to have directed two 3-D features.

Beyond directing and producing his own films, Stassen will advise on third-party movies and StudioCanal’s 3-D development, said Courson.

It seems likely that some of the Hollywood movies StudioCanal co-finances with Neal Moritz’s Original Films, Gary Barber and Spyglass, or Joel Silver’s Dark Castle will be made in 3-D.

For Stassen, the StudioCanal alliance opens doors.

NWave has advantageous financing opportunities in Belgium: It raised $12.2 million in tax coin for “Adventures,” Stassen said.

But “NWave needs to have several projects in the pipeline. There are multiple production and distribution issues,” he said.

He added, “We needed a partner that takes some of the load off our shoulders — introducing the film to the market way in advance, which is crucial on family films.”

NWave can also bring to the table a 4-D, 13-minute film extracted from “Adventures” for theme parks, plus its roster of Imax films. With 3-D TV arriving, StudioCanal may find new markets for these properties.

Courson said StudioCanal would aid with structuring financing on NWave’s 3-D pics, which could involve structuring films as European co-productions, drawing on the expertise of StudioCanal’s recent hire, Leonard Glowinski.

StudioCanal will put the sequel, like “Adventures,” through its direct distribution operations and sell to the rest of the world. It aims to introduce a screenplay to buyers at Cannes, said Harold Van Lier, exec VP, international sales.

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