Gaul shingle bolsters TV, grows library

Luc Besson’s 10-year-old EuropaCorp has conquered world markets, producing four $100 million-plus worldwide grossers in the last five years: “Taken,” “Transporter 3,” “Arthur and the Invisibles” and Fox’s “Hitman.”

The company has found a profitable formula in English-language action pics, one which the studios appreciate.

Besson “has given a new voice to studio movies. He’s the only great director I know who continues to go back and forth from Hollywood to France so seamlessly,” says Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

But after offering a 23% stake publicly in 2007, EuropaCorp is now battling to conquer its most difficult market yet: the stock market.

That’s no slam dunk.

One analyst surmises, EuropaCorp is about “movie-by-movie profit and loss, so it’s difficult to model its business.” It recently reported yearly revenues up 41% to €181.3 million ($229.3 million). But EuropaCorp also lost $12.4 million.

Revenues were powered by 18 releases, including toon pic “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard” and Pierre Morel’s “From Paris With Love.”

EuropaCorp partner-producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam admits some films underperformed. But the company is taking steps to shore up share prices and return better dividends.

“EuropaCorp has to be careful not to distribute too many films at the same time,” says analyst Jean-Baptiste Sergeant of Gallic research company Gilbert Dupont.

In France, EuropaCorp plans to release 10 pics, including eight of its own productions, over 2010-2011, says Le Pogam.

But rather than pore over results, EuropaCorp brass is eager to talk up new strategies — bolstering its catalog and increasing TV production — which are remaking the business model and making it more attractive to investors.

Accumulating ever more higher-grossing pics, the value of EuropaCorp’s catalog rose 28% to $162 million, according to Accuracy, a consultancy company.

“The longer we go on, the more movies we have that are fully amortized, with revenues feeding straight through to our bottom line after royalties payment,” Le Pogam says.

In April, EuropaCorp acquired 75% of Gallic TV production house Cipango, which will produced the NBC miniseries “XIII.” EuropaCorp is also co-producing “Transporter” and “Arthur” skeins with France’s Lagardere Entertainment and Zagtoon.

EuropaCorp CFO Raphael Durand believes that TV production ensures “more regular revenues” and reduces risk.

The “Arthur” and “Transporter” series promise strong profit margins, Sergeant says: Lagardere and Zagtoon bare production costs, while EuropaCorp receives royalties.

So will EuropaCorp give up on — by European standards — big movies?

Not at all, though it may well be more selective and has drafted in ex-Disney exec Jean de Rivieres as director of cinema to energize marketing.

First up is action pic “Colombiana” from “Transporter 3” director Olivier Megaton, with Zoe Saldana in talks to star.

Stephen St. Leger and James Mather’s “Lock-Out,” a futuristic thriller with abudget of some $30 million, starts shooting Sept. 7.

French titles include “Arthur and the Two Worlds’ War” opening Oct. 13, Guillaume Canet’s “Little White Lies,” which bows Oct. 20 and Eric Lartigau’s “The Big Picture” on Nov. 3.

International sales rose 95% last financial year to $101.2 million with major revenues from distribs’ taking delivery of John Travolta-starrer “From Paris With Love,” “I Love You Philip Morris” with Jim Carrey and “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard,” plus some overages from “Taken” and other films

Big movies also drive Europa- Corp’s catalog value and add TV series spinoffs that have helped deliver over $25 million net profits since fiscal year 2005-2006.

EuropaCorp “nurtures new filmmakers and actors on budgets we couldn’t do here,” says Gianopulos.

EuropaCorp is set to continue its mandate of delivering U.S. action pics at contained prices, a strategy which has paid very nicely so far.

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