Sources cite 'strategic differences' with Besson

Pierre-Ange le Pogam, Luc Besson’s right-hand man, has resigned from EuropaCorp, the company they co-founded in 2000, ending one of the longest and most successful moviemaking partnerships in France.

Le Pogam, who will keep his 8% stake in EuropaCorp, was head of development and sat on the board.

With Besson shooting or writing pics, Le Pogam’s role was much larger, including shaping corporate strategy with Besson, shepherding select productions, overseeing domestic distribution and maintaining relationships with Hollywood studios and U.S. indies.

Studio deals proved key to the U.S. distribution of such high-concept actioners as “Taken,” released by Fox or, more recently, “Colombiana,” a Sony U.S. pickup.

In a statement Thursday, EuropaCorp attributed Le Pogam’s departure to “a context where, after EuropaCorp’s putting into place new management, Pierre-Ange le Pogam no longer exercised strategic functions at EuropaCorp.”

Le Pogam could not be reached for comment.

His exit follows the July appointment of publicist Christophe Lambert — who ran Besson’s personal holding company, Front Line — as CEO of EuropaCorp.

Le Pogam’s lawyer Fabrice Marchisio told French financial daily Les Echos that his client’s resignation was due to “strategic differences” with Besson and Lambert.

The immediate issue for EuropaCorp is finding someone who can match Le Pogam’s skill at handling studio relations and his capacity to produce a clutch of high concept actioners or big-budget dramas in one year.

It’s unclear whether Le Pogam will maintain a relationship with EuroCorp through, for example, a production deal. Given his passion for production, long experience and wide industry contacts, it would be a surprise if he does not hang up his own shingle.

The Besson-Le Pogam relationship goes way back. While head of distribution at Gaumont, Le Pogam booked Besson’s first feature, “The Last Battle,” into Gaumont theaters in 1983. With Le Pogam’s backing, Gaumont produced early Besson hits such as 1985′s “Subway” and 1997′s “The Fifth Element.” Last June, EuropaCorp reported yearly revenues through March up 41% to €181.3 million ($248.2 million), but also its first annual losses of $13.4 million.

Some EuropaCorp movies — including the Besson-directed “Arthur 3: The War of the Two Worlds” (B.O. gross: $25.5 million) — underperformed by EuropaCorp’s high box-office standards.

Le Pogam saw considerable success, however, producing the lower-budget “The Big Picture” (a $9.8 million gross in France), which world preemed at September’s Toronto Film Festival. He also shepherded EuropaCorp’s co-production of Guillaume Canet’s “Little White Lies.”

Produced by Alain Attal at Les Films du Tresor, “Lies,” with a current $44.4 million B.O. trawl, was the second highest-grossing film in France last year.

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