Can Euro Cinephiles Re-Create Hollywood’s Classic Studio Films?

Lucy Movie

There’s a gap to be filled, if not a chasm. And a growing number of European players believe that they have the savvy and resources to fill it.

It’s a gap created by Hollywood which, in its ardor to serve up a menu of wall-to-wall blockbusters, has all but abandoned traditional genres like drama, comedy and other fare aimed at the broad spectrum of filmgoers.

Traveling around Europe these past weeks, I’ve met a number of filmmakers who grew up on Hollywood movies but feel the studios have lost their interest in making them — or the talent to do so. And they believe they can rediscover that lost art.

Here’s the problem: Euro producers in the past have, by and large, failed to create pictures that can also draw U.S. moviegoers.

But there have been exceptions, most notably Luc Besson’s recent action thriller “Lucy.” That hit, starring Scarlett Johansson, arguably is a very Euro film in style and sensibility (though hardly an art film), yet has appealed to American as well as international audiences (it grossed $415 million worldwide). Besson and his brash production partner, Christophe Lambert, launched an American distribution entity in February, in partnership with Relativity, with the aim of releasing 12 films a year. Relativity’s record as an indie distributor, to be sure, has been spotty at best, with its boss, Ryan Kavanaugh, insisting he’s chasing “singles and doubles, not home runs.” Besson wants home runs.

Another, more conservative, but equally ambitious, French company is StudioCanal, which is co-funding a range of international films and also exploring a link to a major distributor. Olivier Courson, its CEO, and Ron Halpern, its American production chief, are thoughtful film buffs who want to make serious auteur-driven films as well as family entertainment. Their company releases its pictures in five major territories from France to Australia, has a sprawling library to fuel and has ramped up a slate of 10 movies over the next year.

Tall, patrician, and politically well connected, Courson has helped fund films like “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and is building relationships with producers such as David Heyman, Scott Rudin, Neal Moritz, Graham King and Working Title’s Eric Fellner. Courson has carefully studied the dramatic fall of Polygram, the well-funded Euro conglomerate that tried to become an international distributor but imploded more than a decade ago. “There were no controls,” he said. “Producers were greenlighting their own pictures.”

Courson and Halpern intend to hire international stars for their films, fully aware that several Euro-funded star vehicles have been box office disappointments lately — including Wild Bunch’s “Blood Ties.” Forthcoming StudioCanal films feature such names as Jennifer Lawrence (“Serena”) and Sean Penn (“The Gunman”). Still, the company feels directors are the key, and Courson is convinced that some of Europe’s top emerging filmmakers want to continue making international pictures in Europe rather than risk getting swallowed up by the Hollywood system.

StudioCanal and its rivals share several challenges in their efforts to spawn quality international films. For one, some of the U.S. majors have closed their specialty arms, and all show little talent at marketing films other than superhero epics. Further, European audiences have demonstrated a keen support for idiosyncratic local films rather than international fare — sleepers like Germany’s “F*ck You, Goethe” and France’s “Serial (Bad) Weddings.”

In Hollywood’s view, meanwhile, the international market has essentially bailed out a dismal year, with B.O. rising sharply in Russia, Brazil and China (up 32%), offsetting small declines in attendance in Germany and France and other, more mature territories. The tentpole still rules the world, especially in the U.S., where overall box office has declined.

It’s that very decline that fuels the passion of Europe’s filmmakers to fill the gap with challenging product. The funding is in place, as is the strategy. What’s needed are some smart (and lucky) films, and some shrewd marketing campaigns.

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  1. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    SJ looked her worst in that film. It looks like visionaries will have to CGI the golden age or clone the DNA of old Hollywood for new movie stars to have charisma. Plus balance out the ageism and and let old souls run Hollywood again. There will be no more epic pictures what with the constant remakes and the young dept. store mannequins starring in them. This is still the Twilight Zone of new age media.

  2. vp19 says:

    As a newcomer to screenwriting whose dream is to revitalize the moribund romantic comedy genre back to the smart days of Grant, Lombard, Powell and Loy, I wish them well — and hope they can find distributors or people who might set up theaters specifically catering to such films.

    • TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

      Media showcase formats in the digital age are being miniaturized or streamlined into obsolescence. But before you can talk about product development, first you need more life weathered thespians with large stage presence and not fashion clothing ad models with soft small screen soap opera looks.

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