UPDATED: Former Universal Pictures Chairman Marc Shmuger is replacing Christophe Lambert as chief executive of EuropaCorp, the international production and distribution company behind the “Taken” and “Transporter” franchises, according to multiple sources.
The reason behind Lambert’s sudden ouster was not clear, though one individual familiar with the situation speculated that it may have been tied to Lambert’s reported difficulties working with filmmakers. They were said to find him arrogant and irrational, “leading with his ego,” according to one source, who had first-hand knowledge of Lambert’s relationships with directors and producers.
Lambert’s ouster came after an emergency meeting of the EuropaCorp board Wednesday, with the embattled CEO reportedly recalled from California to Paris and fired, said two sources. EuropaCorp’s spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment. Lambert also could not be reached.
Despite his ouster, others who worked with Lambert say he is a smart, capable executive who played a key role in both the creative and financial decisions at EuropaCorp. Well schooled in office politics he was seen as a savvy operator who was believed to be EuropaCorp founder Luc Besson’s right hand.
Shmuger intially takes the helm of EuropaCorp on an interim basis, according to two sources. It is a company with big ambitions for expanding its film production and distribution operations. It faces one challenge in that its principal U.S. partner, Relativity Studios, has been struggling to get back on its feet after six months in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Besson, one of France’s most financially successful filmmakers, is a long-time friend of Shmuger’s. Their relationship dates back to the days when the American was a junior marketing executive at Sony, promoting Besson films, including the critically-acclaimed “Fifth Element” and “The Professional.” Shmuger later served as an executive producer on Besson’s 2014 science fiction hit, “Lucy,” which starred Scarlett Johansson.
Besson had tried to lure Shmuger to the Beverly Hills-based EuropaCorp as far back as the latter’s days as head of Universal Pictures, according to one source. But Shmuger was not ready to make the leap until now, after nearly seven years running his own production company, Global Produce.
Shmuger was said to be in Paris, taking the reins from Lambert and the rest of the EuropaCorp board Wednesday, before flying home to California, where he planned to meet with the company’s staff, according to an individual familiar with the company.
“I am thrilled to be working again with Luc, who has long been and remains one of the most unique and accomplished filmmakers in the world,” Shmuger said in a statement. “It’s a happy reunion to be working so closely alongside him and his incredible EuropaCorp team, in both Europe and the United States.”
Shmuger took the job as interim CEO, but with the possibility of staying on, according to the source. He will continue to operate Global Produce, which soon will open the Alex Gibney documentary, “Zero Days,” at the Berlin Film Festival. The doc about Iran’s nuclear facilities comes two years after the Gibney-directed, Shmuger-produced “We Steal Secrets,” about Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, two hackers who helped push the government’s Internet secrets into the public square.
Shmuger also produced “The Spectacular Now,” featuring a trio of young stars — Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson and has been working with Universal on a reboot of the drug lord epic “Scarface.”
EuropaCorp’s upcoming features include the science fiction picture “Valerian,” “The Circle,” an adaptation of a David Eggers’ novel with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, and “Miss Sloane,” a gun control thriller with Jessica Chastain.