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Netflix in Talks With Luc Besson and EuropaCorp on Multi-Picture Deal (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix is in discussions with Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp to have the French filmmaker direct and produce several movies for the streaming giant over the next few years, Variety has learned.

The movies would be labeled Netflix originals and would be budgeted in the $30 million range, sources with knowledge of the discussions said. Netflix and EuropaCorp declined to comment.

As part of the deal, Netflix could also buy into EuropaCorp’s library, which has an estimated value of €150 million ($186 million) and includes such franchises as “Taken,” “Taxi” and “Transporter,” according to three independent sources. Netflix initiated discussions with Besson late last year to partner up on movies, but those talks have broadened as the streamer is now among the companies that are looking at EuropaCorp’s assets with a view to possibly buying stakes in the Paris-based company.

The library, along with EuropaCorp’s other assets, is being held in escrow by its primary lender, JP Morgan.

Franco-Tunisian business tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar and Lionsgate are also among the potential buyers and investors circling EuropaCorp, which is struggling to climb out from under a heavy debt load estimated at €230 million ($285 million) as of September.  The company hosted a management presentation last week to outline the company’s strategy and discuss its assets with prospective buyers and investors.

Buying up or buying into EuropaCorp would be an unusual move for Netflix, which made its first and only company acquisition last August with Millarworld, the comic-book publishing company founded by Mark Millar, creator of “Old Man Logan” and “Kingsman.” However, scooping the rights to Besson’s famous franchises would allow Netflix to feed its pipeline with TV and film adaptations which boast a global appeal. Besson would join a flurry of directors, notably Martin Scorsese and Damien Chazelle, who have started working with Netflix.

For EuropaCorp, partnering with Netflix would represent a move away from its traditional distribution model, which relies on strong international sales and collaborations with independent  distributors – such as Universum in Germany, Belga in Belgium, Falcon in the Middle East and Scanbox in Scandinavia – with whom EuropaCorp has output deals.

Most of these output deals are set to expire within the next couple years, potentially leaving room for Netflix, except in China, where EuropaCorp has an output deal with Fundamental, its second-biggest shareholder. It’s unlikely that Fundamental would let its output deal with EuropaCorp run out, and in any case, Netflix has been shut out of operating in China.

At this point, it’s unknown whether the Besson-produced Netflix originals would solely be English-language films and whether EuropaCorp would produce separate English and/or French movies for other partners and independent distributors.

The company’s market capitalization fell to €58.8 million ($73 million) as of Tuesday. Its value has plummeted by more than 60% since the release of  Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” last summer. The director’s next film, “Anna” with Helen Mirren, will be released by Lionsgate in the U.S.

EuropaCorp has already sold off its French TV production unit for €11 million ($13.6 million), but it has kept its U.S. production banner, whose credits include the series “Taken,” which aired on NBC. In a cost-cutting move announced earlier this month, EuropaCorp signaled its intention to lay off 22 employees in France.

Netflix faces challenges in France from the country’s strict release window for subscription-based VOD, which is set at 36 months and prevents them from releasing films day and date in France. Netflix, however, ranks as one of the world’s biggest purveyors of French films. The company recently appointed former Canal Plus Group CEO Rodolphe Belmer to join its board of directors.

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