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Further cuts, int’l focus loom for U under Lescure

More cost cutting ahead, Canal topper says

PARIS — For the first time since the Vivendi-Seagram deal was announced, Canal Plus chief Pierre Lescure has opened up about his plans for Universal, which include further cost cutting and a more international orientation for the studio.

Renewing Universal’s accord with Imagine, successfully renegotiating its deal with DreamWorks and finding new partnerships are also priorities, Lescure said, maintaining that the studio, which lost $200 million last year, has “enormous potential.”

If the three-way fusion among Vivendi, Canal Plus and Seagram goes according to plan, Lescure will officially become U’s new boss before the end of the year.

“I want them (Universal execs) to know that Canal is open to any proposition,” Lescure told the French monthly magazine Studio. “Any proposition. Of course, I want Universal to balance its books and to make money. Too-high running costs have to be reduced further, but we can also find more intelligent, positive dynamics, more exciting synergies.”

Lescure went on: “The way Canal is today, we can also bring a more international vision, to make Universal more outward-looking: One mustn’t forget that today 60% of American films’ revenues come from abroad.”

Proceeding with caution

But major decisions concerning the studio were not imminent, he said.

“For now, I mainly want to watch, observe and understand how Universal functions in terms of its structures and workforce. I sense an impatience on the part of advisers working on the fusion, and also on the part of the people working on the film side, but I say, ‘Let’s wait a bit before deciding anything.’ ”

He reiterated promises, though, that the hands-on running of the studio would be left to U.S. execs: “I’ve never thought it would be worthwhile for anybody else to take the place of Hollywood people.”

For his part, he will go to Hollywood “very often” but envisages working with a “wide-angle lens” on both Vivendi’s Stateside and European activities.

Lessons learned

Lescure dismissed fears that Vivendi’s Hollywood foray would end in tears, mirroring the failures of previous efforts by the French and other outsiders.

Saying that Canal Plus had “learned a lesson” from its past mistakes in Hollywood, he insisted, “You can’t compare us with the others.

“(British producer) David Puttnam was one man who went and said, ‘I’m going to teach you how to do it,’ so he was out. (Italian businessman) Giancarlo Parretti and the Credit Lyonnais Bank at MGM made absolutely no sense. As for the Japanese, it is really another planet, a cultural shock that is difficult to withstand. Look at Sony, which is not having an easy time with Columbia.

“Above all, we are not trying to conquer Hollywood. We are merging with a company that owns one of the six big Hollywood studios.”

Lescure added: “The stereotype of the exasperating and arrogant Frenchman who thinks he knows it all lives on. It is up to us to make people forget it.”

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