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New owners forge ‘global studio’

Domestic, international integrated to create worldwide release sked

HOLLYWOOD — Owned by the French water and utility giant Vivendi and the French media group Canal Plus, Universal has undergone an integration and restructuring under its new owners to create what Vivendi Universal’s chief operating officer Pierre Lescure calls a “truly global studio.”

Lescure, who has overall responsibility for the conglom’s film and TV operations worldwide, is known for his passion for movies, his easygoing, comfortable demeanor and his dry humor. He now spends approximately a fourth to a third of his time in the U.S., where U Studios prexy and COO Ron Meyer oversees operations.

“Pierre and I speak four times a week at least and I’m in France a great deal — once a month or every five weeks,” explains Meyer. “The good news is Pierre loves and understands the business and is totally supportive and knows the international marketplace better than anyone.”

As part of the conglom’s ongoing integration, Vivendi Universal recently announced the merger of StudioCanal into U Pictures. As a result, former StudioCanal head of operations Stephane Sperry will report directly to U Pictures chairman Stacey Snider and will focus mainly on acquisitions to fill the European distribution pipeline.

“Stephane will continue to look for strategic acquisitions which are interesting for our international distribution pipeline, and coordinate the investments we want to make from Europe with independent filmmakers in the U.S., under the responsibility of Stacey Snider,” says Lescure.

Universal Intl. Pictures and Canal Plus will continue as parallel distribution operations in Europe to allow the conglom the maximum efficiency in distributing product overseas. “Sometimes it’s more efficient for smaller-budgeted movies in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and so on to be distributed through StudioCanal’s distribution pipeline which is still very much alive in Europe rather than through UIP, but both companies talk on a daily basis to figure out the best handling of any release,” he continues.

Under U Pics vice chairman Marc Shmuger in the U.S., the studio’s domestic and international marketing and distribution operations have undergone a sea change in the way the previously parallel business units do business.

Domestic and international have been integrated to create a close relationship between the two formally separate departments to facilitate a sharing of ideas, a pooling of strategies and the creation of a global release schedule for U’s slate.

To achieve that goal, Shmuger works closely with Vivendi U’s parallel European distribution operation — UIP, U’s joint oversees distribution operation with Paramount, headed by UIP’s London based chief Paul Oneile and Andrew Cripps. Shmuger stresses the importance of UIP in U’s overall global strategy, describing them as “the most powerful distributor of motion pictures around the world in all major territories, adept at releasing all sizes of movies, not just the bigger franchise titles.”

Shmuger points to UIP’s current success with the release of Working Title production “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” as a case in point. Pic, a three-way distribution split between Universal, Canal Plus and Miramax, has grossed over $200 million outside North America.

Shmuger estimates the integration is “approximately 35% there,” and to boost the union, the studio in September will introduce a job swap scheme between the domestic and international departments.

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