You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Studio Canal moves into Blighty

Org revives Euro expansion strategy

Studio Canal, the French company that tried to become a Euro major and then changed its mind, is flexing its international muscle again.

Just three years after it dismantled the last piece of its fledgling Euro distribution network under the orders of new chiefs at parent Vivendi, the Canal Plus subsid last week announced that it was acquiring Optimum Releasing, one of the U.K.’s leading specialty distribs.

Having spent the past three years pursuing more modest ambitions at home in Gaul, Studio Canal is gearing up for a renewed expansive push, and admits that similar moves in other territories are being mulled.

“After the Hollywood majors, we are the biggest film company in the business here. We have a European role to play,” Studio Canal managing director Frederic Sichler tells Variety.

So is history repeating itself?

Sichler insists not.

Company’s erstwhile ambitions were to build a Hollywood-style studio, complete with a fully-fledged inhouse production activity.

Today, Studio Canal’s remit is more cautious — to maximize revenues from its 5,000 movie catalog, and to grow this library modestly by around 20 titles a year, which will be either co-financed or acquired by the company.

“We are in the business of distribution and rights exploitation, not production,” says Sichler.

“I’m firmly of the view that independence is the key to creativity. But independent films need a structure the size of ours to ensure they are distributed as widely as possible.”

Expansion is once more on the agenda because, after an across the board restructuring at the Canal Plus Group, the film subsid, which was previously heavily indebted, is in much better shape financially, Sichler says.

Studio Canal hasn’t yet decided where it will plant its next French flag.

“We are looking at it country by country,” he says. ” Perhaps we will acquire a distributor, perhaps it will be some other form of partnership. We’ll only make a move when we think it is the right thing to do.”

Optimum is a perfect fit with Studio Canal’s U.K. objectives, Sichler says. Company run by Will Clarke — the 35-year-old who created the company in 1999 — releases high quality art-house films — the kind Studio Canal likes to handle — and re-releases classic movies, of which Studio Canal has thousands.

Clarke has also been edging into more mainstream fare as his company has grown; with StudioCanal’s backing, he will have the resources to pursue bigger budget Hollywood movies for the first time.

Optimum’s first classic pic released theatrically was Studio Canal title “The Third Man.” Today Optimum also has a flourishing home entertainment arm, appreciated for the quality of its DVDs of films such as Mathieu Kassovitz “La Haine,” re-released on the film’s 10th anniversary.

But it is Studio Canal’s library of 1,400 Brit titles — ranging from the Carry On films to the Ealing comedies to “The Elephant Man” – that provide the greatest interest. These were previously released on DVD in Blighty via Warner, but Clarke’s team will bring greater energy and innovation to their presentation. Optimum will also start working with StudioCanal to position these titles in the new era of digital downloading.

“We’d been mulling how to best exploit the British films in our library for the past two years,” explains Sichler. “It was obvious that the best place to do it wasn’t in France.”

On the theatrical side, a number of remakes of Studio Canal classic Brit pics are in development, including “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and “The Lavender Hill Mob,” which the French major may want to release via Optimum, rather than letting the U.K. rights go to a third party.

Optimum will also give Studio Canal more acquisitions flexibility — allowing it to it to take both French and U.K. rights on films it is interested in.

Said Clarke: “Having two major territories, France and the UK, makes a pretty powerful alliance for acquisition. I’m sure sales companies will appreciate that we’re bringing a lot of firepower to the table.”

However Clarke will continue to also acquire product solely for the UK.

The deal comes hot on the heels of Lionsgate’s $35 million acquisition of Redbus  last year — Studio Canal is said to have paid north of $30 million for Optimum — and reflects buzz surrounding the Brit distrib scene right now. Wild Bunch — whose toppers originally ran Studio Canal — is another Gallic company whose pan-European distribution plans include the U.K., and has conversations with Optimum, although no deal has been forthcoming thus far.

Why is everyone so hot on U.K. distribution all of a sudden?

“We’ve got a good five to 10 years of growth left in the DVD market; it’s one of the only theatrical markets that actually increased in 2005; and while TV has always been a weakness, at least the doors are springing slightly open at the BBC,” says Clarke.

And he’s bullish about the future for digital downloading.

“There’s a great home entertainment market in this country, and with the onset of downloading, there’s a great opportunity there. The weather’s awful here, an Englishman’s home is his castle, people like to stay at home, we watch a lot of TV, we gobble up new technology, so with the advent of HD TV and Blu-Ray/HD-DVD and the convergence of computers and TV, there’s a massive opportunity. For companies like Studio Canal and Lionsgate, it’s very wise to get involved here.”

The only problem is that the French and the Brits don’t have a great history of mutual co-operation in the film biz. “Of course I’ve thought about that,” admits Clarke, “but for me nationality has got nothing to do with it, it’s the people that matter. The people at Studio Canal are very good at their jobs, and they add something to our business. They can open doors we can’t open ourselves from a production and acquisitions point of view.”

More Film

  • Gary Hustwit Bob Greenberg, Toshiko MoriBob

    Why 'Rams' Director Gary Hustwit Doesn't Want Studios to Buy His Films

    Most filmmakers dream of scoring a big studio deal, but not Gary Hustwit. The “Helvetica” director applies a “do it yourself” model to the release of his movies. “Rams,” his recent documentary about German industrial designer Dieter Rams, is Hustwit’s latest venture into self-distribution. “I don’t want to be paying someone else’s overhead,” said Hustwit. [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Overview of 2018’s PCI

    Ventana Sur: PCI Showcases the Diversity of Argentine Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Mario Vargas Llosa, the great Peruvian novelist, once wrote that reality in Latin America is too compelling to ever be ignored in its fiction. Yet, as WWII raged, Jorge Luis Borges, perhaps the greatest of Argentine writers, pointedly published “Ficciones,” fantasy tales, often philosophical speculation given narrative form. If this year’s PCI [...]

  • Moroccan director Meryem Benm'Barekposes during the

    Young French Cinema Program to Showcase 12 New Films in the U.S.

    Clément Cogitore’s “Braguino,” Meryem Benm’Barek’s (pictured) “Sofia” and Marie Losier’s “Cassandro the Exotico!” are among the 12 recent French movies which will play as part of the Young French Cinema Program organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S. and UniFrance. “Braguino” is a documentary feature about two feuding families living [...]

  • Woolsey Fire Malibu

    Many Malibu Areas Still Off-Limits for Filming After Fire

    The California Film Commission has maintained its ban on filming in several Malibu areas hit by the massive Woolsey fire in Southern California last month. The commission announced Tuesday that due to continued clean-up and repair work along Pacific Coast Highway, permits for filming on the highway are not being issued at this time. PCH [...]

  • Against the Clock

    Film News Roundup: Andy Garcia's Spy Thriller 'Against the Clock' Bought by Gravitas

    In today’s film news roundup, Andy Garcia’s spy thriller is sold, “Battlestar Galactica” gets a screenwriter, and Brooklyn Decker gets an award. ACQUISITION Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to spy thriller “Against the Clock,” starring Andy Garcia, Dianna Agron (“Glee”), and Justin Bartha, Variety has learned exclusively. The film, formerly titled “Headlock,” is [...]

  • 'Pacific Rim Uprising' film premiere

    John Boyega in Talks to Star in Legal Drama 'A Naked Singularity'

    “Star Wars” actor John Boyega is in talks to star in the legal drama “A Naked Singularity” with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions on board to produce. The movie is based on Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, which centers on a successful New York public defender whose life begins to unravel after he loses [...]

  • Penny Marshall Dead Obit

    Remembering Penny Marshall, Who Forged Her Own Path and Paved the Way for Others

    She was a natural comedian — fearless and funny, willing to trade on her natural Bronx brogue to craft a sassy and street-wise character that was tailor-made for sitcoms. But Penny Marshall, who died Monday night at the age of 75, proved throughout her long career that she had so much more in the way [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content