Luc Besson to build mega studio

Facility to lure Hollywood blockbusters to Paris

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp and Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications are partnering to launch the e30 million ($42 million) Paris Studios, France’s first modern megastudio.

Paris Studios aims to rival London’s Pinewood and Berlin’s Babelsberg as home to big Hollywood shoots, as well as European and French productions. Construction begins in December, and the studios will open in early 2012.

Speaking at Thursday’s launch, Besson, accompanied by Ben Ammar and Culture Minister Christine Albanel, said he’d already received positive feedback from Hollywood studios, singling out Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chair Jim Gianopulos.

With nine soundstages, including one at 23,680 square feet, Paris Studios will be part of the ambitious La Cite du Cinema film complex, located at a former power station in Saint Denis, northern Paris, where the press conference was held.

Beyond EuropaCorp and Quinta, other Paris Studios shareholders are facilities provider Euro Media Group and Besson’s Frontline, which holds his 62% stake in EuropaCorp.

La Cite du Cinema will house the Louis Lumiere National Film School, offices for EuropaCorp and Ben Ammar, as well as workshops, offices for other movie companies and a state-of-the-art theater.

Outside the Paris Studios, La Cite is owned by La Nef Lumiere, a joint venture of Gallic state investment bank Caisse des Depots and Vinci, a French property developer.

Investment in La Cite — including the Paris Studios, construction, equipment, hardware and offices — runs at around $224 million.

La Cite is a Besson passion project, which he first conceived, he said Thursday, when he was forced to shoot 1997’s “The Fifth Element” at Pinewood in London for lack of a big French studio.

Despite the huge productions they host, Europe’s main studios are not large money-spinners. In 2008, Pinewood-Shepperton Studios turned a $9.2 million profit, Berlin’s Babelsberg $4.9 million.

Albanel said the Paris Studios’ greenlight had been facilitated by Gaul’s new 20% tax rebates for Hollywood shoots, approved by the National Assembly in December.

The Paris Studios and Cite complex mesh with EuropaCorp’s growth plans at a time when it’s suddenly been thrown under the Hollywood spotlight by the $150 million U.S. box office for EuropaCorp-produced “Taken.”

Two-thirds of EuropaCorp’s movies are now aimed at the international market. It will be a major user of the Paris Studios while seeking international and French shoots to use them as well.

The Paris Studios will also help EuropaCorp’s deliver productions to U.S. studios at competitive prices, as was the case with “Hitman,” which EuropaCorp made for Fox.

The Paris Studios launch was greeted with jubilation by the Gallic film industry.

“They could have a very big impact as a complement to the tax rebates,” said Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France.

“Big foreign shoots will now have a complete studio with not only state-of-the-art soundstages but also high-tech and post-production facilities, like Pinewood or Barrandov,” Lamassoure said.

EuropaCorp’s Paris Studios investment will be capped at $8.4 million.