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‘Legend,’ ‘Shaun,’ Smash Benchmarks for Studiocanal

Working Title, Aardman Animations and Studiocanal team for contained budget Brit pic hits

The Working Title-produced “Legend” and Aardman Animations’ “Shaun the Sheep Movie” have set new benchmarks for partner Studiocanal, Europe’s biggest film-TV production-distribution-sales house.

Their records come as Studiocanal, an ever-more key part of Vivendi’s content biz, is in talks with Universal Music Group to fire up synergies, jointly producing and distributing wide-ranging music film and TV content, drawing on Universal and UMG’s vast range of IPs and Studiocanal’s 5,000 title catalog, Studiocanal chairman-CEO Olivier Courson told Variety.

Aardman and Studiocanal are now working on a “Shaun the Sheep” sequel, Studiocanal announced Monday.

An upcoming Universal U.S. release now topping U.K. and Ireland charts, and starring Tom Hardy in an already Academy Award-talked up perf as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, infamous ‘60s Cockney criminals, “Legend” smashed multiple box office records in the U.K. over its Sept. 11-13 first weekend, grossing £5.18 million ($8.0 million).

Made off 522 screens and enthusiastic reviews – Variety talked of Hardy’s “astonishing, award-caliber twin turn” – the “Legend” bow marks the biggest-ever opening for a British production with an 18-certificate, the largest first-frame B.O. for a British film since Studiocanal’s “Paddington” in November 2014 and the biggest take for a September release at the U.K. box office.

A Working Title production, in association with Anton Capital and Amazon Prime Instant Video, “Legend” is fully financed by Studiocanal in partnership with Working Title, distributed by Studiocanal’s in its five “domestic” territories of U.K., Germany, France and Australia/New Zealand and has been sold by Studiocanal to the rest of the world.

Stop-motion animated feature “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” an Aardman Animations production financed, distributed and sold by Studiocanal, passed Sept. 14 the milestone $100 million global B.O. mark, having opened in 70 countries since its Feb. 2015 debut. U.K. gross was $21 million, and the U.S. take $18 million and counting for Lionsgate from an August bow. “Shaun” also punched $12 million in Germany, and has reached $6.7 million in France, $5.7 million in Australia/New Zealand.

Results are especially significant compared to film costs: Both “Legend” and “Shaun” were budgeted at under $25 million, Courson said.

Studiocanal did not shoulder U.S. P & A; most of Shaun’s trawl came from Europe, where P & A costs are relatively moderate.

“Legend’s” boffo bow for Working Title and Studiocanal continues a bumper run for Studiocanal in the U.K.

“Studiocanal has long been a supporter of British film and talent and the opening of ‘Legend,’ following on from the success we have enjoyed in the last 12 months from ‘The Imitation Game,’ ‘Paddington’ and ‘Shaun the Sheep, demonstrate our ability to deliver big results on local productions,’” Studiocanal CEO Danny Perkins pointed out.

Said Courson: “I’m very pleased to see that, as for ‘Shaun the Sheep,’ you can be distinctive, take risks, be aggresively ambitious and wish for quality and, at the same time, have a good B.O. result, and be mainstream.”

Both movies will be “very profitable” for Studiocanal, he added, saying Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard starrer “Macbeth,” which bows Oct. 2 in the U.K., could be “another Brit event.”

Of other Studiocanal movies, Stephen Frears’ “The Program,” also a Working Title production, was picked up Monday for U.S. release by eOne’s Momentum Pictures;

“A War” and Luca Guadagnino’s “A Bigger Splash” world premiered at Venice last week. From France, Maiwenn’s “Mon Roi” won Emmanuelle Bercot a Cannes 2015 best actress prize; “April and the Extraordinary World” snagged the top Cristal Award and a Gkids’ U.S. pick-up at June’s Annecy Animation Fest.

For Courson, “Legend’s” success underscores a market demand for “something tonally distinctive.” That is a line he’d like to continue. “There have been several versions of ‘Macbeth,’ so you have to do something different, with a personal vision.”

Studiocanal investing about €150 million ($170 million) in movie production/distribution a year, delivering a profitable return on investment, he said.

Key to Studiocanal’s success has been its ongoing partnership with companies such as Working Title and Aardman, or Alain Attal in France. “We have had the opportunity to work with some of some of the best creative producers in the business. It’s absolutely key,” Courson said.

“I think it makes sense to do these movies. There’s risk but great rewards. They’re critically acclaimed and, more importantly, reach wider audiences and we should not underestimate audiences. If you market well, and make quality films, you can reach the audience, even with very original distinctive movies,” Courson said.

“Shaun the Sheep is for me a great example. It’s a silent movie with no cast,” he added.

Regarding synergies with the Vivendi-owned Universal Media Group (UMG), Studiocanal has been in conversations with UMG chairman Lucian Grainge for several months to co-develop music content, for films and TV series, said Courson.

Results can vary from documentaries to features, both family and indie titles, biopics, musicals, films/TV series set in the world of music. “I think it’s very coherent to be involved in this area as well as prestige indie movies and European family movies. You will see some concrete projects quite soon, Courson promised.

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