Vivendi Acquires 30% of France’s Mars Films as Studiocanal’s President Exits

Studiocanal's prexy Olivier Courson is leaving the company

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PARIS– After purging Canal Plus from its key execs, Vincent Bollore’s Vivendi is shaking up the company’s thriving film banner, Studiocanal. Oliver Courson, the prexy of Studiocanal, is leaving the company and is getting replaced by Didier Lupfer, who was recently tapped president of Canal Plus’ film division.

Vivendi also announced its acquisition of a 30-percent stake in Stephane Celerier’s Mars Films, a Paris-based leading distributor known for handling the biggest American indies and French hits. Celerier joins Studiocanal as vice president of the studio.

Celerier will however remain boss of Mars Films as his contract with Vivendi allows him to keep distributing acquisitions made via Mars. He will also be free to hand out international rights of in-house productions to third-party sales agents. SND, for instance, is handling worldwide sales on his new project “Two is a Family” with Omar Sy.

Over the years, Celerier, who is known for having a great eye for talent and a taste for smart crossover indies, has released a number of critically-acclaimed movies and docs, notably Steve Mcqueen’s Oscar-winning “Twelve Years A Slave,” Oscar-nominated “Foxcatcher,” “Fahrenheit 911” and most recently “Amy.” Celerier has been following a flurry of international auteurs, from Woody Allen to Sam Mendes, Jeff Nichols, Harmony Korine and Sean Penn.

Celerier has also taken risks in co-financing daring, edgy independent pics, such as Korine’s “Spring Breakers.” Although the movie failed to ignite the French box office, it showed Celerier’s drive to support director-driven pics that are not purely commercial vehicles.

Through Mars Films, Celerier started production with the French B.O. success “La Famille Belier” and recently launched “Two is a Family.”

Celerier, whose appointment at Studiocanal has been warmly greeted by the local industry, will be a solid ally to Lupfer, who previously held the position of head of development and production at Ubisoft Motion Pictures where he worked on “Assassin’s Creed.” Lupfer also co-founded One World Films, the outfit behind “Gainsbourg: vie heroique” and “Loin des hommes.”

The decision to have Lupfer take over Studiocanal’s top job fits into Vivendi’s strategy to build more synergies within Canal Plus Group and other Vivendi’s subsidiaries.

Canal Plus is already a major backer of French movies as it invests nearly 800 million Euros per year in Gallic pics and has committed to re-inject 12.5% of annual revenues in Gallic or other-European films and 9% on Gallic films shot in French (an estimated 1.2 billion Euros) over the next five years.

In today’s official statement, Vivendi said Studiocanal would now be aiming to ramp up its investment in movies — Celerier will be in charge of organizing talent workshops to develop original stories.

“We are delighted to partner with Mars Films, which will make a great addition to the Group’s already strong movie operations. Canal Plus is the number one support of the French movie industry, and Studiocanal is a major player in Europe,” said Jean-Christophe Thiery, chairman of Canal Plus Group Management Board. He added, “This operation is part of our plan to aggressively invest in content, particularly movies that are more than ever at the core of our strategy.”

Maxime Saada, CEO of the Canal Plus Group, said “Canal Plus and Studiocanal welcomed the opportunity to combine their already widely recognized know-how in movies with the experience and expertise of Stéphane Célérier.”

“Under his leadership, Mars has become a key distributor of some of the greatest names in cinema, including Woody Allen, as well as critically-acclaimed and popular movies (‘Polisse,’ ‘Des Hommes et des dieux,’ ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Potiche,’ to name a few). Mars recently and successfully launched into production with La Famille Bélier. Having him among us will be a real asset.”

Florence Gastaud, the managing director of ARP (authors, directors, producers’ guild) pointed out Studiocanal, which has up until now been dedicated to financing, multi-territory distribution and international sales, was likely considering integrating in-house production to its model.

Diving into production would allow Studiocanal to apply the original creation policy that has allowed Canal Plus to deliver such hit shows as “The Returned,” “Spiral,” and “Braquo,” among others.

Under Courson’s helm, Studiocanal became a pan-European major with direct distribution operations in France, the U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand. The company upped the ante on English-language movies and upscale family entertainment. Courson’s most successful movie credits include “Unknown,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,””The Imitation Game,” “Shaun The Sheep” and the $55 million “Paddington” which grossed a whooping $260 million worldwide.

This year at Cannes, Studiocanal has Maiwenn’s “Mon Roi” (winner of best actress nod for Emmanuelle Bercot) and Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth” playing in competition.

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