The past year has been a busy one for Stephane Celerier. Not only did his first co-production, Eric Lartigau’s “La Famille Belier,” lead France’s Mars Distribution to new box office heights, becoming the highest-grossing French film of 2015, with 7.5 million tickets sold (an approximate $50 million gross), but he was also tapped as VP of Studiocanal in September, when the Gallic giant bought a 30% share in the indie powerhouse.
Mars, which Celerier helped launch in 1998 as a distribution arm of Bac Films, was France’s top indie distributor in 2015, with such reasonably budgeted French crowd-pleasers as Julie Delpy’s “Lolo,” Rudi Rosenberg’s “The New Kid,” Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Wolf Totem” and Melanie Laurent and Cyril Dion’s docu “Demain,” as well as projects from Woody Allen (“Irrational Man”) and Asif Kapadia (“Amy”). The company acquires projects at the script or concept stage.
Celerier proved his resilience after going through a rough stretch in 2012 and 2013, with a series of pricey pics that underperformed at the local box office, notably Guillaume Canet’s English-language debut “Blood Ties.” Though he has a reputation for offering lucrative minimum guarantees to win bidding wars for films, and for overspending on marketing campaigns, he has been tightening the purse strings lately, and diversifying into production. Next on the slate after “La Famille Belier”: “Two Is a Family,” Hugo Gelin’s feel-good dramedy starring Omar Sy.
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Going forward, Celerier says, Mars will be producing French- and English-language projects. Along with partner Valerie Garcia, he is developing 12 movies, including the shingle’s first English-language film, “Destiny.”
“We’ve modestly created a brand, and we’re known for being passionate about movies and grand auteurs. As producers, we’re greatly inspired by the kinds of films that Working Title and Fox Searchlight deliver,” Celerier says.
When Mars was launched, its mandate was to focus on smart crossover films directed by talented emerging filmmakers from France and overseas. That mandate is evident in Berlin, where Celerier has Michael Grandage’s “Genius,” starring Colin Firth, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, which will world premiere at the festival.
Jean Labadie, a producer and head of French production house Le Pacte, attributes Celerier’s success to hard work and loyalty. “He’s ultra passionate and (has remained) faithful to a group of directors,” Labadie says. “And I’ve never seen him count his work hours.”