Studiocanal Targets European Franchises, Production in Europe, China, (EXCLUSIVE)

New chairman-CEO Didier Lupfer lays out strategic vision to Variety

Didier Lupfer, chairman-CEO, Studiocanal

Taking a leaf out of Hollywood’s book, and following “Paddington’s” $265 million worldwide take, Studiocanal will dive into some of the biggest IP franchises in Europe, said Didier Lupfer, Studiocanal’s new chairman-CEO, at Berlin. In a first and exclusive interview with Variety, he laid out his vision for very possibly the most powerful film-TV production-distribution-sales company in Europe.

Dressed in Parisian informal chic – a blue striped shirt, brown jacket – Lupfer, appointed in late September, also revealed the three big pillars of Studiocanal’s movie production growth: Family/animation entertainment, in the vein of “Paddington”; big director-driven fare; and “action-orientated movies” like “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” which grossed $213 million worldwide for Studiocanal, or the upcoming “The Commuter,” re-teaming Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra.

Among the director-driven movies, Studiocanal is partnering with “Narcos” director Jose Padilha to develop “Entebbe,” about the 1976 Air France flight hijacking and dramatic Entebbe Airport rescue of 103 hostages.

“The combination of true events-inspired stories and the v¡sion of creators like Padilha is something we want to develop,” Lupfer said, citing the Studiocanal-sold “Deep Water” from helmer James Marsh, now in post, starring Rachel Weisz and Colin Firth as round-the-world yacht man Donald Crowhurst.

Studiocanal is in discussions with other talent, “mostly European directors,” and other helmers such as Australia’s Justin Kurzel (“MacBeth”), Lupfer added.

An independent producer of such films as “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” and Yann Samuell’s “War of the Buttons,” Lupfer has specialized in company growth, taking European giants into new countries (such as expanding RTL into France, and helping launch M6 in 1987) or new sectors (he helped take videogame colossus Ubisoft into movie/TV production, producing “Assassin’s Creed” and toon TV franchise “Raving Rabbids”).

Studiocanal already runs distribution companies in France, the U.K., Germany and Australia/New Zealand, operates one of Europe’s most successful film sales divisions, and, with its Romain Bessi-headed TV division, owns part or all of TV companies in Germany (Tandem), U.K. (RED Company Production) and Scandinavia (SAM Prods.).

At Studiocanal, Lupfer succeeds Olivier Courson, who built Studiocanal from a Gallic company into a European film-TV force. Lupfer looks set to take Studiocanal at least two ways: Into European properties – targeting big, resonant culture icons – and into more talent-driven production partnerships, playing off Vivendi/Studiocanal synergies and Europe’s competitive advantages.

“Look at the U.S. movie business: Majors are strongly focusing on IPs today,” Lupfer said. “European people have tremendous stories to tell. Based on this assessment, we want to develop big IPs like ‘Paddington,’ (and other European) icons with big potential. Europe’s IP potential – culturally, historically – may be even greater than in the U.S.”

He added that with Studiocanal’s leverage “with our cousins on the music side, Universal Music Group, and our close sister like Havas, we can do a lot of things.”

UMG and Studiocanal are developing multiple ideas around UMG IPs: Movies, series and documentaries, per Lupfer, such as Ron Howard’s “The Beatles,” from White Horse Pictures. Studiocanal has also begun to sell Canal Plus Original Series worldwide.

Ramping up production partnerships, Studiocanal is looking to reinforce its position in China, Australia/New Zealand and most especially Europe.

“There’s a good and large place in Europe to create that content that’s close to European audiences,” Lupfer said.

The U.S. movie system defines a “director’s playground, inside which they have to stay,” but Studiocanal and a director develop a shared ambition, a vision. The director drives the car, he said, adding, “You see Jose Padilha’s eyes light up when he describes ‘Entebbe’ because he knows he’ll be able to create the movie that he wants to see.”

But Studiocanal growth looks set to imply as much collaboration as competition with the U.S. With Rola Bauer firing up scripted production in the U.S market, Studiocanal has TV dramas in development with U.S. partners, Lupfer said.