EuropaCorp’s president of U.S. film production, Lisa Ellzey, has been let go, the latest in a series of executive exits that have seen the company’s stateside operation shrink drastically over the past year or so, Variety has learned. Ellzey was one of the last high-ranking executives working for Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp in the U.S., alongside COO Kevin McDonald and Matthew Gross, president of TV in the U.S., who are still employed by the company.
A EuropaCorp spokesperson told Variety that Ellzey’s contract was not renewed because “EuropaCorp has reduced its slate, and most of the films in our pipeline are, as we announced, written or directed by Besson.”
Ellzey was hired in 2013 to increase the company’s English-language output, and had her contract renewed as recently as last September by then-CEO Marc Shmuger. Shmuger himself left EuropaCorp at the end of December.
Meanwhile, Federica Sainte-Rose, who was working as head of worldwide acquisitions in EuropaCorp’s Los Angeles office, has been on maternity leave and is not expected to return to her job, according to a source close to the company. Another key U.S.-based executive no longer on the payroll is Ryan Wickers, VP of production and development, who exited last July. And Ellen Dickson, creative executive for the company, left recently or is preparing to leave, a source said.
Only a handful of staff now remain in EuropaCorp’s L.A. outpost, which once boasted about a dozen employees.
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The stream of departures of U.S.-based executives comes amid EuropaCorp’s ongoing discussions with potential investors from Europe and the U.S. who could buy into or buy out the company, whose debt reached €230 million ($284 million) last September. EuropaCorp is also in the process of shedding about 30% of its workforce in France.
Ellzey’s appointment in 2013 reflected EuropaCorp’s ambition to ramp up English-language production to feed the pipeline of its distribution banner RED, a joint venture with Relativity Media. RED has been in limbo since the end of 2016 because of Relativity’s financial struggles.
None of the English-language films produced by EuropaCorp over the last several years has performed well at the U.S. box office. Sci-fi extravaganza “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” grossed $225.9 million worldwide in 2017, but that came as a disappointment for a movie that was possibly the most expensive indie film ever made and that was supposed to jump-start a franchise.
EuropaCorp has blamed the underwhelming performances of its English-language films – apart from “Valerian,” which it says was almost entirely pre-financed – for its large debt. Sources say Ellzey had limited control over the choice of projects pursued by EuropaCorp.
As part of its new strategy, the studio has vowed to scale back its ambitions and produce two to three English-language films and two French films per year. EuropaCorp’s current English-language film slate includes “Anna,” an action thriller with Helen Mirren. During the company’s board meeting in September, Shmuger hinted that a sequel to hit film “Lucy” was in development, but Besson denied that on social media shortly afterward.
Despite its large debt, EuropaCorp is still perceived as having strong assets, notably its library – which includes hit franchises “Taken,” “Transporter” and “Lucy” – plus Besson himself, who remains a popular filmmaker.