In a key step in its ongoing expansion Leone Film Group in 2014 partnered with young producer Marco Belardi and bought his small but commercially flourishing Lotus Production shingle, which has since become a bigger affair.

Raffaella Leone says while LFG was being floated on the Milan bourse she knew they “had to guarantee content” to investors beyond titles available in Hollywood and on the international market at large. She also knew it was tough to build a production company from scratch, since “production was not our specific know-how.”

So Raffaella and Andrea zeroed in on Lotus, which in 10 years of activity had forged exclusive relationships with up-and-coming Italian directors such as Paolo Genovese, now known for 2016 megahit “Perfect Strangers.” After a few meetings, Belardi and the Leones struck up “a good personal feeling,” she says. And from there sprung a “fortunate match.”

Belardi recalls he was a bit taken aback when the Leones proposed buying Lotus outright, asking him to join the LFG board as a stakeholder, while also continuing to operate the company autonomously.

“But instinctively they made such a good impression” on him that he said: ‘OK, let’s do it!”

A particularly alluring aspect of the partnership was knowing they were strong internationally, whereas Lotus under his ownership had been a strictly domestic player.

As it happened, Genovese’s “Perfect Strangers,” which Lotus co-produced with Medusa, turned out to be a global phenomenon.

The concept pic, which revolves around a circle of friends who decide to bare their secrets at a dinner by exposing the contents of their smartphones for all to see, has been remade in a half-dozen languages after grossing more than $16 million at the Italian box office in 2016. A Spanish version directed by Alex de la Iglesia earned almost $26 million in Spain last year. A French redo titled “Le Jeu” was among recent French sleeper hits. The Mexican adaptation titled “Perfectos Desconocidos” has done well, and so on. Belardi is particularly proud of the $90 million made by the Chinese adaptation.

Lotus, also in 2016, scored handsomely with Paolo Virzì’s road movie “Like Crazy,” about two women who escape from a mental institution in Tuscany. The pic launched from Cannes and made almost $7 million in Italy, then sold widely internationally with Strand Releasing picking it up for the U.S. And it swept the country’s David di Donatello Awards in 2017.

More recently Lotus scored with Gabriele Muccino’s “There Is No Place Like Home,” which earned about $10 million at the Italian box office and with 1.43 million tickets sold scooped this year’s newly introduced David statuette for most admissions.

Lotus has new pics in various stages, by veterans Muccino, Virzì and Giuseppe Tornatore, and also one by newcomer Nicola Abbatangelo, who in October will start shooting an English-language musical set in 1930s New York. Belardi decided to take a gamble on this project after being blown away by a 20-minute short directed by Abbatangelo, which the feature will expand on. Meanwhile Muccino is shooting another ensemble pic titled “The Best Years of Our Lives” with an Italian A-list cast.

Belardi says he rapidly went from making two movies per year to making four. And this year he’s got seven projects in various stages.

One of these, which is particularly close to the Leones’ hearts, is the English-language “Colt,” based on an idea developed by Sergio Leone centered around the six-shooter packed by Clint Eastwood in “For a Fistful of Dollars.” The gun, passed from one character to the next, is the narrative device for a fresh take on the Western genre.

“Colt” is “a coming-of-age story of three kids who in becoming outlaws basically have to face an adventure that is bigger than their breeches,” Raffaella says. Other details are being kept under wraps.

In January 2018 Lotus made its debut in the Italian TV arena with the series “Immaturi,” which aired on Mediaset’s flagship Canale 5 station. It’s a spin-off of a hit Genovese pic about six Italian former friends who are brought together when they are forced to retake their high-school proficiency exam.

Preparing to make their leap in the international TV arena, in February the Leones and Belardi hired as their head of drama star Italian scribe Barbara Petronio, who served as head writer on the second season of Netflix’s Italian original “Suburra.” Petronio is working on the final draft of “Les Italiens,” a high-profile noir about a squad of French/Italian policemen working in Paris’ famous Quai des Orfèvres headquarters. It’s one of a half-dozen skeins of various genres they are developing.