EuropaCorp CEO Talks Global Strategy, Luc Besson's Upcoming "Game Changer" (Q&A)

Christophe Lambert, CEO of EuropaCorp

Christophe Lambert says setting up its U.S. distribution arm last year gave the studio control over its own destiny and discusses its outlook for China and founder Besson's space opera 'Valerian.'

The past 12 months have seen EuropaCorp bring to a close Liam Neeson’s middle-aged kidnap troubles in the $900 million topping Taken trilogy and raise eyebrows as Scarlett Johansson’s turn in cerebral capacity thriller Lucy amassed a global box-office haul in excess of $450 million with a $40 million budget.

Last week, Luc Besson’s Paris-based mini-major made its CineEurope debut, unleashing new clips from its growing all-star slate to international exhibitors as it looks to underline its status as one of the biggest studios outside of the U.S.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with EuropaCorp’s CEO Christophe Lambert, following the presentation on the very last day of the expo (something he described as "great show, shitty slot"), to discuss the benefits of its Red joint-venture U.S distribution arm with Relativity Media, what it means for its interactions with Hollywood studios, the importance of the Chinese market for EuropaCorp and just how excited Besson is about his upcoming big-budget space opera Valerian.

What made you decide that this was the year to come to CineEurope?
I have been told that when you become a distributor in the U.S. you become, as a consequence, a global studio. So, this is our first year that we’ve become a global studio, and I thought that now was the time to join that great, private membership club of CineEurope. Before, our big commercial international movies had to go through Fox or Universal or Sony or whoever to get access to the U.S. market. This is no longer the case, so now we control our own destiny and we can do what we want to do.

Your presentation highlighted the extent to which you’re growing your English-language slate, with new titles such as The Lake, Escobar, Nine Lives, Shut In and Valerian, plus the rebooted Transporter. What sparked this huge push?
That’s all possible thanks to the fact that we now control U.S. distribution. We are no longer relying upon the U.S. studios to acquire our movies. So it’s triggered a new path of growth for the company.

Will you be using your U.S. distribution arm for anybody else’s films or will it be solely for EuropaCorp releases?
No, just for us, we don’t want to share! But we did open up an acquisition department a couple of months ago. It’s a new field for us, because we’re much better as a seller than a buyer, so we have to learn how to buy against crazy competitors who sometimes don’t make very rational decisions. We have to learn how it works. We acquired our first movie last year in Toronto, Big Game. It’s not a wide release — day and date. But the movie is very good and yesterday we had a very special request from the White House for Obama to see the movie, so we have lost one consumer! In the movie Samuel L. Jackson plays the president of America…it rings a bell with Obama.

So are we going to see you in festival markets aggressively looking to buy more titles?
We don’t like buying in festivals to be honest, because everyone goes crazy. We are very picky. We don’t need a lot. We want to produce our own stuff, so our aim is to acquire one or two movies per year. We don’t need movies, we know how to invent our stories but it presents an opportunity to partner with great producers and to pick up some very cool stuff that we will fall in love with.

Lucy was a phenomenal hit worldwide, almost reaching $500 million. Was it a turning point for EuropaCorp?
Lucy wasn’t the first success for the company. Taken 1, 2 and even 3, by the way, achieved almost the same numbers that we saw in the U.S., around $150 million. What makes Lucy different was the incredible figures that we have achieved internationally. The big difference now is that we’re going to handle these kinds of movies ourselves, so the success will be because of us and the failure will be because of us, too. We will know who to blame!

You’re very actively involved in China. How important is the market to you?
We are in great shape in China, because we signed a strategic partnership four years ago with a fantastic company called Fundamental. They’re great partners, and they have the exclusive distribution rights for all our movies. They released Lucy and Taken 3, achieving great performances, and we also work with them as a co-producer, so we will work on our first movie together, Warriors Gate. The good thing about China is that it’s a new market for everybody, so we are on the same starting line as all our U.S. competitors — we have the same number of slots as Fox or whoever. It’s becoming one of the most important markets for us.

Are we going to see more co-productions like Warriors Gate, which is being filmed in China and using local stars?
It depends on the opportunity. Luc and Robert [Kamen] came up with this idea, so it was the perfect idea just to make a co-production between China and the U.S. But when you try to do it usually you are taking a huge risk. You need a great concept and great storyline and then, if it can become a China co-production, it’s fantastic. But you cannot do it on purpose. It’s not only about marketing and finance, it’s about creativity.

How big is Luc Besson’s graphic novel adaptation Valerian, announced in Cannes, set to be for EuropaCorp?
That is the game changer! It’ll be the biggest production ever for us and probably the biggest production ever from a non-U.S. major. And, if it’s a success, we’ll be looking to do more. We began actively preselling the film in Cannes, and in three days our head of sales Marie-Laure [Montironi] sold to the entire world except Australia. I don’t know why Australia doesn’t like her! It’s such a very special project for the company that a lot of our strategic partners around the world joined us to co-finance, not only as a distributor, but as equity investors. This was the case with our German partner, our Chinese partner, our Middle East partner, our Belgian partner — they’re all equity investors. It’s fantastic to show the strength of the brand.

And how excited is Luc Besson to make the film, which has been described as his "passion project"?
Excited isn’t the word. I think we should invent a new word to describe Luc. When he was 12, Luc was traveling a lot because his parents were diving instructors for Club Med. So his best friends were graphic novel characters. And his best friend was Valerian. So it’s really his dream project. All the things he did before were just a long journey to get there.

Will it be comparable to The Fifth Element?
The Fifth Element was the last of its kind, the last big sci-fi produced before the digital revolution and all the new VFX potential. So now Luc is going to be able to play with the new toys.

Finally, will you be coming back to CineEurope next year?
For sure, but with a better slot!


 

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