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Tinkering with the masterplan

As StudioCanal rebrands Optimum Releasing and Kinowelt, Danny Perkins and Wolfgang Braun discuss why it is more than a name change, and Olivier Courson lays out the company’s pan-European ambitions

When Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens in the UK on September 16, audiences will see more than a new film, they will also have their first glimpse of a new brand.

Or rather, see a familiar brand in new ways. The film will unspool with the new moving logo for StudioCanal as the company rebrands the French parent’s outposts in the UK (Optimum Releasing, acquired in 2006) and in Germany (Kinowelt, acquired in 2008) all as simply StudioCanal.

It is the latest step in StudioCanal’s move to create that elusive film industry dream: a successful pan-European studio. Kicking off with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is no accident.

“This movie is exactly what we’re looking for,” says StudioCanal CEO and chairman Olivier Courson. “This is a movie with strong appeal for European audiences and with European talent. That includes producers Working Title, the film-maker Tomas Alfredson and this fantastic British cast [Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy]. The domestic market for this is Europe, not the US. The US is an upside.”

Indeed, StudioCanal fully financed the budget (less than $30m) without US backing. Universal later came on board for US rights, with Focus Features planning a November release.

Tinker Tailor shows exactly what a pan-European studio is capable of doing,” says Danny Perkins, CEO of Optimum Releasing, which will be known as StudioCanal from September 1.

“Optimum and Kinowelt are fully integrated with StudioCanal; we are one group. It does not make sense to have these different names,” Courson says. “I was speaking to film-makers and producers and some of them did not even realise it was all the same company.”

Group ethos

Perkins reassures that the name change does not signal any less of a presence in the UK. “There is still the same ethos in working with film-makers and putting an emphasis on storytelling. All those ideas Optimum were built on are what StudioCanal does.”

Kinowelt CEO Wolfgang Braun adds: “It’s the next logical step for being one company with one name.”

Even under one brand, the model is based on each arm of the company working on its own local acquisitions and productions. Courson explains that while StudioCanal is behind 10 French co-productions per year, the UK and German distribution companies are under no obligation to release those. Courson says: “We’re pragmatic about that.”

Perkins says that nothing is changing in London: “It’s not centralised operations. It’s important to have local businesses and to be involved in the business on the ground in each territory. So we have autonomy in the UK, we’re building our production base here, but we also work closely with StudioCanal, the international group, in relation to the bigger titles.”

There is more than a name change for Kinowelt — the company as of September 1 moves from its former home in the more provincial Leipzig to Berlin.

Braun says: “It’s important to have a new environment. About 70% of the staff will move, others will stay [in Leipzig] for personal reasons. We’ll have to find a few hires.” Courson says it will be more useful to have StudioCanal’s German operations in “a more vibrant city, more convenient for film industry activities”.

One business that is already centralised, to the group’s benefit, is the Paris-based sales arm, led by Harold Van Lier. “We need to be able to care about more than these three territories, that’s crucial,” Courson says. “We’ve also had strong growth in the sales side in the last two years.”

Projects on the sales slate include two new high-profile projects — Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Blackbird (financed by 2929 and produced by Mutual Film) and The Last Photograph, to star Christian Bale and Sean Penn.

Versatile slate

Diversification is key, as the company handles more mass-market films such as Unknown and The Tourist, while also moving into genre fare such as Attack The Block and The Last Exorcism.

The slate or productions and co-productions will range from Tinker Tailor-sized films to the very small budgets for what Courson calls “elevated genre movies”.

‘We have a good blend, it works internationally and locally at the same time. Each market is different but we can benefit from economies of scale’

Danny Perkins, Optimum Releasing

Animated family films are also in the mix. Sammy’s Adventures by Belgian studio nWave, an exclusive StudioCanal partner, was made for less than $28m (€20m) and has already grossed about $85m (€54m) worldwide. A sequel is in the works.

In the UK, local production kicked off with Brighton Rock (a box-office disappointment in the UK, but it sold to IFC in the US) and then Attack The Block (which sold to Sony in the US). Next up are The Awakening, a period ghost story starring Rebecca Hall, set for a November release after its Toronto world premiere; Nigel Cole’s All In Good Time (formerly titled Rafta Rafta) in spring 2012; and Sid Bennett’s The Dinosaur Project.

The UK operation should have two to three releases per year from its deal with production outfit Big Talk and then two to three of its own productions, including Rowan Joffe’s thriller Before I Go To Sleep, which is being made with Scott Free.

Germany is also building up its local production slate, and the first production, Torsten Wacker’s comedy No Sex Is No Option (Kein Sex Ist Auch Keine Lösung) will open later in 2011. Also, the company is co-producing The Pursuit Of Unhappiness (Anleitung Zum Unglücklichsein) directed by Sherry Hormann. Two more set to shoot by the beginning of 2012 are Christian Alvart’s Banklady, a thriller based on the true story of a female bank robber in the 1960s; and Till Hastreiter’s Berlin Wall-era comedy 4,5,6 (a nod to Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three).

The power of three

So far, the three branches say being part of a trio of territories has been very useful.

“Optimum has been part of StudioCanal for five years, and the growth of the company has been huge,” Perkins says. “We’ve got a good blend, it’s working internationally and locally at the same time. Each market is different but we can benefit from the economies of scale.”

Optimum is having a boom year in the UK theatrical market. Perkins says: “We’ve had our biggest year theatrically Unknown is our biggest film ever [$10.6m in the UK], we’ve taken more in the first six months of this year at the box office than we did in all of last year.”

Still to come are Irish hit The Guard, SXSW favourite Kill List, the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark and the arthouse critical hit Tyrannosaur, directed by Paddy Considine.

All three territories acquire films separately for distribution but can also join forces to take all three markets when it makes sense. Braun notes: “You have the three biggest territories in Europe but they also retain their marketing and distribution locally.”

The French and German operations release about 20 films per year theatrically, and the UK will eventually be down to about that level. Optimum released 44 films theatrically in 2010 and is on track to do about the same number this year, but Perkins says: “We would like to settle down to be doing about 24 films a year, including some bigger films.”

StudioCanal can also exploit the world’s third-largest film library — with world rights to more than 5,000 titles (and more restricted rights to about 10,000). That is growing regularly, including a recent addition of 550 Miramax titles.

While financial details are not disclosed, Courson reveals there is a “growing” percentage of the company’s revenue coming from the UK and Germany.

“We are developing activities and operations across the company, but we have tried to keep the entrepreneurial spirit with great people in each office.”

Olivier Courson

Courson joined Canal Plus Group as general counsel in 2003, and was appointed chairman of the board in 2005. He served as director of Sogecable and Canal Plus SAS from December 2003. He has advised the French government on telecoms deregulation and the Centre National du Cinema (CNC).

He was appointed CEO of StudioCanal in March 2007.

Courson has also served on the prime minister’s cabinet as an adviser on culture and communication.

Danny Perkins

Perkins co-founded London-based Optimum Releasing in 1999 with Will Clarke and Paul Higgins.

He was appointed CEO of Optimum in September 2010.

Wolfgang Braun

In 1987, Braun started as managing director and chief executive of Paramount and Universal’s exhibition joint venture in Germany, United Cinema International Multiplex.

From 1992-2008 he was senior vice-president of the Walt Disney Company and general manager/managing director of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Germany.

Appointed CEO of Kinowelt in July 2009.

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