Warner Bros Pictures has cemented its local language production and acquisition plans in Europe with the appointment this week of well-known French industry figure Simona Benzakein to the position of vice president, European production.

She will report to Richard Fox, executive vice president, international, at Warner Bros and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president of worldwide production at Warner Bros Pictures.

Benzakein, who will work out of the Warner Bros Pictures Paris office, will coordinate and facilitate the output of the European production offices. There are two up and running so far: in France under the leadership of Francis Boespflug and in Germany under Willi Geike. Already working with Boespflug in France is dedicated production executive Fabienne Tsai, while Jacqueline Jagow works in that capacity with Geike in Germany.

"We've been looking at this for a couple of years and France and Germany were the logical first two markets," explained Fox yesterday. "With some of our production deals - Bel-Air Entertainment for example - we are short of Warner Bros films in those markets so this way, we can supplement our theatrical and video operations as well as the TV divisions."

Fox added that Warner is next looking to local production ventures in Spain and Italy, as well as Japan and China

The need for more product coincides with a general shift within Warner Bros Pictures and AOL/Time Warner to increased localisation of product. Boespflug was responsible for bringing into the company La Verite Si Je Mens 2 which is already looking like one of the most successful French films ever. "We are being opportunistic in both production and acquisitions," explained Fox. "We initially want French films for France and German films for Germany and eventually we will look at more pan-European projects."

"We are coming in to learn from them and learn with them," he added. "We're not just looking for blockbusters but local language films with writers and directors attached which we could then use on US projects."

While Fox confirmed that plans for a specialised domestic relasing arm of the studio had been tabled, he said that it was not out of the question for the future, especially if the European venture produced potential crossover titles.

Fox cited Warner's joint production venture with Nippon Television and Toshiba Corporation (called Towani) to produce one or two films annually for the Japanese and world markets as a precursor of the new initiative. The first film is a live action mythical tale called Sakuya which opened last August.

Benzakein will act as a liaison between the domestic and international arms of Warner Bros as well as with the newly established executive oversight committee in Burbank - responsible for the general strategic, business and creative aspects of the venture. That committee is headed by Alan Horn (president and COO of the studio) and will consist of Fox, di Bonaventura and Steve Spira, executive vice president of worldwide business affairs for Warner Bros Pictures. It will have final say on all aspects of films from budgets to production to distribution.

"Simona's knowledge, experience, taste, reputation and relationships with well known international industry figures make her uniquely qualified for this key role in our international strategy," said di Bonaventura in a statement.