UPDATE: EuropaCorp has just released this statement: “Having secured the financing for Valerian, the next film by Luc Besson, which is expected to be delivered in 2017, Christophe Lambert has decided to concentrate on personal projects.”

EXCLUSIVE: Berlin is getting off with a bang. According to sources, EuropaCorp CEO Christophe Lambert is in the process of exiting the company he runs with Luc Besson. Former Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger is going to replace him, at least in an interim capacity. This is just unfolding and we’ll tell you more when we have it.

MarcShmuger.JPGEveryone is asleep in Europe and some of the details might need to wait until morning, though this will be the talk of Berlin and the upcoming European Film Market for sure. Besson is off directing Valerian, a mega-budget film that will be a major step for RED, the distribution pipeline EuropaCorp started in an effort to have more control over its product after placing films from Taken to Lucy with Hollywood studios. Since exiting Universal, Shmuger has been producing films through his Global Produce banner, and he will continue to do that.

Valerian has an eclectic cast that includes Rihanna, Clive Owen, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delavingne. It’s a $180 million-budget sci-fi film that is based on a comic series Besson loved as a child,  an adaptation of the iconic French sci-fi graphic novel series from writers Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières that first appeared in 1967. It is Besson’s dream project.

bessonlucchristophe lambertLambert’s exit is a surprise, partly because he and Besson put together funding and a strong game plan to take EuropaCorp to the next level. Also, the company already made a splashy Berlin deal by acquiring U.S. distribution rights to The Circle, the pic written and directed by James Ponsoldt based on Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel. Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Karen Gillan and Patton Oswalt lead the ensemble cast. No release date yet on the pic, which sold in foreign markets like gangbusters in Cannes last May. The deal comes ahead of the European Film Market in Berlin.

Shmuger has a long relationship with Besson that goes to when he ran marketing at Sony and worked on such Besson films as The Fifth Element and The Professional. Shmuger more recently was exec producer on Lucy, the giant global hit that Besson directed, Scarlett Johansson starred in and Universal distributed. Shmuger is on his way to Berlin, where he’s premiering the Alex Gibney-directed docu Zero Days. He’ll take a detour in Paris as this transition unfolds. It’s unclear whether Shmuger’s involvement will last, as he’s got a slate of films that include the Scarface reboot at Universal.

Lambert, who came from a financial background, helped turn around EuropaCorp’s fortunes when he replaced Pierre Ange Le Pogam in 2011. Most importantly, he helped Besson — creative engine of the whole company — go back to what he does best: make movies and generate ideas, and leave the daily running of the business to his partner. Lambert and Besson built a studio in Paris, and both moves to L.A. as they got serious about RED, which launched with The Transporter Refueled.

Lambert leaves with EuropaCorp in good shape: Besson is now deep into filming Valerian, and coming up with the financing for a $180 million indie sci-fi epic out of Europe gives Lambert’s résumé a sparkle few others can match. Also, talk has been rife in recent months that EuropaCorp is looking to go back to being a private company. Early talks have been held with a number of industrial players in Europe and Asia that would allow the company to withdraw from the constant quarterly reporting incumbent on public companies, and instead operate moving forward on a more organic basis, and with a healthy balance sheet, more suited to the cyclical nature of the film business.