EXCLUSIVE: A decade after StudioCanal acquired Optimum Releasing to establish a base in the UK, the company is consolidating its position as the country’s leading indie. Buoyed by the full support of deep-pocketed corporate parent Vivendi, StudioCanal UK is becoming a content powerhouse across film an TV.
Its slate includes a number of buzzy, high-profile projects with A-list talent, including a big screen adaptation of Victor Headley’s iconic novel Yardie, about a young Jamaican’s rise from the streets of London to the top of the drug-dealing underworld. Idris Elba will make his feature directorial debut with the project with Warp Films producing and BBC Films and the BFI co-financing.
StudioCanal is also working with Monumental Pictures’ Alison Owen and Debra Hayward on a remake of a classic musical out of StudioCanal’s thousands-strong library.
As exclusively reported by Deadline this week, StudioCanal is also re-teaming with producer extraordinaire David Heyman on a feature film adaptation of the classic family book The Secret Garden. Heyman will produce with Rosie Alison through his Heyday Films banner. They have tapped Jack Thorne, arguably the UK’s most in-demand writer, to adapt Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved story about Mary Lennox, a troubled, sickly, orphaned 10-year-old girl sent to live with an uncle after her parents died in a cholera outbreak in India. While exploring the grounds of her uncle’s estate she discovers a hidden garden that is more magical than she could have ever imagined.
StudioCanal is re-uniting with frequent partners Blueprint Pictures to adapt Matt Haig’s acclaimed novel A Boy Called Christmas. The book follows the early life of Father Christmas. The story is set in Finland and follows the 11-year-old Nikolas. Nicknamed Christmas because he was born on Christmas Day, Nikolas lives with his woodcutter father, his mother having been killed by a bear years earlier, in a timeless, fairytale land. From there, the story evolves into a magical tale involving elves, reindeers and a quest. Ol Parker, who wrote both installments of the hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, is writing the screenplay.
StudioCanal UK has enjoyed a banner few months under the stewardship of chief executive Danny Perkins, who has been with the company since Optimum was founded in 1999. During his tenure at the company, Perkins has navigated the company’s ascent from plucky start-up under original founder Will Clarke (who left in 2010 and has since launched Altitude Films) to its current position as major player with talent relationships with the very best producers and filmmakers the UK has to offer. That includes Heyman, Brit production powerhouse Working Title and its dynamic duo Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; See-Saw Films as well as Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin’s Blueprint, with which it is currently in post on the Colin Firth-starrer untitled Donald Crowhurst biopic.
“French companies put film at the heart of what they do and StudioCanal, and now Vivendi, want talent at the center of what they do,” Danny Perkins tells Deadline. “We want to be as talent friendly as possible. Even going back to the Optimum days, we’ve always had relationships with filmmakers who’ve come back. The best example of this is Paul King. We did his first film Bunny and the Bull, a low-budget film. The nice thing now with the backing we have from Vivendi, is that we’re big enough to keep these filmmakers within our grasp when they want to make a big film. They don’t need to go to the studios. We’re placed to work with a producer or filmmaker from the very first conversation, all the way through to development, production and distribution.”
StudioCanal was the biggest indie distrib of the year, wrestling the crown away from previous champ
Entertainment Film. Boosted in large part by the gangbuster success of Working Title’s Legend, starring Tom Hardy as the Kray twins, the company earned $79.6M (£54.5M). Legend accounted for $26.9M (£18.4M) of that haul. The company’s performance was another indication of the sterling work being done by Perkins and his team. That performance also came off the back of StudioCanal’s biggest ever hit Paddington. The first installment of the big-screen adaptation of Michael Bond’s marmalade-loving bear from deepest, darkest Peru was StudioCanal’s biggest-ever bet — the company fully financed the $55 million picture — and also its biggest success with worldwide grosses of $260 million. The sequel, currently in development, had buyers rushing to StudioCanal’s sales offices in Cannes.
“We really like working with Danny and the team at StudioCanal and have a strong ongoing relationship with them,” said Working Title co-topper Tim Bevan. “They like the slightly more independent, European-based movies, are passionate about filmmakers and have good taste in material so it makes sense for both of us.”
The UK team are also benefiting from the cross-platform synergies on offer within the Vivendi group and so beloved by Vivendi’s billionaire chairman Vincent Bollore. For example, both Yardie and the Monumental musical remake will work closely with divisions in Universal Music Group- which Vivendi owns- across the music in both projects. In the case of Yardie, Island Records- the home of Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff and numerous other reggae musicians – will be an invaluable partner in creating the soundscape of the film and its soundtrack.
“It’s really important for us to be working with someone as talented as Idris and to be the home of his directing debut,” says Perkins. “Being able to work closely with Island, it will allow the music to be central to the film and give it an authenticity and the right flavor.”
Earlier this year, StudioCanal announced that Perkins’ role would be expanded to be responsible for all UK production, securing British talent and further developing this activity. That’s a major vote of confidence in both Perkins and his team, as well as a sign of the increased importance that the UK will play in generating content across all of Vivendi’s different media operations.
At this year’s MipTV, StudioCanal announced it had acquired minority stakes in two UK banners: the SunnyMarch, co-founded by Benedict Cumberbatch as well as Urban Myth Films. StudioCanal also majority owns the well-respected RED production company, the banner behind hit TV series Happy Valley. In turn, StudioCanal and RED launched joint venture Guilty Party, a new UK film and TV production banner producer Spencer Millman, The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird and actor-writer Jonny Sweet. That new banner will operate under the creative supervision of RED exec producer and founder Nicola Shindler.
“TV is a big growth area for StudioCanal,” says Perkins. “I’ll have a dialogue with Nicola at RED. The great thing about them being part of the group is when we work with producers who have TV ideas, we can introduce them, and vice versa. We’ve expanded and are able to realize ambitions and talent in different ways. With Paddington, for example, when buyers buy from us as a group, StudioCanal isn’t just delivering a film. We also delivered a marketing strategy. We had strategies for Paddington in the UK as a known brand, and also in France and Germany, where it was less known. The way we’ve developed as a business allows us to take risks and make bigger budget properties.”