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Mediawan CEO Pierre-Antoine Capton on Breaking Barriers to Build One of Europe’s Biggest Independent Production Groups

It’s little wonder why French president Emmanuel Macron was visibly moved as he inducted Mediawan CEO Pierre-Antoine Capton into France’s Legion of Honor last October, calling the exec “the ultimate French success story.”

In a country rarely known to promote social mobility, Capton-esque career trajectories are scarce. A self-made entrepreneur born into a middle-class Normandy family, Capton began his professional life as a teen with an entry-level internship,  eschewing elite universities, making the exec a rare bird among France’s top media execs. For all that, Capton remains more humble than flamboyant, letting his track record speak for itself.

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In 2015, he co-founded Mediawan with investment banker Matthieu Pigasse and telecom billionaire Xavier Niel, and since then the group has traversed a tumultuous period marked by a pandemic,  strikes and economic recessions by growing stronger.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron and Pierre-Antoine Capton.
France’s president Emmanuel Macron and Pierre-Antoine Capton.

Following its recent acquisition of German production-distribution powerhouse Leonine (“The Lives of Others”), Mediawan is now worth more than €2 billion ($2.1 billion) and boasts an estimated annual revenue of $1.3 billion, encompassing more than 80 production labels around the world, including Brad Pitt’s Plan B, France’s On Entertainment (“Miraculous”), Chi-Fou-Mi (“Beating Hearts”) and Chapter 2 (“Limonov: The Ballad of Eddie”), Italy’s Palomar (“The Count of Monte Cristo”) and,  more recently,  the U.K.’s Misfits Entertainment (“Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story”).

Success didn’t arrive on a silver platter. The 49-year old Capton worked his way up, moving to Paris straight out of high school upon the advice of Dominique Besnehard, the revered agent-turned-producer behind “Call My Agent!” “ (who happened to be an alumnus of Capton’s alma mater in Deauville). Still in his teens, Capton interned at AB Prods., which was behind cult sitcoms like “Helene et les Garçons.” In 2017, Capton made the AB Groupe Mediawan’s first major acquisition. The following year,  Mediawan took ownership of Besnehard’s Mon Voisin Prods., which continues to expand the “Call My Agent!” franchise.

While taking a hands-on approach and engineering high-profile acquisitions at Mediawan, Capton continues to lead Troisième Œil Prods., the vehicle he launched out of a modest office located in a parking lot back in 2001, that now produces some of France’s highest-rated talk shows, such as “C à vous.”

“I’ve always been guided and passionate about content, and that focus has set Mediawan and my production companies apart. We’re not guided by finance nor investor-dictated strategies,” he tells Variety. Instead, the company is driven by “our taste for production,” he adds, wearing a black Celine sweater and his staple dark-framed glasses, sitting next to a white marble desk lined with souvenirs. Large bay windows reveal the Eiffel Tower, among other Paris landmarks, peaking in from the outside, while within.

Capton also surrounds himself with strong women. He works closely with Elisabeth d’Arvieu, who joined the company almost four years ago after working at Lagardere and StudioCanal, and now runs Mediawan Pictures, overseeing all the film, animation and international labels.

A hard-core indie TV producer, Capton says he “didn’t know much about finance and didn’t yet speak English” when Pigasse and Niel approached him to co-create and lead Mediawan in 2015. Yet, under his leadership, the group raised an initial $321 million by listing shares on the Euronext Paris stock exchange, and got U.S. investment firm KKR on board as its major backer four years later, during the pandemic.

Christopher Reeves Documentary A Super Man
“Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story” is part of Mediawan’s library via the U.K.’s Misfits Entertainment.

2015 marked a turning point for the French film and TV industry, with Netflix having just launched and Amazon’s Prime Video preparing to roll out. “As streamers were arriving in France, we had to seize the opportunity to produce high-quality content for our amazing producers, creators and auteurs,” says Capton, citing Florian Zeller as an inspiration. “When I was producing his plays, Florian shared his wish to direct his first film, and I realized that such a film from a French auteur would be complicated to finance within an international scope, even if that auteur was already the most celebrated playwright of his generation.” Both Zeller and star Anthony Hopkins would win Oscars for their work on 2020’s “The Father,” something that only fueled Capton’s hunger to “develop more grand international projects from Europe.”

The idea was to “unite the best creators and producers in one place and then to give them all the means to shine overseas.” Years later, Mediawan content travels far and wide, while the group boasts an enviable roster of affiliated producers and an undeniably auspicious perch at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Mediawan productions “Beating Hearts” and “Limonov: The Ballad” will screen in competition. Mediawan can also boast Cannes’ opening night film “The Second Act,” out of competition title “The Count of Monte Cristo” and feature debut “Le Royaume,” which screens in Un Certain Regard. The group can also count Leonardo Van Dijl’s Critics Week title “Julie Keeps Quiet,” which is executive produced by Blue Morning Pictures, the L.A.-based banner founded by Zeller and Federica Sainte-Rose in partnership with Mediawan.

Capton’s tastes when it comes to spotting projects certainly manage to capture the zeitgeist. He says he owes this skill to his grandmother, who “raised him during an important part of [his] childhood.”

“We’d watch American sitcoms and all sorts of shows. I learned to count with a show called ‘Des chiffres et des lettres.’ I traveled thanks to documentaries. I educated myself with television, with cinema and series,” he shares.

No single program left a bigger impact than “Friends.” Adolescent obsession for the sitcom soon gave way to early-career intuition, when, as an 18-year-old intern decades before the binge-watching model, Capton thought to program a full season in a back-to-back, 24-episode bloc. “Some thought the idea bizarre, but it worked, and that’s how I got my first job at Canal+,” he says, pointing out the nice bit of symmetry that he now works with Plan B, an outfit co-created by “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston.

In some French circles, Capton’s “TV culture” has been perceived as not highbrow enough. But it’s something he says he’s “proud of,” asserting that his background and TV knowledge has led him “to build [his] company and meet wonderful people, and create Mediawan.” He also praises d’Arvieu for her “excellent taste.” But don’t expect Mediawan to start making trashy reality TV. “We don’t want to make anything we’d be ashamed of,” Capton says.

D’Arvieu says the common thread among all the companies under the Mediawan umbrella is a drive to be talent-centric. “All the producers we work with have this culture; they’re extraordinarily close to screenwriters and directors,” she says. “They work like artisans and artists.”

Traveling to Los Angeles and across Europe on a monthly basis for the last few years, Capton has made powerful allies, including CAA’s CEO and co-chairman Bryan Lourd. Lourd appreciates the fact that Capton is not only a businessman, he also “loves creators and storytellers.”

“It’s an unusual skill set in today’s world — that understanding of an artist’s temperament,” says Lourd, who also argues Capton stands out because he “didn’t come from a family, or money or any of that stuff.”

“It’s the most validating thing to know that someone is actually there because they want to be there, and they care, and they recognize other people and companies, too, that are scrappy, and like the self-made part of it,” he adds. CAA has worked with Mediawan in repping U.S. rights on Bille August’s series “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well as representing Plan B. Buying Plan B “really speaks to their tastes and [Capton’s] vision,” and a sign that they’re “playing the long game,” Lourd says.

Capton claims the 2022 deal with Plan B wasn’t driven by financial considerations, but rather about matching ambitions and affinities. He asserts that Plan B had received bigger offers than the deal his company proposed, which was valued at approximately $300 million, split 50-50 between cash and Mediawan shares. It came down to Capton, who worked closely with d’Arvieu on the pact, to convince Plan B, the banner behind Oscar-winning “The Departed,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight,” to become shareholders of Mediawan and subscribe to his vision.

3 Body Problem. Episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023
The success of “3 Body Problem” on Netflix can be attributed to Mediawan and Plan B’s innovative partnership.

“We knew from our first Zoom call that we wanted to tell stories together. We have common passions, values and aspirations,” he says, citing Plan B’s prestige pedigree with socially minded movies like “She Said,” recent box office hit “Bob Marley: One Love” and series “3 Body Problem,” as well as their love for auteurs such as Bong Joon-ho and Tim Burton whose latest films, “Mickey 17” and “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice,” respectively, were teased at CinemaCon.

Over at Plan B, longtime leaders Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner claim both companies “have complementary taste and sensibility” and “both love finding the intersection of commercial and quality work.” The pair also say that Capton’s “background as an indie producer is invaluable,” because he has created an “ecosystem” that is “very focused on empowering and supporting independent producers — people who develop and make things in a particular way.”

Indeed, if there were any doubt over his valuing independence, Capton points to the fact he “refused to sell [his] company Troisieme Oeil Prods. three times.”

Maxime Saada, Canal+ Group’s chair and CEO, says that when Capton took the reins of Mediawan there was skepticism, with some assuming he’d be the “straw man” for Pigasse and Niel. “But what he’s achieved in very little time is impressive,” he says. “He’s the only French person in the world of media, TV and film that people abroad talk to me about. Even in Korea where I just traveled, they only know Mediawan.” Saada adds that Capton has “taken many daring bets on talents, has maneuvered complex personalities and egos, and has been able to get them to build lineups.”

While the company will undoubtedly grow further in Europe and has plans to expand its footprint in Africa, the U.S. remains a key market. But Capton is determined to avoid pitfalls that derailed previous efforts by French outfits, such as EuropaCorp, that never gained a foothold in Hollywood. “Before we did anything, people said to me, ‘You’re going to fail, they’ll strip you off, look at all the French businesses that failed there!’ But honestly, we have the same frank discussions with U.S. studio bosses and agents as we do with our European partners, and we’ve yet to be stripped down and we haven’t lost money,” Capton says. “We don’t go there with [guns-blazing], and we don’t have a Mediawan office in L.A. yet. We just do our job the best we can.”

As Macron noted in his Legion of Honor tribute, Capton’s professional success has limited personal overlap. If often in transit, Capton still lives in Paris with wife and their blended family, and has kept close to his roots in Normandy, where he owns Hotel Flaubert, and the soccer team Stade Malherbe Caen, where his uncle played in the 1950’s. He’s also behind some of Paris’ best-known celebrity hangouts, including Loulou restaurant. If these extracurricular activities are his little “bubbles of freedom,” they’re also “extremely complimentary” with his role at Mediawan. “Soccer has allowed me to meet lots of people in the media,” says Capton, citing Qatar, which owns PSG, Miramax and BeIn Sport, and Pathé boss Jerome Seydoux who owns the Olympique Lyonnais.

It’s also through sports that Capton says he’s met “players who are going to become partners in Mediawan,” teasing what should become yet another milestone partnership for the company.

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