O'seas pix get Spanish touch

MADRID — In European terms, Spain has a medium-sized movie industry and market: Total film production investment in 1998 came in at about $120 million on 79 pics produced in 1998; the average budget of a national (non-co-) production was $1.6 million; Spanish distributors will pay some 4%-5% of budget for all-Spanish rights to a foreign movie.

“It’s not a golden territory, but things are moving,” says producer Juan Gordon, CEO at Esicma. Spain offers no straight cash sums or large tax incentives to encourage international productions to shoot in the country.

Spanish subsidy coin will go only to the Spanish producer. But there are interesting co-financing possibilities for foreign producers.

A first is sizably greater coin for Spanish pic production, including co-prods.

Spanish film finance traditionally has rested on three pillars: government subsidy coin from the ICAA Spanish Film Institute, tabbed for 1999 at $32.5 million; pre-buys from local broadcasters, both free and pay; and producers’ own resources.

For example, Benito Zambrano’s Berlin Film Fest hit, the $1 million “Alone,” covered 30% of its budget from subsidy money, with 10% and 30%, respectively, coming from pre-sales to digital satcaster Via Digital and regional pubcaster Canal Sur.

Local pic finance now is growing. As of March, Catalan producers lobby Barcelona Audiovisual will receive $97 million over the next five years in low-interest credit from the Catalan government. In April pubcaster RTVE earmarked $58 million for domestic movie investment over the next three years. And a new decree, skedded for this summer, will oblige Spanish webs to commit 5% of their total turnover to the financing of European films.

From 1999, Spanish producers should be more cashed up. They also are open to co-production. “Barring France, Spain has Europe’s healthiest specialty-pic distribution sector. This means that many co-productions have a better chance of getting a theatrical release,” says a spokesman for Spain’s Fapae producers lobby.

Producers Andres Vicente Gomez and Gordon both argue that proposed co-productions with Spain must have a selling point for the Spanish market: local talent, a Spanish theme or location.

For Gordon, access to local talent is a key bonus of co-production with Spain. Claude Berri’s Renn Prods., for example, took a minority stake in Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” an El Deseo co-prod budgeted at $5 million-$6 million. With great word-of-mouth and B.O. in Spain, strong initial intl. sales and a Cannes competition berth, plus a sale to web France 2, Berri, like Almodovar, looks to have a hit on his hands.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more