Madrid Film Lab at 80: Princes of prints

Facil backs up bigger releases

MADRID — Over the last decade, the 80-year-old Madrid Film Lab has not only witnessed a leap-by-leap pic revolution in Spain, it’s been part of it. Pedro Almodovar, for one, ran off all the copies of foreign-language Oscar winner “All About My Mother” at Madrid Film Lab in Spain, and Alejandro Amenabar has used MFL prints for the European distribution of “The Others.”

“Madrid Film has grown with the Spanish film industry,” confirms producer Gerardo Herrero (“Nico and Dani”).

Back in 1991, most film production was subsidy-driven rather than market led in Spain. Lab work was restricted to negative development, editing and timing, and MFL formats were restricted to 16mm and 35mm, and cutting and post-production used common standards.

“It was only 10 years ago, but it seems like prehistory,” recalls MFL chairman Alain Coiffier, who’s been with the company for the past decade.

Broadcast revolution

The turning point for Madrid Film was TV deregulation and the launch of private webs Telecinco, Antena 3 and Canal Plus Espana in the country. Ratings and sub-starved startups, the broadcasters brought far more market aggressiveness to film, and by the mid-’90s began to team up with Spain’s most international-minded producers, who demanded international-standard lab copies.

Coiffier could sympathize with these demands, partly because he saw lab work from the client’s end of the telescope as a former line producer on films by Claude Berri, Jean-Luc Godard and Marco Ferreri (“La Grand Bouffe”).

“The way forward, I thought in the early ’90s, was to change Madrid Film into a full-service company, responsible for 100% of copy creation from telecine to digital video-to-film transfer, scanning, effects, digital sound.”

Partnership pay off

Full-service demanded diversification. Coiffier arranged this by pursuing strategic joint ventures with specialist players. The results were the creation of La Luna de Madrid (digital effects, video-to-film transfer and scanning, eventually with post-production company Imagen Line), RF Sonido (sound-to-film transcription, with sound specialist Exa), and La Luna Titra (subtitling, with U.S.-French giant Titra). This May, MFL bowed a Barcelona beachhead, El Laboratori, targeting the Catalan commercials and pic industry.

MFL’s clients include Sogecine, Tornasol Films, Boca Group, Cartel, and the Almodovar brothers’ El Deseo. It also works regularly with local indie distribbers such as Alta Classics, Sherlock, Filmax and Vertigo.

“Alain and his team put themselves out for producers,” says Herrero. “They follow through, and will make sure the copy in cinemas is what we want.”

Formats changing

MFL commands a comfortable market share. Consolidated revenues have risen tenfold in a decade to near $18 million.

But MFL cannot rest on its laurels. Digital format exhibition may be around the corner. As Coiffier points out, the lab already uses digital technology in much of its work. And it is owned by TDF Video Service, a subsid of France Telecom, specializing in radio and TV signal transmission.

A lab’s medium-term “future will turn on the transmission of a signal by any means possible,” he says.

TDF has pioneered a C Reality telecine for high-definition digital cinema, and MFL is teaming with Medialatina, a TDF subsid in Spain, to ensure a strategic presence in digital cinema.

MFL faces other challenges. For decades, the U.S. studios have made up film prints for Spain in London and Rome. Without the cushion of this regular high-volume work, or a tradition of TV movies in Spain, sectorial demand varies wildly, especially now that local films such as “The Others” can demand 300-plus print runs.

MFL has taken the battle abroad, hunting for foreign clients, and its relationship with Almodovar, dating back to “High Heels” (1991), has proved crucial.

“We started off by delivering copies to international distributors and struck up relationships,” such as with Good Machine, Pathe and MDP, Coiffier says.

International business now reps some 30%-35%, a ratio similar to that of leading Spanish producers.

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