Mexico: Horror scares up impressive returns

Territory Reports

B.O. cume (through Sept. 29): $385 million
Top title: “Fantastic Four” (Fox, $22 million)

“The Descent” (Videocine)
“The Grudge 2” (Gussi)
“Hooligans” (Decine/Values)
“Shutter” (Zima)
“Water” (Film House)

“Carambola” (Billiards): Written, directed and produced by Kurt Hollander, starring Daniel Martinez, Diego Luna, Jesus Ochoa, Laura Hidalgo and Roberto Cobo. Filmed as an instructional video, film shows story of hustler who wins a pool hall and finds business management more than he can handle. Completed. (Sales: Imcine)
“KM 31”: Written and directed by Rigoberto Castaneda. Produced by Billy Rovzar, Fernando Rovzar and Julio Fernandez. Psychological horror film about twins with telepathic powers and a haunted stretch of highway. Starring Iliana Fox, Catalina, Adria Collado and Raul Mendez. Film in final stages of post. (Producers: Lemon Films, Filmax)
“Un hombre ejemplar” (working title): Dark political comedy where, in the near future, a homeless man receives all he could dream of ister after he is mistakenly believed to attempt to leap to his death. In post-production. Production companies: Bandidos Films, Altavista Films. (Sales: Altavista Films)

MEXICO CITY — As Mexico’s indie market gets progressively ugly for the little guys, dominant players Gussi and Televisa-owned Videocine are becoming mini-majors.

Mexico has yet to produce a homegrown hit this year. “The Grudge,” followed by “Monster-in-Law” (Gussi) and “Million Dollar Baby” (Videocine), led the indie run through mid-October. Germany’s 2004 Oscar foreign language nominee “Downfall” (Videocine) reaped more than $2 million and has been one of the surprises of the year as well as doc-hybrid “What the Bleep Do We Know” (Film House) earning nearly $550,000.

Gussi has released more titles than any distributor, major or indie, with 53 pics out by the end of September, raking in $37.7 million and beating Sony local’s take from 30 films during the same period by $2.2 million, according to data from Nielsen EDI. Videocine brought in $22.9 million through the first nine months.

“Horror films are working well. They love them here, if you do good marketing campaigns and have decent product,” says Mineko Mori, head of international at Videocine.

However, smaller distribs are struggling, buying fewer films and sitting on titles waiting to go out. Most distribs are holding enough films to last them through next year and beyond in Mexico’s tight indie market.

Richard Ham, one of the owners of 2005’s No. 8 distrib Decine, says all the Hollywood product is making things tough for smaller pics. “A few years ago you could put anything on the market and it would make $100,000,” adding that such films now generally make around a little more than half as much.

But Daniel Birman, head of production company Alameda Films and co-founder of distrib Film House, says it can’t all be blamed on big studio fare. “We have a grave problem: there is too much art product,” he says. “We don’t compete against the big guys, we compete against each other.”

The growth of piracy continues to cut into video and DVD sales. The MPAA recently reported that nine out of 10 DVDs in the average Mexican home are pirated.

While the DVD market has been growing in terms of retail prices, indie pics are lucky to go at bargain bin prices. “The volume helps, but it’s not a business in itself,” says David Chelminsky, buyer at Zima. Besides rampant piracy in the nation’s street markets, legitimate retailers also are stocked with DVDs from the U.S. that have been illegally brought into the country.

Small indie distribs say the TV market is a problem, too. Free TV buys little to no indie product, and cable and satellite are dominated by DirecTV and Cablevision, both half owned by Televisa, which demands all-or-nothing deals on titles – mostly from its own arm. Only local pubcasters regularly show indie fare.

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