Spain approaches a new boom time

BARCELONA — Big international shoots are nothing new to Spain, but the next couple of years will see an increase in shooting not seen since the boom times of the 1950s.

The list of pics shot in Spain recently is impressive: Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts,” Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Menno Meyjes’ “Manolete,” Brad Anderson is prepping “Trans-Siberian” for Spain. Woody Allen will shoot in the country in 2007.

Spanish directors Agustin Diaz Yanes (“Alatriste”), Antonio Hernandez (“The Borgias”) and Antonio Cuadri (“The Heart of the Earth”) all have pics way above Spain’s average $3 million-$4 million budget.

“Spain’s always had diverse locations close to one another. Now we have the technology to make the whole movie here,” says Colette Maynard, marketing director at Spain’s Ciudad de la Luz Studios.

Ambitious film commissions, such as Barcelona’s, are increasing the bustle.

“One of Spain’s major options is making bigger pics for international distribution. Sometimes it’s easier to make high-budget pics than low (budget) ones: You can access important directors or cast, which makes the product more attractive for investors,” says Luis Angel Bellaba, exec producer of “Heart of the Earth,” now shooting.

“Spanish producers have learned that either they become international or die. That’s why the big-budget pics are shooting in English,” says Mark Albela, co-founder of Spain’s Kanzaman/Xuxa.

Partner Denise O’Dell says Xuxa is putting up 100% on the $51 million “Goya’s Ghosts,” toplining Javier Bardem as a perfidious priest who frames a Goya muse (Natalie Portman) for heresy.

Roughly half of Spain’s bigger-budget pics are minority international co-productions. One case is Tykwer’s $60 million “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman. Filmax put up around 15%, co-producing with Constantin Film and Nouvelles Editions des Film.

Filmax chairman Julio Fernandez says enthusiastically: “Co-productions mean you’re involved in another level of movies. It’s very useful to make them before taking control of a big-budget movie in the future.”

Even top Spanish indie distrib TriPictures has entered international co-production territory, taking some 15% on the Pathe Renn Prods. and La Petite Reine-produced, $98 million “Asterix at the Olympic Games,” shooting at the Ciudad de la Luz. The Valencian government engineers top-up monies Ciudad filters through local producers.

TV regs partly drive Spain’s bigger-budget thrust. Spanish broadcasters are obliged by a 1999 law to invest 5% of their income in Spanish movies.

Rather than pre-buying, Spain’s commercial broadcasters prefer to co-produce higher-cost projects; indeed, Antena 3 has teamed with DAP Italy/De Angelis Group on the $14.7 million “Los Borgias.”

“We must focus on bigger movies rather than many movies in order to compete outside Spain,” says Teddy Villalba, Antena 3′s director of fiction. Pic turns on the bloody Renaissance dynasty that spawned a pope and a model — Cesare Borgia — for Machievelli’s “The Prince.”

Alvaro Agustin, director of Telecinco production arm Estudios Picasso, agrees. “The only way to compete with other cinemas is by making big pics with international scope,” he says.

Telecinco has backed three completed bigger projects: swashbuckler “Alatriste” with Viggo Mortensen, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Daniel Monzon’s English-language thriller “The Kovak Box.”

Yet Spain’s big-shoot bonanza can be overhyped.

Most of the films still have to prove their worth at the international box office. And bigger doesn’t mean big.

” ‘Manolete’ is an (English-language) $14 million pic. It has two stars (Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz), shoots for 14 weeks and has bulls. But that doesn’t make it a big-budget film. People talk about ‘big-budget films’ just because they’re shot in Spain,” says Lolafilms CEO Andres Vicente Gomez, who has Paz Vega starrer “Teresa” in post.

Bearing Gomez out, Spain has produced 10 films with budgets at or above $24 million since 1999. France produced eight such pics just in 2005, led by Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” ($61.4 million). Eight British-qualifying pics shot last year with budgets north of $53 million.

Spain has progressed. But it still has a long way to go to host a real big-budget industry.

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