Culture Ministry works to reshape film biz

Order head prizes producer investment, high-budget films

MADRID Don’t ask for what you want. You might get it.

For years, Spanish producers have demanded a subsidy system overhaul. Now they’ve got one. Some, during the summer at least, were outraged.

A new Culture Ministry order, now out for industry consultation, threatens “60% of annual production” and mass unemployment, Cineastes Against the Order thundered in August.

The order’s architect, Ignasi Guardans, the new head of Spain’s ICAA film institute, has become the talk of the country’s movie biz.

That’s only natural. The order marks the most ambitious attempt to reshape the face of Spanish filmmaking in a decade.

Since 2001, Europe has poured E11 billion ($15.7 billion) into subsidizing film production. Guardans’ game plan suggests how that money could be spent in the future.

“The order’s essential thrust is to give Spanish cinema more commercial heft,” says producer Luis de Val Jr.

It needs it. In 2008, Spain produced 174 films with only a 15% local market share — compare that to the local market share of France (46%,) the U.K. (31%), Italy (29%) and Germany (27%).

“In financial and business terms, Spain’s current subsidy system no longer works,” says Guardans.

Pedro Perez, prexy of  the FAPAE, Spain’s producers’ association, agrees: “What Spain lacks are films like, in their day, Carlos Saura’s ‘Ay Carmela,’ or Fernando Trueba’s ‘The Girl of Your Dreams’ — production drivers.”

The order, a 39-page consultation document, introduces multiple fixes, including rejigging Spain’s biggest subsidy channel and aid triggered by wins at film festivals as well as the box office.

Reserving much subsidy coin to films costing $2.86 million, it encourages producers to move at higher budgetary levels, which can’t be fully financed by Spain’s traditional support of state and TV coin.

“When there’s no risk, nor public, nor overseas recognition at festivals, public aid will decrease substantially,” says Guardans.

A career politician serving Catalonia’s liberal CiU party, Guardans was a European Parliament spokesperson on film policy. It shows. In prizing producer investment and higher-budget films, his order echoes multiple European state film regs, such as Denmark’s.

The Danish Film Institute, with local TV nets, put up 40% of films’ budgets — if producers put up the rest.

But, as producer Manuel Cristobal points out, Spanish production, like Europe’s at large, is already moving toward a two-tiered system: micro-pics and higher-bracketed movies with high-profile or genre elements.

The order may hasten this divide. Mid-range Spanish films will become increasingly difficult to finance, says Jose Antonio Felez, at Atipica Films.

It may also accelerate an industry makeover.

A new draft of the General Audiovisual Law relieves private-sector broadcasters of much — some analysts argue all — of their obligations to pre-buy or co-produce Spanish movies.

If passed, the bill would devastate production, says Javier Mendez at Mediapro.

The order no longer singles out theatrical films as subsidy-worthy sacred cows of national culture: TV movies, animation and Internet content receive state support.

“The order treats producers like Spanish lynxes, a species in danger of extinction,” says one industry insider. As film faces huge new market challenges, some producers might thrive, the law intimates, in new habitats.

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