TV-trained execs hit theaters with commercial projects

MADRID — On Nov. 20, right before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Sony will bow computer-animated pic “Planet 51″ on 3,500-plus prints Stateside.

Dwayne Johnson and Jessica Biel are the lead voices, and “Shrek’s” Joe Stillman wrote the pic’s script. But “Planet 51″ is Spanish — originated, majority-

financed and animated at Ilion Animation Studios in Madrid and produced by Ignacio Perez Dolset.

At Cannes, Alejandro Amenabar’s Egyptian epic “Agora” played an out-of-competish slot and is one of Europe’s costliest pics this year. And Spanish: It’s produced by Telecinco’s Alvaro Augustin and Mod Prods.’ Fernando Bovaira.

International in scope, these pics are Spain’s biggest 2009 B.O. bets, and they share a common bond: Perez Dolset, Bovaira and Augustin are all among the new guard of film execs in the country: younger and decidedly market-minded.

Seven of Spain’s 2009 top-10 local films have been produced by the new generation.

The marketplace needs a shot of adrenaline: Spanish pics’ B.O. take has slumped while piracy has flourished and consumer DVD spending has been dropping (16% in 2008, for example).

While Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” grossed $5.6 million, through August the four other highest-grossing Spanish films of the year were crowdpleasing comedies: “Brain Drain” ($9.7 million), “Sex, Party and Lies” ($6 million), “Road to Santiago” ($3.85 million) and “The Friend Zone” ($2.85 million). All have Gen X producers.

“We grew up watching Spielberg,” says producer Sergi Casamitjana. “Films should be for (big) audiences and make (strong) box office.”

State orgs increasingly back the new guard. Catalonia’s ICIC promotional consortium and pubcaster TV3 have together sunk $2.4 million into each of these genre pics: historical actioner “Bruc,” produced by Edmon Roch and Jordi Gasull; “Eva,” Spain’s first robot film produced by Casamitjana; and Casamitjana; and teen-targeted “Heroes,” produced by Luis de Val.

Galicia’s Xunta and the ICAA Spanish film institute are supporting “new guard” Galician pics “Cell 211,” from Emma Lustres and Borja Pena, and Manuel Cristobal’s “Arrugas.”

Many newer producers — Ignacio Salazar-Simpson, Javier Mendez, Enrique Lopez-Lavigne and Belen Atienza, Elena Manrique — cut their teeth in TV, often at Canal Plus in the ’90s. Others — Ibon Cormenzana and Gonzalo Salazar-Simpson — worked in finance.

That’s no coincidence.

Starting in 1999, regs have obliged Spanish nets to plow 5% of their annual revs into Spanish and other European films. Total investment averages around $140 million a year.

Current web film toppers — Telecinco’s Ghislain Barrois, Antena 3’s Mercedes Gamero and TVE’s Gustavo Ferrada — are themselves Gen X execs.

“Many hip producers today come from the TV world,” Barrois observes.

“Agora” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” are fruits of this TV-bred, younger indie axis.

Domestic market share is just part of the picture.

“Our generation’s difference is that we speak the language of international production,” says Lopez-Lavigne, who’s in talks to produce Universal’s “Bioshock,” with helmer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo directing.

“Spanish producers used to produce mostly among themselves. That time’s over,” agrees Ignacio Salazar-Simpson.

As the world’s film industry globalizes, Spain’s new generation is thinking globally, and working with Spanish directors with international cache, says Adrian Guerra.

“Planet 51,” says Perez Dolset, should make at the very least $200 million worldwide off its core kids target, more if it charms other demos.

At Versus, Guerra is partly financing Barcelona-shot “Buried” — starring Ryan Reynolds and based on a Chris Sparling script — out of foreign presales, he says. He’s also producing the U.S. remake of Aussie horror pic “Lake Mungo.”

Most of the young guard range across film types: at San Sebastian, Koldo Zuazua has potential crossover “Yo tambien” and “Ori,” a niche Georgian-Spanish co-prod.

“The new generation’s key facet is not genresnor budgets but simply ambition,” says David Matamoros, who’s launching Zentropa Spain, the Scandi powerhouse’s Spanish offshoot.

For Bovaira, “Most screens in and outside Spain are now in multiplexes. Cinemagoing’s become (a) leisure (activity).” That favors mainstream auteurs like Amenabar. Observes “Paganfantas” exec producer Tomas Cimadevilla: “Market realities have won out.”

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