Recession hits Spain with drop in sales

Collapsing theatrical windows, vanishing DVD revenues, rampant piracy and a worldwide recession — it’s a scary time for the international sales business.

“It’s increasingly black and white with no middle ground — you’ve either got the film or you haven’t,” notes veteran Madrid-sales agent Kevin Williams of KWA, who’s contemplating partly relocating outside Spain, because of a dearth of sellable local product.

“Madrid is devastated by the downturn” he laments. “The local film biz is a dead-man-not-walking — I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Prices are slashed, and people are delaying payments — they’re revealing their darkest side,” says Mocha Aguilar at Eldorado Films.

The recession has hit Spain particularly hard, with a 30% drop in TV advertising and webs scrambling to merge.

But international sales have proved a salve for some local players, such as Barcelona’s Filmax, which recently filed for court protection from creditors because of local distribution woes but still maintains strong foreign sales.

“We’re trying to buy the best films in Spain,” explains Filmax’s sales chief, Vicente Canales, “especially from top broadcasters such as Telecinco. Buyers are looking for original concepts, new stories and fresh vision — so our focus is on new talent.”

Filmax’s pipeline includes inhouse productions such as Jaume Balaguero’s thriller “Sleep Tight” and tortured teen tale “Yellow,” complemented by genre pickups such as Eduardo Chapero-Jackson’s chiller “Verbo,” Eugenio Mira’s romantic thriller “Agnosia,” horror pic “Exorcismus” and supernatural drama “For the Good of Others.”

Leading talent on several of these projects started their careers with renowned helmers such as Alejandro Amenabar and Guillermo del Toro.

“As soon as you mention Guillermo’s name, it unlocks doors,” explains Gorka Bilbao, sales exec at DeAPlaneta Intl., which has clocked up extensive sales on the Del Toro-godfathered pickup “Julia’s Eyes.”

Spanish-Italian media conglom DeAPlaneta incorporates top commercial web Antena 3 and recently made a strategic decision to expand its international sales arm through pickups and nonexclusive relationships with producers such as Antena3 Films, “Eyes” producer Rodar y Rodar and Media Films. Rival media group Imagina has also teamed with Antena 3 on Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” screening at Cannes and starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins.

Imagina is now pre-selling Allen’s upcoming Paris project, starring Owen Wilson.

“Woody Allen puts you on the map,” explains Beatriz Setuain, Imagina’s head of film sales. “Falling DVD sales makes it more difficult to sell genre pics. TV buyers are primarily looking for established talent.”

Spanish film-TV conglom Vertice 360 unveiled its new umbrella sales arm at MIP, headed by Gonzalo Sagardia.

At Cannes, Vertice will be screening David Serrano’s romantic comedy “With or Without Love” and pre-selling Carlos Saura’s Brazilian-set musical romance “Amor de dios.”

Madrid-based consortium Latido Films sources titles from founder partners Tornasol, Zebra and Continental plus third-party pickups, with an emphasis on Latin American films.

Latido has nearly sold out on Argentine Academy Award-winner “The Secret in Their Eyes” by Juan Jose Campanella.

At Cannes, Latido will also be screening Emilio Ruiz Barrachina’s Christ drama “The Disciple,” starring Joel West (“CSI: Miami”) and will unveil “Every Song Is About Me” from helmer Jonas Trueba.

“The market is increasingly difficult,” explains Latido’s head of sales Miren Zamora, “and there’s rising competition from foreign sales agents, especially in France and Germany.”

Foreign sales agents inevitably attempt to cherry-pick top titles from Spain and Latin America and can pay higher minimum guarantees.

Recent films by Almodovar and Amenabar have been handled by Focus Features Intl., while this year’s Spanish hit “Cell 211″ is being sold by Paris-based Films Distribution.

However, most sales agents downplay foreign competition.

“Producers are very happy with our results,” beams Filmax’s Vicente Canales. “We can generate better sales on Spanish projects than French sales agents.”

Sales subsidy support from trade export body ICEX also helps cement ties between local producers and sales agents.

Marina Fuentes at Madrid-based 6 Sales is upbeat about Spanish sales agents’ growth potential and is now tapping into two investment funds to pay higher minimum guarantees for international films.

“Spain is enjoying a rapid catch-up process with countries like France and Germany,” she says. “Soon we won’t even be talking about countries. It’ll all be about talent.”

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