Attention for 'Buried' leads to De Niro project

MADRID

European producers dream of making a film with Robert de Niro or Sigourney Weaver.

Aged just 26, Barcelona-based Adrian Guerra has achieved just that: Directed by Spaniard Rodrigo Cortes, produced by Guerra and Cortes, and sold by Parlay Films at the AFM, paranormal thriller “Red Lights” starts production in February — starring De Niro and Weaver.

But equally important, Guerra is part of a the new move, both in the U.S. and Europe, to make films that deliver a real theatrical experience but at far more reasonable prices.

Cortes’ follow-up to “Buried,” which Guerra also produced, “Red Lights” is just Guerra’s fourth production.

The young fanboy producer says he got lucky, but others say his knowledge runs deep.

“He’s one of the people I know who knows most about cinema,” says David Matamoros, Zentropa Intl. Spain manager.

At 19, he launched Madrid’s first Fantasy Film Fest, sponsored by Universal horror channel Calle 13.

Guerra founded Versus Ent., a niche cult pic distributor, at 21, nursing his first release, Rodrigo Garcia’s “Nine Lives,” to E535,885 ($743,272).

Guerra’s had several good breaks.

One was spending a month in L.A. with director Luis Berdejo, meeting talent manager Pete Safran, who gave them connections and eventually passed Guerra Chris Sparling’s “Buried” script.

Guerra’s other breakthrough was mental — bringing a U.S. perspective to production opportunities in Europe, and his European knowledge to U.S.-style projects.

“Adrian has been really adept at applying his deep international experience to English-language production,” says Rena Ronson, co-head of UTA Independent Film Group.

As U.S. budgets come under increasing fiscal pressure, Guerra is making films economically, mixing U.S. and European talent and shooting in Spain.

“In Spain, we have really fantastic crews that work for lower prices compared to the U.S,” Guerra says.

Guerra isn’t too concerned about breaking European auteur creeds, such as that real directors helm their own screenplays.

Sold by Kinology at the AFM, Guerra’s third production, paranormal thriller “Emergo,” cost only $2.1 million and toplines U.S. talent including Kai Lennox, Michael O’Keefe, Gia Mantegna, Rick Gonzalez, but was written by Cortes for Spanish director Carles Torrens.

However modest, Guerra has “large ambitions for his directors,” says Matamoros, and “no hang-ups,” adds Vertice Cine’s Manuel Monzon.

Confronted by Spanish banks’ reluctance to discount even TV contracts, Guerra has simply turned to L.A. banks. “They can send you a proposal in a couple of days.”

The gamechanger in Spain, says Guerra, is its genre talent pool: “There’s a new generation of filmmakers — Rodrigo Cortes, Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, Juan Antonio Bayona — they’ve come out of nowhere and changed everything,” he says.

Though a trendsetter, some of Guerra’s credos remain classic. One’s the importance of a good script — which helped persuade Ryan Reynolds to shoot in Barcelona for 17 days. Another’s originality.

Reynolds spends the whole of “Buried” trapped in an underground coffin in Iraq. It’s hardly a date movie, but grossed more than $10 million worldwide at a cost of less than $3 million.

“Emergo” will be shot in 13 different formats, including VHS, HD, Super 8 and DV.

“It’s like you’re witnessing a scientific experiment,” Guerra says.

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