Studio gets foothold in local-language pix

Paramount Pictures was in a tough position four years ago when it separated from United Intl. Pictures, the foreign distribution operation it ran in partnership with Universal for more than two decades.

Not only did newly installed Paramount Pictures Intl. prexy Andrew Cripps — formerly at UIP — have to get his distribution division running, he faced the challenge of getting Paramount into the local-language pic biz, an ever more important piece of business for the majors.

To ramp up its efforts on that front, Cripps tapped veteran acquisitions exec Matt Brodlie to launch Paramount Worldwide Acquisitions in 2008.

In a little more than two years, Brodlie’s unit has quietly amassed a noteworthy slate of local-language product, including an upcoming remake of “Ghost” for Japan, the Roland Emmerich-exec produced thriller “2016: The End of the Night” for Germany and Russell Mulcahy’s shark actioner “Bait 3D” for Australia.

But it’s a highly competitive biz. Studios have to compete with established local companies in each territory as well as with each other. Warner Bros. is the most firmly entrenched in the local-language biz, with the largest infrastructure. And, like Par, 20th Century Fox, Disney and Universal are making heavy investments in the scene.

Last year, Par Worldwide proved itself with “Cell 211,” which cumed $18 million to become the top grossing Spanish-language pic of the year.

Local-language production is a booming industry for the majors, since those films cost far less to make or acquire than studio fare. The returns can be sweet, and the films help keep the international distribution machinery well-oiled. It’s also a way for the studio to keep up on emerging talent overseas.

Like its competitors, Brodlie’s group has built its slate through a strategic mix of acquisitions, production (with many of the projects as co-productions with local companies) and distribution deals.

“Local markets seem to be where everything seems to be growing, across a wealth of genres,” Brodlie says. “We want to be a part of it.”

Acquiring product for a specific territory requires knowing the local tastes and sensibilities. For instance, Par Worldwide recently acquired Lucy Walker’s English-language nuclear docu “Countdown to Zero” for Japan, the only country ever bombed with a nuclear weapon.

And on Sept. 2, Paramount Australia released Stuart Beattie’s action drama “Tomorrow, When the War Began” in Oz and New Zealand. Par Worldwide co-financed and co-produced the pic, which was adapted from the first title in Australian author John Marsden’s bestselling book series.

Pic opened at No. 1 in both territories, grossing $3.9 million from 283 locations. Pic grossed $3.7 million in Oz, making it the third highest opening ever for an Australian production.

Paramount isn’t releasing “Tomorrow” anywhere else.

Par Worldwide’s biggest miss came early on, with Simon Pegg starrer “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” which it released in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Par gambled that Pegg couldn’t go wrong, yet the film flailed at the B.O.

Outside of that, Par Worldwide has been making steady progress. Two years into operation, it’s releasing 30 films through PPI this year, with more than 20 titles slated for 2011. Its total box office revenue in 2008 was $35 million, and $28 million in 2009 (mirroring the global economic meltdown).

Par Worldwide’s 2010 cume is already $37.5 million, and its execs predict a total north of $85 million for the year.

Though Brodlie hadn’t worked directly in the international arena, he developed relationships with foreign directors and producers during the 10 years he worked at Miramax. After Miramax, Brodlie was at to TriStar Pictures, then Paramount Vantage.

“From my Miramax days, I know a lot of the producers in these various territories and that’s why it was a good fit for me,” Brodlie says. “I can call them up and ask what they are working on. (But) some territories were completely new to me, like Japan and Brazil.”

Brodlie and his counterparts at other studios use a network of operatives in each territory to build their slate. He and his team also hit the major festivals to scout material and talent.

Brodlie’s team includes 10 full-time staffers. They also rely on the resources at PPI, whose global head count is 410.

Cripps says having a division like Par Worldwide is especially important as studios make fewer films overall. Also, several territories continue to deliver strong market shares for local product.

“It’s a very good tool in allowing us to find ways to supplement our own slate,” Cripps says. “As our distribution footprint has expanded around the world, we clearly noted that local box office has increased. We set up this division to capitalize on that growth.”

Paramount Worldwide gears up abroad

Japan: Par Worldwide is remaking “Ghost” through a co-production deal with Nippon TV. Redo is produced by Taka Ichise. Later this year, Par is releasing CJ Entertainment’s Korean blockbuster “Haeundae.”

Germany: Filming has begun on Tim Fehlbaum’s thriller “2016: The End of the Night,” exec produced by Roland Emmerich.

Also, romantic comedy “Offroad,” starring Nora Tschirner, and comedy “Russian Disco,” starring Matthias Schweighofer. “Russian Disco” is based on the German tome which spawned a cultural movement after the fall of the Berlin wall.

PWA also will release BBC docu “Life,” following up docu “Earth,” which grossed nearly $30 million that territory.

Spain: PWA will distribute sci-fi thriller “Eva,” featuring many of the actors who starred in “Cell 211.”

U.K.: Productions include Nick Hamm’s “Killing Bono,” starring Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan as aspiring rock stars trying to make it in the shadow of their U2 friends, and “Made in Dagenham,” the next film from Nigel Cole (“Calendar Girls”).

In the U.K., PWA has partnered with Momentum and Icon on several successful releases; “Dear John,” “Law Abiding Citizen,” “Shelter” and “Crazies,” and on upcoming pics “The Fighter” and “Knockout.”

Australia: Par also will release “Made in Dagenham” in Australia and New Zealand via its joint venture with Transmisson. Other releases include “The King’s Speech,” Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” and David Cronenberg’s “Talking Cure.”

Paramount Australia’s upcoming slate includes Russell Mulcahy shark actioner “Bait 3D” and “Wasted on the Young,” the debut feature from Ben C. Lucas that preemed at the Sydney Film Festival.

PWA and Transmission have already scored several B.O. successes, including with “Kings of Mykonos” and Paul Hogan starrer “Charlie & Boots.”

Mexico: PWA has acquired “Otra Pelicula de Huevos y un Gallo,” the third installment in the hit animation franchise.

Brazil: Titles slated for release include Claudio Torres’ romantic comedy “Man From the Future.” Later this year, PWA releases “Supreme Happiness,” from Brazilian auteur Arnaldo Jabor.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more