Indie distribs' David and Goliath fight with Hollywood

Spain’s film distribution sector is fighting an unequal battle with far more capitalized studios and indie outfits.

U.S. majors’ supremacy has hit the distribution of Spanish pics, as indie companies suffer restricted access to financing. Whammied by the lack of TV sales and the dramatic fall of the DVD market — ravaged by piracy — the market is harder than ever for independents.

Last year, only two of Spain’s top 10 local films were handled by indies: Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” distributed by Alta Films, and Wanda Vision’s nature drama “Among Wolves,” by helmer-scribe Gerardo Olivares.

Compared with other big Euro territories, Spain’s statistics show the weakest presence of all local distributors. In Italy, indies handled nine of the top 10 local titles, eight in France and five in Germany. Spain only beat Blighty, explained by the British origin of many of the studios’ films.

Released via Warner Bros., Spain’s highest-grossing 2010 pic, youth drama “Three Meters Above the Sky,” cumed $14.1 million. Since 2000, when Alex de la Iglesia’s comedy “Common Wealth” was released by LolaFilms Distribucion, all Spanish box office numero unos have been distributed by majors.

“The studios started to offer P&A, especially for the strongest Spanish titles,” says Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn, acquisitions head at Alta Films.

“Majors are much better positioned in the most commercial Spanish film products, particularly those produced by big broadcasters,” says Jose Escola, chairman of indie distrib Emon-Savor.

Spain’s top 10 local films cumed $60.9 million, 52.7% of local films’ B.O. last year. For many decapitalized indies, home is where the money is. A paradox, seeing that local films nabbed a poor 12.1% B.O. share in 2010. But the shortage of financing is pushing indies to reduce international acquisitions and search for local films beyond more commercial titles.

“Mid-size Spanish film is becoming a shelter for decapitalized indies,” says Adolfo Blanco, founder of arthouse distrib A Contracorriente. “There is a kind of pre-financed film where P&A is assumed by Spanish producers and the risk is zero for a distributor.”

For this kind of Spanish film, producers’ upside depends more on juggling state subsidies and TV pre-sales, which are handled by film producers, than on pics’ market potential.

So don’t expect much acquisitions ardor from Spanish distributors. International pickups require a higher investment than local pics. “It’s impossible to cover international acquisitions investments without returns from TV and DVD,” Gonzalez Kuhn says.

Among mass audience indie distributors, Aurum Prods., DeAPlaneta and TriPictures have seen some success in facing off against U.S. studio domination, which grew from 71.1% to 75.2% of total B.O. last year.

Spanish films are a secondary option for these most powerful of local distribs.

Alliance Films’ deep-pocketed distrib, Aurum Prods., took theatrical and home entertainment rights to Roland Joffe’s $36 million epic drama “There Be Dragons,” cuming $2.7 million after a March release.

DeAPlaneta, the cash-rich distributor co-owned by publishing groups Planeta and DeAgostini, often co-ordinates big international pickups with sister broadcaster Antena 3. But Antena 3 Films’ co-productions have traditionally been released by distribs other than DeAPlaneta.

Part-owned by publishing conglom Vocento, boutique TriPictures’ acquisition of big pics allows it to sell on titles to commercial TV broadcasters, a virtuous circle permitting it to take bets on high-budget international pics such as “Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia,” and to secure stable movie deals like its recent four-year output deal with Relativity Media. Telecinco Cinema-produced comedy “Amigos,” which bows July 8, is a rare Spanish pic on TriPictures’ slate.

In contrast, conglom Vertice 360 has fought to find its gap in the market, producing-distributing local comedies including David Serrano’s “With or Without Love,” and Borja Cobeaga’s “Lovestorming,” to so-so B.O. perfs to date.

Arthouse Alta Films, beyond its commitment to Barcelona-based Mediapro — producer of Woody Allen’s three recent movies, including Cannes opener “Midnight in Paris” — also accesses Spanish titles via its long-term relationship with Gerardo Herrero’s Tornasol Films.Market change, however, could generate business opportunities for niche distributors with lighter cost-structures. Handling lower-budget Spanish pics could make more sense.

“High quality films are emerging in Spain that don’t find quality distribution,” says Roberto Sanz, topper at distrib Arena Multimedia. “We think there is a market for smaller Spanish productions.””In the hands of an indie, a Spanish film will be the most important product it has; for a U.S. studio, the same title would be a drop in the ocean,” Blanco says.

SPOTLIGHT: SPANISH CINEMA
Hits trump Spain’s pirates | Law forces rookie nets to pump coin into film | Almodovars rekindle Riviera relationship | Sales execs play up local pic strengths | Case studies | Battling the behemoth | Madrid’s mondo move | Talent on the verge | Choice on Croisette

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