Local blockbusters help raise market

Who on earth would be interested in a movie about a pillow-bellied, racist, sexist, flatulent doofus ex-cop?

To date: About 2.7 million Spaniards.

The €19.7 million ($28.4 million) and counting B.O. for “Torrente 4: Lethal Crisis,” Spain’s continuing saga of a sleazy detective, underscores the large comic talent of Santiago Segura, its writer-director-star-producer.

It also marks a Spain milestone, a flagship for much of what’s left of an industry that is suddenly going popcorn.

Reasons abound. But Spain’s mainstream charge also raises a larger question: What other film forms can survive in one of Europe’s toughest, finance and piracy-crunched markets?

Spain, in many ways, faces a perfect storm. “Pay TV buys very little, DVD has imploded. That leaves free-to-air TV, theatrical and (foreign distribution) as major revenue sources,” says Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois.

Even free-to-air TV coin has dropped: Nets are obliged to invest 3%, not 5%, of annual revenues, as in the past; broadcasters’ sales have dropped. In such a context, a theatrical blockbuster, one of the few ways to move into the black, is an increasingly common objective:

• Released April 22, the Globomedia-produced “Red Eagle, the Movie” a bigscreen spinoff of the 17th century caped crusader TV series, skewered $1.7 million its first four days.

• Biggest local 2010 earner was “Three Meters Above the Sky,” a steamy teen drama, adapting Italian Fernando Moccia’s novel, teaming Antena 3 Films, Zeta Cinema and Globomedia.

• Rodar y Rodar is shooting “Paranormal Xperience 3D,” Spain’s first 3D genre movie.

• Alejandro Amenabar producer Mod Producciones, “Lope” producers Ikiru/El Toro and “Spanish Movie” shingle Think Studio soon roll on “Promocion Fantasma,” a phantom comedy.

• Zeta and A3 Films reunite on romantic comedy “The Opposite of Love,” distribbed in Spain by Sony Pictures Releasing.

All employ young directors, are Hollywood major-distribbed in Spain, co-produced and massively marketed by Spanish networks, led by Antena 3, boast high-production values and are aggressively hyped online and via cells.

“People are thinking increasingly in terms of global properties, not local pictures,” says David Matamoros, at Zentropa Intl. Spain. “Torrente 4,” supposedly a local comedy, grossed $250,000 in its first week in Argentina last month.

Local and global comedy is a false divide, says Segura. “Some comedies make people laugh, others don’t.”

Spain’s new mainstream bets are often PG-13. The difference between “Julia’s Eyes” and “PX3D,” says the films’producer, Rodar’s Joaquin Padro, is that the audience for “Eyes” was broader while “PX3D” is targeted specifically for the hard-core 14-30s audience that wants a shock.

Most of these pics also borrow heavily from U.S. pics: “Opposite” is “very American in the way it’s told but very Spanish in its dialogue,” says Zeta producer Francisco Ramos.

Spain’s mainstream movies bring new issues to the table.

“Facing off with other leisure options and Hollywood fare for mass youth auds, pics’ prints and advertising — how much? who pays?, what splits? — and adequate TV campaigns become crucial,” says Ikiru’s Edmon Roch.

Spain’s mainstream makeover isn’t its only production trend.

Its film industry faces multiple uncertainties, says Mod’s Simon de Santiago, as there is fear that broadcasters’ investment quotas will be reduced still more, while the biz waits on assessing the impact of public funding cuts of Spain’s Film Institute’s subsidy fund.

“The international market hasn’t recovered from its 2008 collapse, and Spain suffers colossal piracy,” Barrois says. “Smart producers are considering smaller projects. It’s extremely difficult and risky to finance films above $6.5 million-$8.5 million.”

For De Santiago, “You have to be very clear about what reduced financing sources will still finance or the market absorb, or go to the international market to finance.”

Some business models look set to survive. One is smart genre: Some of Spain’s hottest Cannes sales tickets — “The Path,” co-written by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Gonzalo Lopez Gallego’s “Inertia,” Nacho Vigalondo’s “Extraterrestrial” — graft auteur sensibility and character sense onto horror or sci-fi tropes.

A handful of producers — Versus, Mod, Apaches, Roxbury, Rodar, Ikiru/El Toro — are packaging more ambitious English-language projects with studios or U.S. or Euro mini-majors.

In budgets, stars, pre-sales and financiers, the productions — Fresnadillo’s UPI-backed “Intruders,” with Clive Owen; Rodrigo Cortes’ Parlay Films-repped “Red Lights,” toplining Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver; Juan Antonio Bayona’s Ewan McGregor/Naomi Watts starrer, “The Impossible,” sold by Summit — clearly escape Spanish parameters.

High-profile auteurs — think Pedro Almodovar, Juan Jose Campanella — still sell out worldwide but smaller straight-arrow art pic dramas “can now only be made with public subsidies and on low budgets,” Matamoros says.

That presents Spanish cinema with a formidable challenge. Since the ’60s, its upscale cinema formed part of a national debate on freedom, justice, corruption, and modernity. Films still tackle such themes but now often boast stars, action-thriller formats, an international canvas and high production values.

Some — “Cell 211″ ($18.9 million B.O. in Spain), “Even the Rain” ($5.5 million) — have proved successful.

How the Spanish cinema squares its historical and industrial ambitions will in part decide its future.

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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