Campanella hopes 'Foosball' can kicks off nation's toon industry

After winning the foreign language film Oscar in 2010 for “The Secret in Their Eyes,” Argentinean director Juan Jose Campanella didn’t lack for top offers from Hollywood. The film earned a standout $6.3 million in the U.S. for Sony Pictures Classics, and the NYU-trained helmer was no stranger to U.S. production, having helmed episodes of “Law & Order” and “House,” and copping Daytime Emmys for segs in HBO’s “Lifestories: Families in Crisis.”

Yet his next production is neither U.S.-based nor, for that matter, live action. It is, however, top-shelf. At $20 million, the stereo 3DFoosball,” a soccer-themed distant cousin to “Toy Story” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” is the most expensive Latin American animated film ever. UIP has picked up the film for Argentina (where it’s slated to bow June 20) and Spain, and has bought rights for the rest of Latin America.

“(‘Foosball’) came at a moment in life when I wanted to stretch my muscles, to put my feet in the mud again, as we say in Spanish,” Campanella says. “After doing so many big live action movies for Argentina and mainstream U.S. TV, where everything is so compartmentalized and professional, I wanted to go back to my craft, to basics.”

The toon, inspired by Argentine writer Roberto Fontanarrosa’s “Memoirs of a Right Winger,” centers on a boy whose foosball figures come alive. Their fighting spirit helps him as a teen to take on a professional soccer team, save his hometown and win back his childhood sweetheart. Campanella presented a short reel of excerpts at the recent Ventana Sur mart in Buenos Aires.

“Kids face rights of passage, and acceptance of reality’s hard facts. In ‘Foosball,’ it’s the other way round: They learn about magic in real life,” says Campanella, who cites 1968 live-action musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” as the movie that most affected him as a child.

Campanella is hoping to help create some magic for Argentina’s nascent animation biz. “Foosball’s” Argentine producers have created a 10,750 square-foot studio in Buenos Aires and inked sponsorship deals with Hewlett Packard and Intel for rendering and with 3D software design company Autodesk.

The trick is to figure out a way to compete with animation from the likes of Pixar-Disney or DreamWorks, without pricing a film out of the market.

“A large part of CGI animation quality depends on budget. The more manpower, the more detail you have, but the higher the budget,” says Martin Moszkowicz at Germany’s Constantin, producer of the motion capture-animated “Tarzan,” a big Cannes pre-sales hit. “Everybody tries to accommodate a lesser budget with a higher degree of creativity, and smaller more movable units.”

For Argentina, the 2001 economic crisis, which decimated the peso exchange rate, also cut local labor costs in dollar terms. “Foosball” trimmed costs further by streamlining the production’s chain of command. The concept creator of Universal’s “Despicable Me,” Sergio Pablos, oversaw 20 minutes animation at his SPA Studios in Spain, and advised Campanella on direction.

“We don’t have to redo stuff four times for four sets of executives,” Campanella says. “It’s amazing how many millions that cuts.”

A contained budget lessens dependence on distribution in the U.S., where so many films target families and children that, according to Moszkowicz, “You have to spend an immense amount on P&A just to make yourself heard.”

“Foosball” uses only two art designers: Mariano Epelbaum, who created every character, and Nelson Luty, for sets, props and backgrounds. Adds Campanella, “We think we’ve reached a very realistic, subtle level of acting, with faces and gestures.”

A key, according to Campanella, was finding a storytelling angle to give a tale involving table soccer figures emotional drive and depth. Eduardo Sacheri, co-scribe on “Secret,” also co-wrote “Foosball.”

Tim Westcott, at IHS-Screen Digest, says the fact that “Foosball” is soccer-themed is a bonus. “It’s a global sport,” he notes. “(And) there’s a World Cup in Latin America in 2014.”

The production has pulled in weighty partners. Argentina’s Jempsa, Spain’s Plural-Jempsa and Antena 3 Films produce. Campanella’s 100 Bares, Catmandu and Convoy Films exec produce.

In addition to UIP, presales include a heavyweight deal with Russia’s Carmen Films, plus deals for Turkey (Mediavision), the Middle East (Gulf Film) and Poland (Iti Cinema).

Canal Plus pre-bought Spanish pay-TV rights, Telefe free-to-air broadcast in Argentina, Antena 3 and La Sexta free-TV in Spain.

Major territories are under negotiation for theatrical, says Vicente Canales at sales agent Film Factory.

Moreover, the producers are negotiating with a “very significant U.K. Group” for an English-language version with top British and American talent, according to Jorge Estrada Mora, prexy of Plural-Jempsa, who reckons the current iteration of “Foosball” can recoup without the U.S. or Europe beyond Spain.

Will it all work?

“We’d love to build an animation industry (in Argentina),” Campanella says. “We have the talent; we now have the tools. But a lot of planets have to align.”

Still, there’s no harm in optimism. Sacheri is writing a treatment for “Foosball 2.”

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