Regional Report: Catalonia

Over the past five years, milestone Catalan slashers, chillers and thrillers — think “The Orphanage,” “REC,” “Eva” — have launched a rich generation of genre auteurs, built a lucrative export business and established a vibrant vfx and craft cottage industry in Barcelona.

For Catalonia, Spain’s rich northeast, genre has become a trademark. Can it survive rampant recession?

The film sector is already hurting. Film funds from the Catalan Institute for Cultural Companies (Icec) dropped by nearly a third from 2011′s €14 million ($17.9 million) to $12.8 million this year. Per Icec stats, 65 Catalan films shot in 2011 compared to 19 in the first half 2012.

“We have to adjust budgets even more, foster international co-productions and private investment,” says Icec director Gorka Knorr, appointed in July. “We’ll focus on less projects trying to provide new incentives,” such as tax-break financing.

Pubcaster TVC’s 2012 fiction production budget fell 12% to $17.9 million. Total Spanish B.O. shrank 11.2% through August.

“Either you have foreign equity, financiers or TV co-productions, or you can’t shoot in Spain,” says “Buried” producer Adrian Guerra.

Genre, however, remains an international idiom.

“Like animation, genre is almost crisis-proof,” says Alex Navarro, director of promo org Catalan Films & TV. “It’s present in all markets, uses a common language, facilitating U.S. remake options.”

“We’re all seeking international alternatives,” says Rodar y Rodar’s Joaquin Padro. “Genre’s health is great but national markets aren’t optimal. As Saint Therese of Avila said: ‘If a door is closed, we’ll open a window.’ ”

“There’s less money in Spain, but more elsewhere — Canada, Colombia, Mexico and Asia,” agrees screenwriter-producer Alberto Marini (“The Last Days”).

Producers are now piling into international. Filmax’s slate features three English-language pics: Miguel Angel Vivas’ “I Will Die Tonight,” Manuel Carballo’s “The Returned” and Jordan Barker’s “Torment,” the last two co-produced with Canada.

Barbara Muschietti, at Toma 78, co-produced brother Andy’s “Mama” with Universal Intl. Guillermo del Toro exec-produced. “If we sit down and wait for government money and TV greenlights, we’re finished,” Muschietti says.

While subsidies have been cut, Spain’s 18% tax break has survived.

“Producers should hire lawyers to perform in-depth analyses of all possible tax exemptions,” says Xavier Parache at Gate Media, a film finance consultancy and packager.

Filmmakers have proved adept at tying down tax incentives. Guerra tapped the Canary Islands’ 38% tax deduction for “Grand Piano,” production company Antartida mined Belgian tax coin for Bigas Luna’s “Second Origin.”

“Belgium’s tax regime could serve as an example for Spain,” Antartida’s Oscar Rodriguez says.

An advantage in tough times, genre doesn’t demand a conspicuous cast, Filmax chair Julio Fernandez argues. So budgets can focus on attracting top-drawer technicians.

Catalonia has these in droves, many of whom are Escac film school alums.

Described by Variety as “the most harrowing disaster movie in many a moon,” Toronto hit “The Impossible,” with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, boasts a Catalan director — Juan Antonio Bayona — and Barcelona-based editors, sound-designer, make-up artists and second-unit director.

Spain’s top 2012 grossers have Catalan co-producers: El Toro and Ikiru on toon pic “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” ($14.6 million through Sept. 26, and counting) and Zeta Cinema for teen meller “I Want You” ($15.25 million).

In striking contrast, Catalonia’s other prestige brand, left-of-field arthouse movies — think Jose Luis Guerin, Marc Recha — look set to take a much bigger crisis hit.

“Arthouse cinema is creatively vigorous and industrially sick,” says Luis Minarro at Barcelona’s Eddie Saeta, its principal Spanish producer.

“Micro-budget movie numbers will grow, but won’t create or maintain an industry. Spanish movies’ festival presence will dwindle.”

Catalonia’s ranks of genre auteurs may, however, swell.

“Films should learn techniques from mainstream movies, but always have ideas that matter,” says David Victori, winner of the Venice YouTube Your Films Festival, who’s now prepping a $500,000 movie, produced by Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender.

Few Catalan genre maestros would disagree with him, crisis or no crisis.

Cream of Catalan crop
Pics in the pipeline

“Don’t Cry, Fly”
Arcadia Motion Pics/Wanda Vision
Golden Bear winner Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”) directs a story about a mysterious healer; in pre-production.
Sales: Dreamcatchers,

“An Enemy”
Roxbury Pics/Microscope/Rhombus Media/ Mecanismo Films
Jake Gyllenhaal plays a teacher who discovers his exact look-alike on a rented DVD. Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) helms.
Sales: Pathe.

“Grand Piano”
Nostromo Pics/Antena 3 Films/Telefonica Prods.
Elijah Wood and John Cusack topline, Eugenio Mira (“The Birthday”) directs. A psychopath forces a retired piano master back on stage; shooting.
Sales: The Solution Entertainment Group

“A Gun in Each Hand”
Imposible Films
Cesc Gay’s ensemble comedy with Eduard Fernandez, Ricardo Darin, Luis Tosar.
Sales: The Match Factory.

“Last Days”
Morena/A3 Films/Rebellion Terrestre/Les Films du Lendemain
People around the world succumb to agoraphobia with apocalyptic results. David and Alex Pastor (“Carriers”) directs; Leticia Dolera, Quim Gutierrez star.

“Mama”
Universal Intl./Toma 78/Demilo Prods.
Guillermo del Toro exec produces Andy Muschietti’s debut, with Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster Waldau, about a couple raising young nieces and nephews found in a forest.

“El Nino”
Ikiru Cinema/El Toro Pics/ Telecinco Cinema/Vaca Films/La Ferme
Daniel Monzon (“Cell 211″) directs a drug-trade action thriller about the exploits of a small-time trafficker, written by Jorge Gerricaechevarria. In pre-production.
Sales: Studiocanal.

“Puzzlement”
Escandalo Films
Soph pic from Mar Coll (“Three Days With the Family”). A middle-age woman struggles to mend her life after a serious accident. Barcelona young talent hothouse Escandalo produces.

“Rec 4: Apocalypse”
Filmax
Buzzed about finale — maybe? — to the franchise from Catalan horror-meister Jaume Balaguero. Advanced development.

“The Returned”
Filmax/Ramaco
Manuel Carballo (“Exorcismus”) directs from a script by Hatem Khraiche (“The Hidden Face”) about a nurse seeking to return zombies to a human state. Kris Holden-Ried, Emily Hampshire and Claudia Bassols star; shooting.

“Second Origin”
Antartida Prods.
Auteur Bigas Luna directs $11 million 3D pic, a postapocalypse Adam and Eve parable, adapting Manuel de Pedrolo’s bestseller. Shoot skedded late 2012.

“Son of Cain”
Life & Pictures
A psychologist treats a psychopathic child. Sergio Barrejon’s debut from a script by YouTube Your Film Festival winner David Victori. Jose Coronado, Maria Molins topline.

“Tasting Menu”
Zentropa Spain
Roger Gual (“Smoking Room”) directs a romantic ensemble comedy celebrating love, food and Mediterranean life.
Sales: TrustNordisk.

“Who Killed Bambi?”
Rodar & Rodar
Screwball comedy from scribe-helmer Santi Amodeo (“Doghead”). Two friends accidently kidnap his father; in pre-production.

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