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Los Cabos: LA Panda, Bad Boy Billy Prods’ Axel Shalson Launch Latino Film Fund (EXCLUSIVE)

Bringing an U.S. model to a Latin American soft-money scenario, partners cross film finance borders with novel investment scenario

MEXICO CITY — Los Angeles-based LA Panda and Axel Shalson at Bad Boy Billy Productions are launching a pioneering equity fund to invest in Latin American and U.S. Latino movies of both festival and commercial potential.

To be presented this week at Los Cabos by LA Panda’s Pau Brunet and Jana Díaz, where they will begin to scout for potential investments, the fund is looking to invest in and co-produce five-to-six quality Latin movies over 2018 to 2022.

It will put up to $500,000 in each movie, which should have a Latin director – from Latin America or the U.S. – or a strong Latin component. Film budgets should be up to $2 million, and at least 40%-50% of their financing in place through public funds and/or pre-sales.

It seems particularly apt that Díaz and Brunet will launch their fund at Los Cabos, a crossroads fest-meet for Latin, U.S. and Canadian movies. Simplified, two film finance models have flowered worldwide. The U.S. model mixes equity coin, distribution MGs and international pre-sales.

In Europe, where movies are treated as culture and are often  social-themed, producers pair public-sector incentives and domestic TV pre-sales, which cover the lion’s share of the budget, often discounted via low-interest bank loan facilities. Domestic distribution or international sales agents’ pick-up covers any financing gap.

Grosso modo, Latin America has adopted a European model, supplemented by tax break schemes in key counties such as Mexico and Brazil.

Fittingly for LA Panda, a Los Angeles-based production house with Spanish ex-pat producer partners, its new fund with Shalson, as Díaz observed, aims to meld elements from both models, in finance and film types.

An equity fund looking for a return on investment, the fund is especially interested in international co-productions – in order to benefit from public subsidies and other financial resources, according to Brunet and Díaz.

“We want to make ‘movies that matter’ – showcasing stories that haven’t been told before and that portray populations that don’t have a lot of representation in our media,” said Shalson, a queer/HIV/education activist-tech entrepreneur who, moving into the movie production sector, has also backed Rodrigo Bellott’s “Tu me manques” with Oscar Martinez and Rossy de Palma.

“Having said that—we want to make films that people see, and that are commercially successful as well,” Sheldon clarified, adding that “commercially successful” “doesn’t mean it has to make $20 million or $100 million dollars – in fact, I’d rather make a movie that cost $2 million and brings in $5 million!”

Movies instanced by Díaz and Brunet as examples of titles they would have been very interested in investing in include Anna Muylaert’s “The Second Mother,” Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman,” a Berlin and San Sebastian winner, and now Chile’s Oscar entry, and Julia Solomonoff’s “Nobody’s Watching,” a LA Panda co-production drawing down finance from public funds in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, as well as investment from Spain the U.S. and France.

“Nobody’s Watching” has had a healthy life in festivals and theatrical releases in Argentina and the U.S. with Colombia and Brazil in November, and openings pending in France and Spain.

Ratcheting down risk, “we would push whatever project we’re interested in to have as many co-producers as possible,” Brunet said. “Our goal is to make sustainable films, which allow their makers to make another one afterwards,” he added.

The LA Panda-Shalson fund launches as Latin American production levels have never been higher. National feature films released in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica, rose 29% to 703 over just four years from 2012 to 2016, according to the Cannes Film Market’s study, World Film Market Trends. In such a context, the fund can allow films not only to get made, but, bolstering the budgets and sometimes investing at the crucial stage of development, to be made better.

The investors are interested in working with directors who, having made one or two films, and want to take their careers to another level. “Another of our emphases is also looking for new directors, LGBT creative teams and women filmmakers,” Díaz said.

She added: “We have consolidated our position in L.A. as Spanish filmmakers with a history of working with Latin filmmakers. This is something we can do, we have the knowledge. Now we’ve been lucky enough to find an investor who shares our perspectives and goals and believes in the creative and economic potential of Latin films.”

The fund’s launch follows Shalson’s collaboration on Spaniard Carlos Marques-Marcet’s “Anchor & Hope,” his follow up to SXSW-winner “10,000 Km,” which world premiered in October at the London Film Festival. Produced by Lastor Media, Vennerfilm and LA Panda, it was co-financed by Shalson who also produced with Díaz, Brunet and Danielle Schleif.

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