DeAPlaneta ramps up for higher-profile pix

'Wrong' co. nabbed films starring Lopez, Bullock

MADRID — In a sign of the times for Spain’s pressured distribution sector, Spanish indie distrib DeAPlaneta is moving into buying bigger titles.

Recent acquisitions include Jennifer Lopez starrer “An Unfinished Life,” from Initial; the Focus-sold “Prime,” with Sandra Bullock; and Sundance hit “Open Water” from Lions Gate. More — and bigger — pickups are likely to follow.

In January, DeAPlaneta launched its own stand-alone theatrical distrib op, starting with “Wrong Turn.” DeAPlaneta formerly had a subdistribution agreement with UIP.

The Barcelona-based distribbery buys from sales agents such as Summit, Initial, Focus, Lions Gate, Capitol, Celluloid Dreams and Fortissimo. “In the midterm, DeAPlaneta would like to establish a stable relationship with some of these suppliers,” says topper Agusti Mezquida.

A joint venture of giant press/video publishers DeAgostini in Italy and the Planeta Group in Spain, DeAPlaneta kicked off low-profile acquisition of mainly arthouse fare in the late ’90s. But it has been moving into higher-profile pics, starting with Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” which cumed a healthy x7.8 million ($9.4 million). Now, per Mezquida, there’s only one way to go: upward, since arthouse films can be problematic in the marketplace.

“Most arthouse titles don’t perform well theatrically, and only really do well in DVD/VHS sell-through, if especially well packaged. TV sales are scant on art films,” Mezquida says. Spain’s distrib business model is starting to rely on larger titles.

Ratings for movies on free TV are tumbling — no film appeared in the top 30 broadcasts in Spain last year, cooling broadcasters’ appetites for movies. Overstocked after its July merger with Via Digital, Sogecable has drastically slowed down pickups of new films from indie distribs.

Theatrically, big titles are increasingly concentrating B.O. returns. Though slowed by piracy, DVD growth continues in Spain, with major distrib revenues climbing 8% in 2003 to $495.6 million.

But films need a high profile to cash in on the growth, say distribs. “More than 85% of the upside from a film now comes from theatrical and video/DVD,” Mezquida says. He is provisionally heading up the distrib after Adolfo Blanco left in January to create his own distrib shingle, ABL Augusta. Yolanda del Val is head of acquisitions; former UIP exec Manuel Ortiz has been tapped to head up theatrical distribution.

DeAPlaneta will still buy select European and Asian arthouse titles. “But they’ll be icing on the cake. The main acquisition thrust lies elsewhere,” Mezquida promises.