DeAPlaneta prez leads by standing solid

Zapata: Challenge is to ensure well-positioned group capitalizes on its name

MADRID — Alvaro Zapata, the 47-year-old exec prexy of producer-distributor DeAPlaneta since September, is famed as a tough but open-minded negotiator who likes taking the initiative.

He now has a unique opportunity.

Launched in 2000, DeAPlaneta enjoys powerful fundamentals — co-ownership by potent publishing groups, Spain’s Planeta and Italy’s DeAgostini. Planeta and DeAgostini control Spanish broadcaster Antena 3, easing key domestic TV sales.

Zapata’s a straight-talking guy. He’s got his ideas pretty straight too.

“My big challenge is to ensure that a well-positioned group that’s already got a name really capitalizes on this,” he says.

Since September, DeAPlaneta has increased its indie distribution muscle, moved powerfully into big-budget production, and huddled closer to the DeAgostini-owned Italian producer-distrib, Mikado.

Zapata began at production shingle Jose Frade in 1976, moved to Warner Bros.-owned distrib house Incine, then Lauren Films in 1982. He joined Buena Vista Intl. Spain in 1992 becoming VP, director of sales, deputy general director and exec producer.

He bucks the caution of the Spanish film industry, fitting for someone whose outdoorsy hobbies include canyoning and climbing. But then he can bargain from a position of strength.

“From the get-go, I told U.S. producers we weren’t interested in output or volume deals, but a good Spanish and U.S product mix and, if that weren’t possible, just Spanish films,” he says. “I think the message’s gotten through.”

Recent pic suppliers include Lions Gate (“Saw”), Initial (“An Unfinished Life”), Syndicate (“Coming Out”), Media 8 (“Man About Town”), Miramax (“The Brothers Grimm”), Beyond (“Things to Do Before You’re 30”) and Capitol (“Mistress of Spices”).

“From Zapata’s appointment, DeAPlaneta’s upped print runs, although it still hasn’t had a home hit,” says one market analyst.

“Sky Captain” ($2.7 million) tanked, as elsewhere. “Downfall” ($4.3 million) is a standout. “One Missed Call” ($1.7 million) was solid.

Zapata plays guitar and sings in Madrid clubs with his group, Stato’s Kuro.

He writes songs — for Los Secretos and folk artist Luis Eduardo Aute. His music features on five films’ soundtracks. Production is a natural passion.

At BVI Spain, Zapata persuaded Disney’s U.S. execs to co-produce Spanish movies. “They gave in from tiredness,” he says.

Disney’s Spanish pics were low-budgeters.

At DeAPlaneta, he’s raised the bar, taking equity in the $17  million English-lingo “Tirante El Blanco,” psychological horror pic “El anfitrion,” with Bocaboca, and palace skullduggery drama “La conjura de El Escorial,” with director-producer Antonio del Real.

Zapata was an air-traffic controller at 17. He’s a pilot and now piloting something much larger. But it’s doubtful if his heart’s missing a beat.