Distribs load up with niche titles

The lowdown on indie companies

MADRID — Pay TV purchases little from Spain’s independent distribution houses. Free-to-air operators are generally buying fewer titles for less money. But Spain’s independent distribs still will be scouring Cannes for titles.

Specialty buyers hope that TVE, under new director Manuel Perez Estremera, will be seeking more Euro artpics. Larger mainstream outfits believe that Antena 3 will continue buying their big U.S. movies for primetime slots, and that new analog webs — led by Sogecable’s proposed channel — will require a lot of product.

“We’re accumulating titles, hoping that the new free-to-air nets will create more options,” confirms Tot Media G.M. manager Marcel Jasse.

All independent distribs hope that cable, broadband pay TV and burgeoning local channels will boost ancillary outlets.

Meanwhile, distributors survive hand to mouth. “(Distribs) are bowing 10 films more (a year) than normal to maintain payments to sales agents, but we can’t make upfront payments against hypothetical returns that often don’t materialize,” says Baditri prexy Antoni Badimon.

But that hasn’t stopped new ones from launching and vets from fighting for market share. Variety runs down the indies:

New kids on the block

The mainstream movie buyer launched in September, backed by publishing conglom the Zeta Group. It also is a film-TV producer. Vet distrib Gerardo Silva serves as director of film and video; Elisa Martin de Blas is director of acquisitions.

Pickups: “Hotel Rwanda,” from Lions Gate; Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Fragil”

Created by vet film and TV execs Adolfo Blanco and Jose Maria Irisarri, it was launched at San Sebastian in September. Notro focuses on popular arthouse/crossover pics. It is entering into the production side of the biz (“Quixotic”), and is prepping its own theatrical bookings and collection ops.

Pickups: “Super Size Me,” “One Missed Call 2” and a trio of Shochiku titles; handling Spain and international on Filmanova pics “Live-in Maid” and “It’s Not You, It’s Me”

Venture was launched by Antoni Badimon, ex-deputy GM at distrib Lauren, at AFM. It plans to acquire four to five titles a year.

Pickups: French comedy “Le plus beau jour de ma vie” and Jose Roberto Torero’s Brazilian laffer “Manual for Love Stories”

Spain’s main independent distributors

Spain’s top independent distributor for the past three years, Aurum has been owned by Canada’s Alliance Atlantis Motion Pictures Distribution since spring 2004. It handled “The Lord of the Rings” pics and “The Passion of the Christ.” Under general manager Alberto Canizares, Aurum has focused on distribution — coordinating buys with Alliance’s U.K. arm, Momentum — and launched a DVD division, and exited international sales.

Recent Pickups: Peter Hyams’ “Sound of Thunder” and “Just Friends”

2004 Market share: 4.8%

The local distribution and international sales arm of pay TV giant Sogecable, Sogepaq specializes in Spanish cinema, relying on a library of 5,500-plus titles.

Recent Pickups: “20 Centimeters,” “The Sea Inside” and “What a Feeling!,” were released via Warner Sogefilms, which teams Warner Bros. and Sogecable

Market share: 4.2%

Led by chairman Julio Fernandez, Filmax is one of Spain’s most important integrated film and TV groups. Already a production and international sales force, it — via Sogedasa — set new company B.O. records with Lakeshore-acquired “Million Dollar Baby” ($15.3 million through April 24).

Recent Pickups: “Aeon Flux,” “88 Minutes”

Market share: 3.1%

An arm of Alta Films, Alta Classics is Spain’s biggest arthouse distrib, overseeing around 35 titles annually. It also produces local pics and controls 150-plus theaters. It had a strong start in 2005 with “Les Choristes” ($9.1 million) and Spanish soccer comedy “The Longest Penalty in the World” ($6.3 million).

Recent Pickups: Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” Robert Guediguian’s “Le promeneur du champs de Mars”

Market share: 2.3%

Headed by brothers Felipe and Luis Ortiz, and Jose Hueva, Tripictures buys select, often star-driven titles. It has an output deal with New Line. This year looks solid so far with “Alexander” ($14.1 million) and “Blade: Trinity” ($6.3 million and still counting).

Recent Pickups: “The Upside of Anger,” “Keeping Mum”

Market share: 2%

Under new, energetic exec prexy Alvaro Zapata, it’s become one of Spain’s most aggressive buyers. Backed by two deep-pocketed publishers — Spain’s Planeta Group and Italy’s DeAgostini — DeAPlaneta teams with broadcaster Antena 3 on pickups. It also is emerging as a top Spanish producer.

Recent Pickups: “An American Haunting,” “Lucy in the Sky,” “Coming Out,” “One for the Ages,” “Mistress of Spices” and “Outlander”

Market share: 1.3%

For the last two years, Manga’s market share has been dropping, from 2.5% in 2003 to 1.3% last year. But its B.O. slump has been off-set by a strong DVD operation, which looks set to represent its core business in the future. It is plowing into production via unit Media Films, which has Bigas Luna’s return “Yo soy La Juani.”

Recent Pickups: “A Different Loyalty,” “The Merchant of Venice”

Market share: 1.3%

Under prexy Andres Martin, Vertigo releases 15-20 arthouse pics a year with ever-increasing budgets.

Recent acquisitions: “Breakfast on Pluto,” “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and “Last Days”

Market share: 0.9%

This production, distribution and international sales company is topped by CEO Jose Maria Morales and director Miguel Morales. It usually distribs social-issue pics, mainly Latin American co-productions. But it does acquire films from Europe, too.

Recent Pickups: BBC docu “Planet Earth”

Market share: 0.6%

Boutique op directed by Pamplona partners Pedro Zaratiegui and Josetxo Moreno, Golem specializes in fest pics from around the globe.

Recent Pickups: Cannes competition movies “Manderlay”; “Hidden”; and “Free Zone,” which it co-produced; and Un Certain Regard player “The Bow”

Market share: 0.6%

Spain’s top indie distributor in the ’80s and ’90s suspended payments in June, having been Miramax’s preferential distributor in Spain and seen its main Spanish pay TV buyer, Via Digital, disappear. Operation is down, but not out, having divested itself of its theaters.

Recent Pickups: “Shooting Dogs,” “Pobby & Dingan,” “Candy,” “Man to Man”

Market share: 0.5%