Outsider’s guide to Spanish co-prod’n
1. At a business dinner, don’t pitch while you’re going through the restaurant door. Spaniards place high value on personal chemistry. Talk about your family and your passions before getting down to moolah.
2. Only Spain-based producers can tap Spanish subsidies.
3. Unlike France, co-productions with Spain have no language requirements. But that doesn’t mean that your Inuit-lingo sci-fi shoot-’em-up will loosen any coin.
4. Size up your potential partner’s domestic distrib clout. If they can’t release in Spain — and it’s an ever-tougher call — they might not be the best partner. “Co-prod partners should strengthen a film’s distribution and its media clout in your partner’s countries,” says Dygra prexy Manolo Gomez.
5. The latest gospel of Spanish co-prod regs can be found on http://www.mcu.es, but get that local partner to translate.
6. Ceilings/floors for co-prod participation: 80%/20% for bi-lateral and 10%/70% for multi-lateral accords but check exceptions. Spain contemplates financial co-productions with France and Germany.
7. Spain’s main co-production authority is the ICAA. Things that get its goat: co-prods where artistic and economic participation are hugely out of synch; an accumulation of minority or majority co-pros with the same country.
8. “Be original. Going for opposites can create something new,” says Eurimages executive secretary Renate Roginas, citing the Spain/Denmark Telespan/Nimbus co-prod, retro sex comedy “Torremolinos 73.”
9. Before jumping, phone a Spanish media lawyer. Several young guns can give generous brief advice — Sanchez Pintado & Nunez or Marta Garcia Leon.
10. The lingua franca of co-productions is English but pop in a few local expressions where appropriate. For example, “Comezamos a travallar?” (“Shall we start working together?” in Galician); “Moltes gracies. Ha estat un plaer” (Catalan for “Many thanks. A pleasure”).

MADRID — “Co-productions are like sex,” a German film fund head once said. “More people are doing it than you think but the people you imagine aren’t always doing it. And some people you’d never imagine are actually practicing rather a lot.”

Of Europe’s Big Five countries, the supposedly inward-looking U.K. is the biggest co-producer.

Bar Latin American auteur pic financing, Spain is hardly famed for co-production ardor. But in Cannes, Spain will attempt some serious co-production speed-dating, since its relationships with former partners, especially local TV nets, are rocky.

This can raise some challenges for Spain’s new co-production charge.

Spanish co-production output is fairly modest. In 2004, 41 or 33% of its 125 productions involved overseas companies. That compares to Italy’s 40% of 96 productions, France’s 36% of 203, Britain’s 64% of 132, and Germany’s 31% of 87.

But Spain is ramping up some big-hitters:

  • Vicente Aranda is shooting the e13.5 million ($17.3 million) Byzantine knight comedy “Tirante El blanco,” from Spain’s DeAPlaneta and Carolina, Italy’s Mikado and London’s Future Films.

  • Lolafilms has Luis Llosa’s “The Feast of the Goat” and Spanish mystic pic “Teresa” from Ray Loriga, both with Future Films; and Carlos Saura’s period drama “Lorenzo da Ponte,” about Mozart’s librettist, with Italy’s Istar and Austria’s Satel.

  • KanZaman is investing in “Minotaur,” having taken equity on “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Sahara.”

  • The $9.1 million “Cargo” set sail in March with Peter Mullan and Daniel Bruehl on board and Clive Gordon at the helm, with backers Morena, Oberon and Vaca from Spain, the U.K.’s Slate and Sweden’s Hepp.

  • Spain still backs high-profile Latin America art co-productions. For example, Wanda is behind Daniel Burman’s “Derecho de familia,” Fernando Perez’s “Madrigal” and Claudia Llosa’s “Madeinusa.”

Co-production motives vary: DeAPlaneta’s “Tirante” involvement underscores new international ambitions. For KanZaman prexy Denise O’Dell, “Co-productions allow you to work with fantastic people on fantastic films.”

But two co-prod lines are emerging: Historical event pics and upscale mid-range movies.

Big-budget pics — by Spanish standards — invite co-production. Few Spanish shingles are rash or rich enough to solo a double-digit project.

Producers of middling, quality fare — Continental, Zebra, Mediapro, Tornasol — are looking to Europe for co-production coin on $3 million-$6 million projects.

This move plays off a larger picture. Ten years ago, TV powered Europe’s movie industry. But deregulation — satellite and now digital terrestrial TV — is curbing broadcasters’ core-channel growth margins in mature markets. Film ratings are tumbling so TV pickups skew increasingly commercial.

Spain is no exception.

Small-screen coin is toughening. After satcasters Sogecable and Via Digital merged in 2003, far fewer films clinch pay TV deals.

Telecinco and Antena 3 bet on crowd-pleasers. Per Spanish Academy estimates, TV coin dropped from 34% of Spanish films budgets in 2002, to 26% in 2004.

“International co-productions will become increasingly important,” says Continental co-prexy Pancho Casal. “Domestic finance has dropped 20%-30%. Even modestly ambitious films need 20% international financing.”

But TV film finance is hard to come by everywhere. Italy’s Mediaset and pubcaster RAI produce their own pics; Brit TV coin was not much more than $37.5 million in 2004; German broadcasters cherrypick B.O. hits; even Gallic Canal Plus’ pre-buys are increasingly mainstream.

Tight TV coin can nix rather than spark co-production. In 2002, Spain-Latin America co-prods surged to 29, rolling off low costs, Spanish pay TV money and international sales, but dropped to 16 by 2004, as pay coin contracted.

Co-productions posit a paradox: a lack of domestic TV coin both encourages and works against them.

Some scenarios square this circle: tax breaks, co-prod funds, big-name productions.

Lolafilms, BocaBoca, DeAPlaneta, Filmax, Mediapro and Zebra have struck co-production deals with U.K.’s Future Films, tapping 15%-20% of budget sales and leaseback/equity money.

In 2004, 13 Spanish projects received coin from Ibermedia, a Latin American co-prod fund. Eight Euro co-prods accessed an aggregate $4 million in conditionally repayable Eurimages money.

In March, the Audiovisual Consortium of Galicia, Catalonia’s ICIC film board and Argentina’s INCAA Film Institute launched the Raices tripartite co-production fund, with a first-year total of $585,000.

Raices may well be extended to other countries or Spanish regions.

The Consortium is evaluating the creation of a second Europe-based fund.

“Co-production is one clear growth model, as long as it does not represent a flight of moneys from Galicia to other film territories,” says consortium director Ignacio Varela.

Per director Xavier Marce, the creation of further international co-production funds is an ICIC priority.

Spanish and German producers are parlaying a joint co-production fund.

“It’s very important, allowing films beyond those that attract commercial broadcaster finance,” says Zebra’s Antonio Saura.

Market forces still influence co-prods, however.

“We’ll see increasingly fewer projects — very big projects with household names attracting money in several countries — because of distributors and broadcasters’ attitudes,” says Morena’s co-CEO Juan Gordon.

“Tax money aims to turn a profit,” says Casal. “We’re not talking about abandoning film as culture, but we must reach wider audiences.”

For all the talk of soft money, co-productions are unlikely to dull the hardening commercial edge of much European filmmaking.