Through the roof

Soaring costs cripple homegrown output

In March, the Guadalajara Film Fest hosted the nation’s first pitch market, giving reps of undiscovered Mexican and Latin American projects face time with producers.

Many producers left with their wallets unopened. “Everything Mexican was extremely expensive,” says Dutch producer Ilse Hughan, who says the average budget for the 10 Mexican films in the pitch meet was $1.4 million. “Nobody makes movies that expensive in the rest of Latin America.”

To wit: The average for the 10 non-Mexican projects was $775,000. While three-quarters of a million dollars might seem a laughable difference by Hollywood standards, it’s big money south of the border — enough to keep the greenlight off, and enough potentially to cripple Mexico’s production scene.

Mexico, despite Latin America’s healthiest economy, is in a production morass, releasing less than 30 films last year, compared with more than 70 in economically ravaged Argentina. Despite bold predictions from Mexico’s film funding body Imcine, there’s little sign of impending improvement.

“The high costs of production here are a real problem,” says Eckehardt Von Damm, head of Televisa Cine.

When the budget goes above $1.3 million, it’s nearly impossible for a Mexican pic to recoup its costs at home, he adds.

One major problem is that Mexico’s unions charge the highest rates in Latin America.

“There were more people on the union catering staff for a Mexican commercial I shot than the entire crew for my last film, shot in Patagonia,” says Argentinean helmer Carlos Sorin. The $400,000 budget for “El perro” was less than the 30-second spot.

Others cite day-to-day costs of living expenses in Mexico, which has the region’s highest prices for food and transportation, not to mention services like film developing and studio time.

Others argue that Mexico’s cinematic ambitions are its real barrier to increased output. While South American projects have lately been unflashy stories — often without famous actors — Mexican film, heavily influenced by Hollywood, has tended to the grandiose and action packed.

Getting as basic as possible is the key, says producer Jaime Romandia, head of Manterraya Producciones, who has shot three films at an average cost of $680,000.

“The day Mexico understands it should be making movies like they’re doing in the rest of Latin America, it will start putting out 100 films a year,” he says. “Until then, we’re in trouble.”