Dubbing pain in Spain

Catalonia pushes studios for subtitled prints

MADRID — Hollywood’s studios have a new headache in Spain.

Catalonia, one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, is threatening regulations to push U.S. majors to release movies in subtitled prints rather than dubbing them.

To encourage take-up, the region will tax movies that are dubbed and it will demand that 50% of all those prints be dubbed into Catalan.

The tax and quotas are among 50 points in a wide-ranging Film in Catalonia draft law.

The Catalan government regards them as a question of modernization — countries Catalans admire, such as Denmark, subtitle rather than dub films — and of principle.

Most people in Catalonia speak both Spanish and Catalan but only 2% of movies are screened in Catalan.  

The new regulations allow Catalans to choose the language in which they watch movies, Culture Minister Joan Manuel Tresserras argued Tuesday.

The regulations leave Hollywood in a quandary.

Subtitling is far cheaper than dubbing, which costs e50,000 ($63,000) or more per film, while a print from the dubbed film costs $1,300. But subtitled films attract much smaller audiences. Local film fans, as in Germany, prefer their blockbusters dubbed.

Boasting Barcelona as its capital, Catalonia repped 21% of Spain’s film market in 2008.

According to one U.S. distributor, Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” took a five-times better print average screened in Spanish vs.Catalan.

Catalan exhibitors oppose the new regulations. “Box office will fall 70% at cinemas showing Catalan-language prints,” one said.

The Catalan government attempted to force through 50% dubbing quotas in 1998, but backed down after the studios threatened to boycott distribution in Catalonia.

Another possible outcome is that the studios and the Catalan government will end up partnering on the digitalization of Catalonia’s theaters, said one source.

Digital cinemas would facilitate movie screenings in subtitled versions, or dubbed into Catalan or Spanish.