Spain tackles a wide range of genres

Locals place their stamp on Hollywood styles

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, director of “28 Weeks Later,” sits in Madrid’s Palace Hotel, waxing enthusiastic about his next movie — “a genre-film exploration of belief and persuasion.”

The Spaniard’s career has come full circle: from Oscar-shortlisted “Links” and “Intacto,” both made in Spain, to “28 Weeks Later,” produced out of London, to “Wednesday,” once set up at DreamWorks.

Now he’s back in Spain, where many of his colleagues look to be heading after international tours of duty, making genre-oriented movies with crossover appeal.

“We have enough experience to work with Hollywood, but working from here,” Fresnadillo says.

This decade, especially in the last three years, Spanish genre fare — encompassing horror, thrillers, sci-fi, actioners, even epics — has become a brand, resonating with buyers and audiences worldwide.

“Some of Europe’s most exciting talent comes out of Spain,” says Alexandra Rossi, VP, Paramount Worldwide Acquisitions Group. “(Ghost stories) ‘The Others’ and ‘The Orphanage’ can work for different kinds of audiences: They have genre elements and they’re emotional, very sophisticated.”

Genre movies have become proven moneymakers: Juan Antonio Bayona’s “Orphanage” grossed $85 million; Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a horror/fantasy filmed in Spain, raked up $40 million in the U.S. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s zombie shockfest “REC” attracted buyers worldwide.

Traditionally, genre pics have been produced out of Spain and sold to the U.S. (“Labyrinth,” “Orphanage”) or made by U.S. companies handling Spanish distribution (Warner Bros./New Line’s “The New Daughter”).

A decade ago, when the majors began entering local production, they focused on indigenous films’ local potential. Of the U.S. studios, Warner Bros. has the most evolved and active local production presence in Spain, usually handling Spanish theatrical and DVD distribution, including that of “Labyrinth,” “Orphanage” and Alex de la Iglesia’s “The Oxford Murders.”

“We co-produce, produce some films 100%, some 50%, and look at others to distribute when they’re completed,” says Simona Benzakein, Warner VP of European Prods.

But now, Europe and the U.S. are increasingly exploring joint-ventures on international projects to manage risk and deliver A-list films at more realistic prices to depressed markets.

“A lot of the talent, certainly Amenabar and Bayona, are developing their own material, bringing it to the international marketplace and retaining control,” says Rossi. “For directors, that’s a smart move.”

“There are more directors who can shoot in English with an international visual style,” adds Fernando Bovaira of Mod Prods., one of the producers behind Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora,” an epic set in Roman-occupied Egypt that’s considered one of the hotter properties available for U.S. distribution at Cannes.

Obliged by law since 1999 to put 5% of annual revenues into European films, Spain’s biggest broadcast networks, Telecinco and Antena 3 TV, have become Spain’s mini-majors.

Telecinco almost fully financed “Pan’s Labyrinth” against Spanish and some international rights. The film set the tenor for much Telecinco production: genre films by auteurs for mass audiences.

“Spanish broadcasters’ backing more ambitious projects has helped us think of other types of stories and financing structures,” says Apaches’ Belen Atienza. “Spanish technical standards have climbed as directors take on more ambitious projects.”

Fresnadillo says he sees his future on both sides of the Atlantic. He and Apaches’ Enrique Lopez Lavigne are in early discussions to develop a makeover of “X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes,” set up at MGM.

“In Hollywood, you can access challenging projects,” says Fresnadillo. “In Spain, you have far greater freedom. Your own culture feeds your inspiration. The ideal solution is to combine both worlds.”

Luis Berdejo agrees. Currently editing “The New Daughter,” his next project is the Spanish-made  “Jennifer Can.” “For all of us, Guillermo del Toro is a great example of somebody who makes movies everywhere, combining big budgets with smaller, more personal movies,”  he says.

Berdejo failed to find a Spanish producer for his feature debut. That’s unlikely to happen these days.

“A generation of producers has emerged in Spain that can maneuver through the maze of international film markets,” says Ghislain Barrois, head of Telecinco Cinema.

“Latin directors normally come to the table with production teams,” says Fresnadillo, citing Mexico’s Cha Cha Cha and Spain’s Apaches.

“There are many ways we can work with these directors, hiring them on our projects, or financing  their projects, taking distribution, international sales or U.S. remake rights,” says Rossi. “Spanish genre films are often highly adaptable.”

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