Film sector turns to fiction TV production

Production houses find work in smallscreen projects

New reign in spain | Film sector turns to TV | Mid-budget films feel the squeeze | Case studies

Key Spanish movie shingles are diversifying into TV production.

For many, it’s a question of survival in hard times as the world financial crisis and dramatic changes in film business are threatening the viability of local film companies.

Approved in March, Spain’s new General Audiovisual Law reduces TV operators’ film investment obligations from 5% to 3% of revenues and forces them to plough at least 2% into TV movies, TV series or miniseries.

Spain’s broadcasters, longtime driving forces behind the Spanish film industry, can now spend less on feature film production, dedicating more to in-house TV fiction, whose profitability has built a solid indie TV production industry in Spain.

Meanwhile, the country’s main film fund, managed by the ICAA Spanish film institute, looks to be cut in the 2011 national budget, now under negotiation.

On top of it all, access to bank credit facilities is limited, and broadcasters’ film investment policies have yet to be clarified.

“Given the film financing crisis, movie production companies need to diversify revenues,” says Morena Films producer Juan Gordon.

“Although some shows tank, local TV fiction has consolidated an audience. There’s a more stable market there than in the film industry,” argues pubcaster TVE fiction director Fernando Lopez Puig.

“Indie companies need to offer a wider range of production possibilities. The business model based on a single production speciality may be obsolete,” adds vet film producer Antonio Saura.

Saura teamed in 2003 with TV producer Jose Velasco to cover the whole arc of fiction via Zebra Producciones. Zebra produces primetime docu-reality “Asturianos por el mundo,” for Asturias TPA, plus dating show “Next” and coaching format “Fiona te necesito” for Antena 3 channels Neox and Nova, respectively.

Moves into TV underscore the multiple upsides of TV production, in terms of both risk, revenues and artistic respect.

Foreseeing a movie production slowdown, conglom Vertice 360 sought from 2007 the security of commissioned TV production to counterbalance exposure to the more volatile film market.

Via subsid Notro TV, Vertice has built stable links with Antena 3, for which it produces primetime dramedy “Doctor Mateo” and has finished period miniseries “La princesa de Eboli,” toplining Belen Rueda.

Morena, co-producer of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” and local B.O. hit “Cell 211,” decided last year to expand cautiously into TV.

Rodar y Rodar, producers of hit “The Orphanage” and the UPI-co-produced chiller “Julia’s Eyes,” tested the miniseries market this year with Mar Targarona’s social drama “Ojo por ojo,” made for pubcasters TV3 and TVE.

Zentropa Spain, the Spanish arm of Lars von Trier’s Zentropa Entertainment, made its debut with miniseries “Alakrana.” Written by Alex de la Iglesia co-scribe Jorge Guerricaechevarria, “Alakrana” preems on Telecinco in this fall.

Usually budgeted around €1.5 million ($2.0 million), two-seg miniseries have become one of Spain’s most in-demand primetime formats. Using upfront funding, financing is far less risky.

“Unlike feature films, the TV movie-financing model grants producers 15% of budgets,” says Juan Romero, founder of shingle Mecanismo Films.

“Especially in difficult times, TV movies allow larger liquidity, with a gap of only three-to-four months maximum between payments and collections,” adds Romero, who’s created a TV movies/miniseries division at Mecanismo, starting with air disaster thriller “Vuelo IL8714,” broadcast on Telecinco.

The new Audiovisual Law extends 5% investment obligation to nearly all private TV channels. This affects Spain’s pay TV players, who are starting to follow in HBO’s footsteps, ploughing into series production.

Over the years, Spanish filmmakers have shrugged off prejudices towards TV. Now, as in the U.S. market, they increasingly cross the blurring border between film and TV production.

Turner feevee TNT produced this year Spain’s first original pay TV drama, “Entre todas las mujeres,” by helmer Mariano Barroso (“Washington Wolves”), teaming with Barroso’s shingle Kasbah.

Mod Producciones’ Fernando Bovaira, producer of Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora” and “The Sea Inside,” is making social-issue skein “Crematorio” for Prisa pay box Canal Plus. Skein is directed by Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo (“The Night of the Sunflowers”).

Screenwriter-director David Trueba (“The Good Life”) is also prepping an untitled TV comedy for CP.

The biggest demand for inhouse TV content comes from DTT services operated by already established TV companies such as Neox or Telecinco’s LaSiete. This represents another, as-yet modest revenue source for producers.

Ten new DTT services launch shortly. TV ad investment is recovering. Both rep hope for filmmakers relocating from Spain’s troubled film biz.