Market research is still a relatively new concept in much of Latin America. One exception is Brazil — a relatively mature market that churns out some 100 local pics every year — where prerelease tracking, test screenings and focus groups have become vital tools for a local pic’s release.

“I don’t know how I could have released films in the past without market research,” says Bruno Wainer of Brazilian distrib Downtown Filmes.

The only distrib devoted exclusively to distributing Brazilian pics, Downtown has been using the services of Boca a Boca, the country’s sole film marketing research company.

Wainer saw how useful focus groups were before releasing this year’s first big hit “De pernas pro ar” (Legs in the Air).

“Women thought its original title, ‘Sex delicia,’ sounded like an erotic film, so we changed it, and our entire marketing strategy as a result,” Wainer says.

“Producers and distributors are paying a lot more attention to market research, especially when producing films for young audiences,” says Pedro Butcher, editor of Brazilian film newsletter FilmeB. “Warner developed ‘The Best Things in the World’ with screenwriter Luiz Bolognesi and director Lais Bodansky based on detailed research.”

Set in Sao Paulo and based on the locally popular “Mano” book series, “Best Things” concerns a middle-class, 15-year-old boy struggling with sexuality and his parents’ divorce.

Boca a Boca founder Eric Mardoche Belhassen applies his experience as a genetics researcher in France to his five-year-old film market research business. He says the rules governing the statistics used to test a scientific hypothesis are similar to those used in a movie survey.

“We often say that art and science are opposites, which is not true,” Mardoche Belhassen says. “When a test gives statistical data showing that a film has to be changed, the artistic spirit must follow the scientific one.”

Belhassen’s clients include majors and indies mainly interested in testing the water for local pics, although there are exceptions. For example, he helped local indie Paris Filmes test two trailers for Aussie helmer Alister Grierson’s 3D cave-diving movie “Sanctum,” produced by James Cameron.

Elsewhere in Latin America, the majors employ market research mainly for local or specialized releases, since blockbusters come prepackaged.

“Fox does not hire formal research in Latin America,” says Martha Cavalheiro, VP of marketing for 20th Century Fox Latin America, based in Fox’s Mexico City regional headquarters. “In some very specific cases, we do test our films and/or materials before openings. But that doesn’t happen often and, when it does, the companies are hired by our offices in L.A. as part of a bigger global study conducted in several different territories.”

However, producers across Latin America are growing increasingly aware of the value of market research.

Venezuelan filmmaker Haik Gazarian edited his debut feature “Venezzia” after local distrib Cines Unidos test-screened it. The cuts seemed to have worked, as the historical romantic drama has won 21 awards on the fest circuit.