Axel Kuschevatzky: ‘Wild Tales,’ ‘Spanish Affair’ and The Rise of the Local Blockbuster

Telefonica Studios director analyzes a crucial international market development

Director of Telefonica Studios, Axel Kuschevatzky used to be one of Argentina’ highest profile – and passionate – film journalists. The passion remains. Now, however, he helps many of the Argentina’s – and Spain – highest-profile films get made, making a virtue out of a necessity: TV quotas in both countries obliging TV operators – the part-Telefonica-owned Telefe in Argentina’s case, for example – to invest in domestic movies. Via Telefe, Telefonica Stidios has already co-produced “The Secret of their Eyes,” “Foosball” and “Wild Tales.” In Spain, Telefonica Studios co-productions take in Alejandro Amenabar’s “Regression” and animation blockbuster “Tad, the Lost Explorer.” With Spain’s Telefonica buying up Spanish pay box Canal Plus and Telefonica’s ownership of pay TV operations across much of Latin America, it seems only a question of when and how and where Telefonica Studios ups the ante even more in film and TV content investment.

In a guest column for Variety, Kuschevatzky reflects on a key makeover in internatinal markets

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It seems kind of obvious: The film landscape is evolving, changing into something completely new. There are new habits and new ways to relate to content. And yet the system keeps giving the same old answers to new questions.

In the last ten years Hollywood’s studios cut down yearly production from near 30 films to less than 15 on average, drifting away from mid-size features and focusing on either tentpoles or tadpoles, from expensive superheroes sagas to found-footage low-budget horror films. The search for the perfect global feature is highly logical as studios need to maximize admissions while dealing with different tastes in different regions. Franchises, sequels, prequels, adaptations of video games, TV shows and comic books are required mainly because of a worldwide pre-awareness factor. This strategy had a side effect – the movie targeting adults became a rarity. An endangered species with no action figures attached, no park rides, not even (GASP!) sequels… the studio approach created a gap: Only a handful of players kept making the mid-size movies, the kind that were perceived as “independent” fifteen years ago. But then that gap had a different outcome outside the U.S. – the rise of the local blockbuster. In Spain and Latin America, we have seen this happening every year with local hits landing spots in the top ten.

This year gave us the chance to analyze how local product is elevating itself over global features. Crisis-struck Spain has been challenged with devastating taxes, out of control piracy and diminishing returns. But even with such a grim scenario, local production is having its biggest year since the late ‘60s. One single movie – “Ocho Apellidos Vascos” (Spanish Affair) – became a runaway hit (over $77 million in box office gross), pushing (along with “Torrente 5,” “El Niño”, “Marshland” and “Mortadelo y Filemon contra Jimmy El cachondo”) the Spanish-produced market share to new highs. Figures jumped from 13.9% in 2013 to a projected more-than-20% in 2014.

In Argentina “Wild Tales” outperformed in a similar way, breaking every single record in history for a local film, ranking just below “Titanic” and “Ice Age 4” as the most watched film ever with 3.4 million admissions. Both films, “Ocho Apellidos Vascos” and “Wild Tales”, were the 2014 top performers in their respective countries. And both had also similar tools: studio distribution (Universal in the case of “Ocho…” and Warner Bros. in “Wild Tales”), co-production with some of the leading TV networks (Telecinco in Spain and Telefe in Argentina) lending generous on-air promotion, and last but not least both were comedies commenting the state of affairs.

And this is happening not only in Madrid or Buenos Aires: local features in Korea, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Mexico are making more and more room for themselves in spite of the global product.

In Latin America stars like Ricardo Darin, Guillermo Francella, Stefan Kramer, Carlos Alcantara or Eugenio Derbez are selling many more tickets than their Hollywood counterparts. Call it “bollywoodization” if you wish, echoing a market where homegrown talent and product is driving consumption. Is this the Achilles´ heel of the Studio business? Not so fast: executives are following this cultural shift and banking on local production more than ever, even becoming equity partners. Some would say this is the triumph of the Third World over developed countries, but I prefer to call it evolution.

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