At 15, Atresmedia cine, the movie production arm of Spanish broadcast giant Atresmedia, has become a crucial player in Spain’s film industry, helping to revolutionize the way moviemaking is conceived in the country.
Atresmedia Cine has made a virtue out of necessity, helping to create a paradigm for broadcast movie investment. Obliged by law since 1999 to invest at least 3% of Atresmedia group’s annual sales — reaching more than €273 million ($300 million) by 2013 — it has produced and financed over 100 features.
From its creation, as Ensueno Films in 2000, Atresmedia Cine has produced or co-produced Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”; the Clive Owen starrer “Intruders”; and “Red Lights” with Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver. The company has also backed Santiago Segura’s “Torrente” saga, Spain’s biggest film franchise and financed a litany of box office-friendly comedies such as Nacho Garcia Velilla’s 2014 hit “Off Course,” and boarded ambitious animated films such as Sony Pictures Worldwide’s “Planet 51” and Juan Jose Campanella’s “Underdogs.”
Atresmedia Cine’s far-ranging portfolio of productions, comprising seven to eight titles a year of different types, spreads economic risk.
“We don’t have the dimension to produce $100 million superhero movies, so we have to board thrillers, comedies, genre, some animated features, in line with the likes of the Spanish audience we target,” says Mikel Lejarza, Atresmedia Cine prexy.
After fulfilling its quota investment, whether Atresmedia Cine has turned a profit after 15 years of film investment is another question. As Lejarza points out, “for some time, we have stopped the bleeding.”
Since investment regulations force Spanish TV broadcasters to co-produce movies with independent producers, Atresmedia’s strategy rests on film-by-film alliances with some of Spain’s most resilient and successful producers, such as Nostromo, Atipica, Zeta Cinema and LaZona.
The entry of private broadcasters into film financing was a game changer for Spanish film production.
“We evolved from an auteur style of film, which was demanded by public broadcaster TVE, to producing a much more varied cinema,” says LaZona’s Gonzalo Salazar-Simpson.
Atresmedia’s promotion muscle also spurred the interest of major American distributors.
“This revolutionized even more Spanish cinema,” says Salazar-Simpson. “We now have films with the same high profile as international titles.”
“Atresmedia Cine has played a decisive role in changing local audiences’ perception of Spanish cinema,” says Nostromo’s Adrian Guerra. “Its bet on commercial films has boosted Spanish cinema’s viability and helped to clean up its image with the public.”
“Teaming with Atresmedia Cine, our projects can aspire to a much bigger release,” adds Atipica’s Jose Antonio Felez, whose four films co-produced to date with Atresmedia — Daniel Sanchez Arevalo’s “Family United,” Alberto Rodriguez’s “Marshland” and “El hombre de las mil caras” and David Serrano’s “Tenemos que hablar”— have been distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures Spain.
“We contribute financing, but also promotion and insight into the public’s tastes,” Lejarza says.
Per Francisco Ramos at Zeta Cinema, Atresmedia’s films lean toward the mainstream, but occasionally the company will take risks.
“(Atresmedia) does move out of (its) comfort zone with less conventional and very interesting proposals, such as film franchises or teen-oriented movies,” Ramos says.
Like many other top Spanish film industry decision-makers, Atresmedia Cine CEO Mercedes Gamero cut her career teeth working at Spanish paybox Canal Plus in the ’90s, forming part of a movie exec generation that believes in films with a certain social point or artistic quality and commercial value.
Reflecting the industrial sensibilities of Spain’s new film establishment, this combination has revolutionized box office and Spaniards’ take on their own film culture, she says.
“Atresmedia has an editorial line in which quality matters,” Gamero says. “We don’t produce content to gain audience, we produce quality content that commands audiences.”
Not coincidentally, Atresmedia partners regularly with well-known directors such as Fernando Gonzalez Molina, Velilla and Javier Ruiz Caldera, often called the new generation of filmmakers.
“They want to reach the public, entertain and provoke emotions,” says Gamero. “That allows a connection with audiences, a battle that Spanish TV fiction had already won many years ago.”
Atresmedia also supports new film talent. Some, such as Oriol Paulo (“The Body”), Jorge Dorado (“Mindscape”), Manuela Moreno (“Girls’ Night Out”) and Dani de la Torre (“Retribution”), have broken through to achieve industry recognition.
Atresmedia projects’ involvement has also evolved from pre-buying Spanish films TV rights to co-production. The company now develops its own feature projects often based on bestselling novelas from the deep rights catalog of parent publishing company Planeta.
Per Guerra, interest from major U.S. studios will open up enticing possibilities for Atresmedia Cine.
“Some movies are perceived as more exciting if they are shot in non-English language,” he says.