Hollywood studios are putting the pedal to the metal on film co-production in Spain, and finding the fruit of a global strategy of deeply embedding into local film industries.

The Hollywood majors’ interest comes as the local market share for Spanish movies shot up to new highs of 25.5% in 2014 and 19% last year.

Local indie distributors’ lack of financing muscle has also smoothed the path of the majors, which released 15 of the the top 20 highest-grossing Spanish titles in 2015. Paramount, Warner and Universal all scored their biggest domestic hits with Spanish fare, beating out heavy-hitters including “Jurassic World,” “American Sniper” and “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”

Breaking historical records, Mediaset España’s Telecinco Cinema-produced comedies “Spanish Affair” and “Spanish Affair 2,” distributed by Universal Pictures Intl. Spain, accumulated a combined $105 million B.O. over 2014-15.

“The economic recovery, coupled with improvements in anti-piracy, have made the market rebound,” says Pablo Nogueroles, director general, Warner Bros. Pictures Spain. “Local films have also benefited.”

“There is a new generation of Spanish filmmakers that is finding an audience interested in the stories they tell,” says Ivan Losada, managing director at Sony Pictures Spain.

Over the years, the Spanish film market has seen cyclical production activity by the studios; now they are increasing their role. “U.S. majors don’t want to stay out of local movie business as they stayed out of Spanish primetime drama production,” says Zeta Cinema producer Francisco “Paco” Ramos.

Per Nogueroles, “Warner is committed to strong and long-term local filmmaking and producing partnerships. While we are now investing more in local films, that is nothing new for us, as we have co-produced in the past and will certainly continue to do so.”

A pioneering major in strengthening local production ties beyond distribution, Warner’s recent co-productions include Fernando Gonzalez Molina’s successful period drama “Palm Trees in the Snow,” with Atresmedia Cine and Adrian Guerra’s Nostromo Pictures, which scored $19.1 million over 2015-16.

Upcoming WB Spanish releases for this year encompass Alberto Rodriguez’s spy pic “Smoke & Mirrors,” Nacho Garcia Velilla’s comedy “Villaviciosa de al lado” and Oriol Paulo’s thriller “The Invisible Guest.”
Per market estimations, some 15 Spanish film projects will be co-financed and distributed by U.S. majors in 2016.

Sony is one of the most active studios in Spanish film production. The arrival last year of Sanford Panitch as president of Sony Pictures Intl. Film and TV has undoubtedly boosted its interest in international production.

“Our bet is not motivated so much by what’s happening in the Spanish market as Sanford Panitch’s firm determination to become a major player in co-productions, that producers can knock the door with their projects,” Losada says.

Sony is co-producing Agustin Diaz Yanes’ conquistador epic “Oro” with Atresmedia Cine and Enrique Lopez Lavigne’s Apache Films, plus Maria Ripoll’s romcom “Don’t Blame Karma for Being a Jerk,” with Zeta Cinema, re-teaming with Ripoll and Zeta after 2015 hit comedy “It’s Now or Never” ($9.5 million).

U.S. studios now board film projects in earlier stages, and take multiple distribution rights outside Spain.

“What has changed is that U.S. majors’ international departments are aiming to become a larger part of the Spanish industry, [working with] the local film talent and they are not asking to change the Spanish-language of films, or maybe just to universalize some marketing aspects,” says producer Enrique Lopez Lavigne. “In the past, we related with them in a more superficial way. But now relationships are increasingly consolidating — it is a mutual learning curve.”

Sony follows two different models in Spain’s production sector.

“There are films which, by their nature, for commercial projection require more of a bet on co-production, others on distribution. We continue to be interested in both models, which can perfectly co-exist,” Losada says.

Before handling the “Spanish Affair” saga, Universal had already co-produced Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “Intruders,” starring Clive Owen, as well as Guillem Morales’ “Julia’s Eyes.”

Although part of their global aim, backing films in Spain also offers some extra advantages for U.S. majors, such as the marketing muscle offered by private free-to-air TV broadcasters Mediaset España and Atresmedia, both driving forces behind the Spanish film sector.

Once a deep source of losses, film investment is allowing TV operators to make a profit in recent years.
“Spanish commercial broadcasters’ promotional support for local films represents an added value [for the Spanish market],” says Atresmedia Cine CEO Mercedes Gamero. “At the same time, we are obliged by law to invest in film, which helps majors perceive some guarantees in the strength and results of our projects.”
Atresmedia has previously teamed with Universal and Warner. Sony takes Spanish, Latin American and U.S. distribution rights in the “Oro” co-production deal.

“The studios allow your film to travel better, and bring their know-how and expertise for marketing,” Gamero says.

Ramos calls it “an important move for the Spanish film industry, especially for commercial films with big B.O. potential.”