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Eugenio Derbez’s 3Pas Studios Woos Crossover Audience With Its First Film, ‘How to Be a Latin Lover’

Hispanic moviegoers are a huge slice of the U.S. film business, and yet few producers have cracked the secret of making titles that appeal specifically to that audience. The exception, it would seem, is Mexican star, director, and producer Eugenio Derbez, whose “Instructions Not Included” became the most successful Spanish-language movie ever in the U.S., grossing $44 million in 2013.

Now Derbez and his producing partner, Benjamin Odell, are opening the first title under their fledgling 3Pas Studios banner, the Ken Marino-directed comedy “How to Be a Latin Lover,” starring Derbez and Salma Hayek, with Raquel Welch, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, and Rob Riggle.

Pantelion Films, the Televisa-Lionsgate joint venture with which 3Pas Studios has an exclusive first-look pact, is doubling its typical screen count for the nationwide bow on April 28, with upwards of 800 screens. Pantelion’s largest release to date was for biopic “Cesar Chavez” on nearly 700 screens in 2014.

A dubbed Spanish version, with Derbez and Hayek voicing their own roles, will be released alongside the original, which is mainly in English. Derbez plays an aging playboy who seduces older women to support his opulent lifestyle.

Pantelion CEO Paul Presburger admits that it’s not easy to follow the success of “Instructions Not Included.” Not only did the comedy make $100 million worldwide, but its French remake, starring Omar Sy, was a local box office hit. This film also has a local version in Turkey, and Chinese and Korean adaptations are underway.

Derbez already had a built-in audience in the U.S., with a string of his hit TV shows for Televisa airing on Univision. But the 55-year-old multihyphenate didn’t expect to end up working in the U.S. “Hollywood seemed too far away for me,” he says.

Derbez thought the $12.6 million grossed by Patricia Riggen’s cross-border drama “Under the Same Moon,” in which he co-starred with Kate del Castillo, might be the top gross possible for a Spanish language film. Then came “Instructions.”

“I was in shock; this really opened the door for me in the U.S. market,” he says.

Presburger credits Derbez’s instinct for his audience. “Nobody knows his market better than Eugenio does,” says the Pantelion chief, who also credits Odell, a former Pantelion creative executive, for being “one of the few producers who really understands both the Latin American and U.S. Hispanic markets, and what Hollywood is expecting.”

The plan is to make 3Pas able to stand on its own, even if Derbez doesn’t star in every film.

“We want to establish the most direct relationship with our audience, have the freedom to create our content, and communicate directly with them,” says Odell, adding that Pantelion and Lionsgate have given them such leeway, as has MGM, 3Pas’ partner, alongside Pantelion, in the upcoming comedy “Overboard,” a remake of Garry Marshall’s ’80s comedy that starred Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. The film is slated to start shooting in May, with Anna Faris attached.

“I want people to watch a TV show or a movie by 3Pas and connect emotionally and positively,” Derbez says. “I want them to equate our brand with quality, humor, and heart.”

On the TV side, 3Pas Studios is developing “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass” for Hulu, in partnership with Gina Rodriguez. Dailyn Rodriguez (“Ugly Betty”) is on board as writer of the project, which is based on the YA book by Cuban-American author Meg Medina. Focusing on projects from comedies to horror films for both the Latin American and U.S. markets, 3Pas aims to pick material “that touches our Latino audience but has universal appeal,” Derbez says. “We really think this is the perfect time to give diverse voices an opportunity.”

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