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Comedy Film Projects ‘Astronauts,’ ‘Friends’ Highlights at Madrid Pitchbox

Women-driven titles, with international appeal, speak praise from executives attending the event

MADRID  — Two female-driven feature comedy projects with potential international appeal, Cristina Trenas and Isabel Delclaux’s “Three Astronauts” and Roberto Goñi and Laura Molpeceres’ “Two Friends,” proved top highlights at the fifth edition of Pitchbox, held in Madrid.

Organized by online platform Filmarket Hub, the films-in-development showcase took place May 22, attracting a typically select but high-quality caliber of executives and represented companies from key players such as Telecinco Cinema, Atresmedia Cine, TVE, Warner Bros. España, DeAPlaneta, Tornasol Films, Morena Films, Latido Films, Dynamo and TriPictures.

The seven projects pitched, previously filtered and analyzed by Filmarket Hub, generated a wide-ranging selection in terms of film genres and budgets, while reflecting women’s growing visibility in creation, direction and lead characters.

Event’s networking also served to confirm that Spanish film industry problems remain, from regulatory uncertainty to under-capitalized public funding schemes and the commitment to independent production of many public broadcasters. At this juncture, projects need international coin more than ever to get made.

Comedy-adventure road movie “Three Astronauts,” the feature debut of Trenas and Delclaux, tells the story of three twenty-something women, who, disenchanted with their privileged lives in Madrid, improvise a backpacking trip to rural China.

“Astronauts” was seen by some attendees as an attractive fish-out-of-water comedy, with strong potential for both local market and international, especially as a remake.

The project also lured attention because of producer Larry Levene’s knowledge of Asian market. Involved in recent Spanish films linked to Asia, such as big animated feature “Dragonkeeper” and comedy “Thi May,” Levene presented a detailed budget breakdown, making for a total €3.7 million ($4.3 million), including P&A costs, with estimated income of $702,000 from nationwide free-to-air TV rights and $146,250 from regional TV broadcasters, plus $351,000 from international sales and a further $351,000 from a pay TV window.

Seasoned TV writers Roberto Goñi and Laura Molpeceres, behind pubcaster RTVE’s La 1 drama soap “Servir y proteger,” are looking for producers for “Two Friends,” a projected romantic comedy about Carla, a journalist, and Nuri, a supermarket cashier and single mother, two friends who decide to spend a weekend together in a rural house, where Nuri confesses to Carla her desire to find the father of her son.

With echoes of “The Other Side of The Bed,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Your Sister’s Sister,” the project was praised by attendees during the networking session, for its femme-driven design and its adaptability to be located in multiple territories. “Friends” potential success would depend, some producers argued, on a strong Spanish female cast.

Financing challenges and their collateral, an ongoing disappearance of mid-budget titles, was one subject focusing delegates minds at the Madrid Pitchbox.

“There are more low-budget projects, which suggest caution, given distribution difficulties,” said Dynamo’s Michel Ruben.

“On the other hand, big-budget projects are adjusting to schemes that necessarily involve TV operators and state subsidies,” he added.

“There is a standout presence of stories that can be understood in other markets, easing international sales, which, given the difficult access to local financing, becomes crucial,” says Carles Montiel, SVP business strategy at Mogambo, a recently-launched Madrid-based film production and financing company.

Jorge Dorado and Iván Sáinz-Pardo’s “The Road of Life,” a spy thriller set in a 1941 Leningrad under German siege, would require a high-budget, by current Spanish film standards. With references such as “Enemy at the Gates,” “The Road” is conceived as “a commercial movie that doesn’t renounce the careful development of its characters,” Sáinz-Pardo said.

“Producers don’t want to risk beyond the call of duty. They’re moving within parameters closer to audiences tastes, aiming to be a little more popular,” said Fernando López Puig, head of film at RTVE’s TVE, and co-producer of Javier Fesser’s moving comedy “Champions,” the highest-grossing local film of the year at the Spanish B.O. ($16.4 million and counting).

“The lack of film financing sources makes these networking events more necessary,” said Jorge Tuca, head of development at Telecinco Cinema. “The moment of transition between two different film models in Spain is jeopardising some projects, because of the absence of a suitable legal framework,” he added.

Filmarket Hub co-founder Bernardo Gómez announced at the event that the first edition of Pitchbox London will take place in September.

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