Madrid-based The Mediapro Studio (TMS), one of Europe’s biggest independent film and TV players, had a smashing 2019 with the release of 126 titles. And then the pandemic struck, forcing the company to shut down 56 shows. Months later, the Spanish outfit is slowly getting back on track by enrolling major U.S. players and Spain’s biggest stars in Hollywood.
TMS is teaming with Disney Plus Latin America on what it describes as an ambitious, music-laced romantic thriller set against a Caribbean background. Its shoot was postponed because of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” is writing drama “A Dry Run,” a series set up at TMS that follows Abraham Lincoln Battalion members who come to Spain to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War.
Headlined by Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, drama comedy “Official Competition” has resumed filming in Madrid; a second TMS movie, labor relations-themed “The Good Boss,” starring Javier Bardem, is set for an Oct. 4 production start.
TMS will release “Rifkin’s Festival” on Oct. 2 with the biggest screen-count ever for a Woody Allen film in Spain.
“The cinema theaters don’t have product and often have to use two screens, given auditorium capacity limitations, where before they’d have used one,” said Javier Méndez, chief content officer for TMS, during the San Sebastian Film Festival.
These moves follow the announcement this January of a production alliance with Wild Sheep Content, the L.A.-based company of Erik Barmack, the former Netflix head of international originals.
Launched in 1994, Mediapro was best known as a film producer, making three Woody Allen films, including “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which won Penelope Cruz a supporting actress Academy Award. It was also a sports rights broker and service company, which accounted for 40% and 30%, respectively, of its revenues in 2018, which is estimated to be €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion).
Erupting into high-end drama series production with a minority equity on Paolo Sorrentino’s 2016 series “The Young Pope” with Jude Law, Mediapro’s strategic goals at The Mediapro Studio, founded in March 2019, imply a new production model for Spain. “Before, in Spain, productions were commissioned by TV channels which retained all rights,” Jaume Roures, Mediapro Group president, argued at San Sebastian.
TMS has gone a different route. “Our aim is to create content for a global market, retain IP, attract great talent, generate big franchises, and power up our international distribution,” he added.
The last it has often achieved via international co-production. Most of TMS’s shows and burgeoning franchises — “The Department of Time,” whose season 4 was released earlier this year — are currently produced out of Spain.
Elsewhere, TMS will co-produce a still untitled movie from “Mr. Turner” director Mike Leigh, produced by Gail Egan at the U.K.’s Potboilers Productions, which is now set to go into production in the U.K. between January and April 2021.
On high-end international titles, TMS’s most frequent production partners have been U.S. companies. New greenlit series, for instance, take in productions with Starzplay and Pantaya — a crime thriller “Express,” from “Locked Up” showrunner Ivan Escobar — and Mexico City-set serial rapist drama “Implacables – Mexico,” produced with Sony Pictures Television.
“Fernando,” a non-fiction portrait of Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso bowed on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 25, and is now set up for season 2. Also in the pipeline is Mexico-set female soccer tale “Las Bravas,” with Turner Latin America.
On many of its shows, TMS has been able to retain rights and distribute via its in-house operation, TMS Distribution. One case in point is flagship banner title “The Head,” starring “Money Heist’s” Alvaro Morte and Japanese idol Tomoisha Yamashita.
Bowing on Hulu Japan on June 12 where it rated as the top show for its first four weeks, it has now aired in Spain (Orange), Russia (Yandex), Italy (Amazon Prime Video), Brazil (Globoplay) and France (Canal Plus). “The Head” is a casebook study of TMS’ business model, noted Laura Fernández Espeso, its corporate and TV director.
“We retained IP, shot in English, and are now rolling the series out across the globe — not to a platform but via our distribution operation, territory-by-territory, which, when a series clicks, makes for super success,” said Fernández Espeso.
The Antarctic-set survival thriller will now open on AXN in Portugal on Oct. 21 and Viaplay in Scandinavia in November; Amazon Prime Video has taken rights to the Netherlands.
Overall, the studio’s recovery, said Roures, is “fragile.” “You’re starting shoots without knowing if you’ll have to stop again. We used to say ‘God willing’ in Spain. Now it’s ‘COVID-19 willing.’”
That said, the MPS content business fundamentals remain strong, Roures argued. “The content business is still gaining weight. On an international level, the global platforms are a great windshield because it’s like everybody understands what we’re doing,” he concluded.