How a Fresh Wave of Young Film Talent Is Transforming the Spanish Film Sector
Directors like Paco Cabezas and Alex and David Pastor, and producers Francisco Ramos and Pedro Uriol are revitalizing the region.
MADRID -- They are Spain's version of the Coen Brothers. They've been living in the United States for years where they made Carriers and have come home to Barcelona to film an apocalyptic thriller. Alex and David Pastor aren't Spanish film industry veterans. They are part of a surge in creativity currently rippling through the Spanish film industry.
Talented directors, well-connected producers and a world-class film school have combined to generate a wave of innovation that has audiences' attention.
"This is a generation that is going to give us a lot to talk about," says Pedro Uriol, who is producing the Pastors' upcoming The Last Days. "These young directors have travelled, they've lived abroad and they are skilled in new technology. They aren't intimidated by genre film and they understand audiences."
The timing couldn’t be better. Spain, notorious for an embarrassingly small sliver of the box office quota for homegrown films, has lately seen Spanish films gaining ground. In the first quarter of this year, Spanish films took in 35.49 million euros, compared to 15.16 million from the same period in 2010. And Spanish films — largely thanks to the blockbuster effect of Santiago Segura's Torrente 4 — cornered 20 percent of the market, 11 points over the previous year.
Gone are the days when Spanish filmmakers longed to break the threshold of 1 million ticket sales — a coveted holy grail of popular approval. The number was bandied about in conversation like the glass ceiling that only a few privileged films could penetrate.
But now, every few months, Spain sees a homegrown hit cross the magic line, including recent releases like Three Meters Above Heaven, Julia's Eyes, To Hell With the Ugly, Agora and Cell 211.
So what changed? Mostly a shift in thinking: The new generation wants to reach as large an audience as possible, and isn’t ashamed to admit it.
"Younger generations thrive on connection with audiences as they realize that movies are meant to be seen and enjoyed,” says Francisco Ramos, producer of last year's sleeper Three Meters Above Heaven, which grossed 8.5 million euros.
And they realize they can only make the next movie if the last one works," Ramos, a producer with his finger on the pulse of Spanish pop culture, has a knack for steamy, urban films featuring current heartthrobs. Next up is Federico Gonzalez Molina's Tengo Ganas de Ti (I Want You). The young cast of Meters remains intact, with sex symbol Mario Casas starring opposite Maria Valverde.
But there's more than just the formula of hiring a young director and adding a hunky cast.
Spain has chiseled out a niche as a pioneer in genre films as well, with Barcelona now a hub of horror titles.
“Our films are not black and white. There is motion, real actors, a mix of genres. Even in genre, you have to care about the characters and there’s got to be conflict beyond just good guys and bad guys. It becomes more interesting," explains Paco Cabezas, director of genre titles 2007’s The Appeared and last year’s Neon Flesh. "Risk is the key word. The key is to find someone to take risks and try to tell a different story, not just a remake.”
Complicated bank financing, plummeting home entertainment revenue thanks to rampant piracy and the decline in theatrical admissions make financing tricky. Enter Spain's new financing structure involving the TV broadcasting sector, which skews subsidies toward bigger productions or arthouse/festival fare.
"With TV channels involved actively in production, many films are clearly targeted towards the audience and they come with a lot of marketing support," explains Adrian Guerra, of Versus Entertainment, producer of last year’s Ryan Reynolds-starrer Buried.
TV channels are backing much of the top-tier projects, but they go hand-in-hand with an up-to-the-minute crop of business-minded producers that leverage talent and access international contacts.
"We have a new generation of filmmakers and producers that are making international films and can tap into international and studio finance and play to a global audience," adds Guerra.
This new breed of producers embraces risk, often seeing it as essential for success. Barcelona’s Rodar y Rodar, which made a splash with The Orphanage and followed up with Guillem Morales’ Julia’s Eyes, not only boasts handsome box office figures and enviable international sales, but has earned a reputation for spotting fresh talent and nurturing it.
For Rodar y Rodar chief Joaquin Padro, part of Spain's creative wave should be credited to Catalonia’s Film and Audiovisual School ESCAC.
“There’s a group of young kids from the ESCAC that feed off each other and there’s an infectious atmosphere of creativity and working in a group that is phenomenal,” he observes. “We have fed off of these people and they are primed for crossing barriers. That's what makes the difference.”
The ESCAC's four-year film degree forces filmmakers to think about the big picture.
"It's part of our students’ DNA that films must be made for a specific audience," explains ESCAC director Josep Maixenchs.
And while, it may be premature to talk about ESCAC transforming the Spanish film industry, it is true that the model — which requires fourth year students to direct features through in-house production company Escandalo Films with an emphasis on operating with a business mentality — is closely being followed. Both Paris and London's film schools have started co-production projects with the ESCAC.
"I'm convinced there are three or four directors that haven't had the exposure of Pedro Almodovar or Alejandro Amenabar, but work for the international market in a big way," says Juan Gordon of Madrid-based Morena Films. "They've done three or four films, but haven't had the proper exposure."
For Gordon and other young producers the key is vision.
"As producers, we go beyond just financing. We're seeing more collaboration with the director throughout the entire process. It's vital to have an idea of where the film is going and how it's going to get there."
10 UPCOMING SPANISH RELEASES YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS
The Impossible -- Juan Antonio Bayona's much-anticipated follow-up to The Orphanage is an English-language action drama, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in a depiction of the 2004 tsunami that swept Thailand. Produced by Apaches Entertainment and Telecinco Cinema.
Intruders -- Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's psychological drama about fears passed on through families, stars Clive Owen, with release scheduled in Spain by Universal on Oct. 7. Produced by Apaches Entertainment and Antena 3 Films.
The Spark of Life -- Cult director Alex de la Iglesia is in post-production on this Salma Hayek-starrer. Randy Feldman wrote the screenplay, which De la Iglesia will characteristically tweak with his acidic style. Film could be ready for Venice, which awarded De la Iglesia the Silver Lion for his political tragicomedy The Last Circus. Produced by Double Nickle Entertainment and Trivision.
Red Lights -- Starring Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver and Elizabeth Olsen, Lights will be the litmus test for Rodrigo Cortes, who got tongues wagging at last year's Sundance with Buried. Produced by Versus Entertainment and Cindy Cowan Entertainment.
XP3D- Paranormal Experience -- From the makers of The Orphanage comes Spain's first 3D live action horror film, which started shooting May 9. The film is sure to garner an audience considering it brings together Spain's hottest sex symbols of the moment: Maxi Iglesias, Luis Fernandez, Oscar Sinela, Amaia Salamanca, Alba Ribas and Ursula Corbero. Produced by Rodar y Rodar and Chromosome 22 Films.
Captain Thunder -- Based on the comic book hero created by Victor Mora in 1956, the film will be released in Spain by Buena Vista Oct. 14. Directed by Antonio Hernandez, the project stars Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Captain Thunder and Natasha Yarovenko as Sigfrid. Produced by Maltes Producciones and Sorolla Films.
7 Days in Habana -- This Spanish-French co-production is a mosaic of seven short films that create a portrait of Cuba. Cast includes Josh Hutcherson, Emir Kusturica, Daniel Brühl, Jorge Perugorria, Mirta Ibarra, Vladimir Cruz, Daisy Granados and Elia Suleiman. Segments will be directed by Benecio del Toro, Laruent Cantet, Gaspar Noe, Elia Suleiman, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem and Juan Carlos Tabio. Produced by Morena Films and Full House.
Mortadelo and Filemon 3D -- Set to shoot this summer, the 11€ million third installment of the popular comic book characters was conceived and written to incorporate three dimensions into the script. Will star Benito Pocino and Pepe Viyuela. Produced by Zeta Cinema.
Invasor -- Producers of Spanish film sensation Cell 211 come back with a fast-paced follow-up about the on realities of contemporary Spanish society. Presently in casting stage, the film is scheduled to shoot in November. Produced by Morena Films and Vaca Films.
[Rec] -- The hotly anticipated prequel Genesis and finale Apocalypse are shooting this year as part of the [Rec] zombie franchise that created a new genre of documentary-style horro. But this time, co-directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero's are flying solo, with Plaza having started shooting Genesis in April and Balaguero slated for the end of the year on Apocolypse. The first two films have grossed more than $40 million worldwide. Produced by Filmax Entertainment.