Q&A: Julio Fernandez

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One of Spain's most international players, Filmax president Julio Fernandez helped pave the way for Spain to access international markets by filling a niche with his horror, animation and sci-fi productions. The visionary who heads the Barcelona-based ministudio talks to The Hollywood Reporter's Spain bureau chief Pamela Rolfe about what's coming next, including an online digital megastore, television channels and how the global crisis has affected distribution.

The Hollywood Reporter: What are you looking for at AFM?

Julio Fernandez: We're not immune to the general world crisis. And we realized that this is going to last a while, so we've become cautious in all our decisions, in acquisitions as well as green-lighting our own productions.

THR: How specifically has the crisis affected Filmax's mid- to long-term strategy?

Fernandez: We've adopted a very conservative distribution model, minimizing risk, (set) very defined goals when buying rights and calculated exact revenues for each window in Spain. We're going after finished films, rather than projects at the script stage. It needs to be very clear what we are getting into. As for production, we're also focusing on mid-range budget, commercial films that offer international distributors profitability. The same as we're seeking as distributors, we want to give to our distributors.

THR: Do you think the crisis has strengthened the position of the distributors?

Fernandez: Reality takes hold. It used to be when the distributor waited to see what it looked like, the film was no longer available. There are a lot of interesting films, but it's also true that there are fewer of us in distribution and it allows you to go more slowly. It's the same criteria we're using in our own films like "Snowflake" or "The Hairy Tooth Fairy 2." We're looking to produce the films that we would want to buy as distributors. That's the key.

THR: Spain has made a niche in the international market with its genre films. Why does Spanish horror work so well abroad?

Fernandez: I think (our Fantastic Factory label) surprised everyone. We launched it at a special time, open to international and young talent for the different film schools. But the key has been that the buyers have made money. The films work. It's the right price-quality ratio. A distributor always keeps that in mind and that's why they keep repeating with us. After that, they identify the product with the country. But it's also important the niche that animation has made. We launched Bren Entertainment studios when no one in Europe was thinking 3-D.

THR: Beyond genre films, does Spanish cinema sell well abroad?

Fernandez: Animation sells very well. And other films that didn't used to sell for whatever reason are now selling. The moment you've done something very well, you become more credible in other things. Distributors know that if you've done one kind of product well, you can do another one too. We've launched a bit of a revolution and other countries have tried to copy what we've created.

THR: What's the next trend for Spain in the international market?

Fernandez: We have two new lines. One is musical. We're producing the two very successful musicals, but the other is represented by "Diary of a Nymphomaniac." It's the first in a cycle of erotic films. We're going to launch an erotic lineup that works for all the markets in the world. Spain has very talented actors and actresses, but they're also gorgeous. And there are literary works of international acclaim that we're going to take to the big screen.

THR: Recent figures show that Spanish audiences aren't going to see Spanish films very much. What's the secret for a Spanish film's successful run at the boxoffice?

Fernandez: The same as always. Depends on the director. Is it Almodovar? Amenabar? But that's three or four. Then there are the producers that are looking to do something different. Like our "Transsiberian" or "Nymphomana" that compete (well at the boxoffice). The question could be why aren't there more? We have to analyze the stories, the scripts we're choosing. We're not making films to win Oscars and prizes -- which we will, because they are good films -- we're making them for audiences to enjoy.

THR: What conditions make Spain ripe for pirating, causing it to be the world's largest illegal download market?

Fernandez: The authorities' laziness, coupled with the Spanish audiences' attitude that anything goes.

THR: What's happening with the Filmax's online store to sell your music and film catalog globally?

Fernandez: It's in tests right now. It's called yodecido.com. We'll launch all-out this Christmas with almost 3 million songs, our entire catalog and 3 IP television channels. We're hoping to be able to offer all the films in the marketplace in a site where people pay. That's the future.

THR: Tell me about Filmax's plans to launch a digital terrestrial movie channel.

Fernandez: It'll be the first digital terrestrial channel dedicated to movies in the region of Catalonia at first. We hope to extend it nationally. Tests will start in Catalonia in December. It's called Canal Filmax.
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