Sogecine Spain's go-to producer

Has gained reputation as helmers' partner of choice.

MADRID -- When Antonio Banderas announced he would produce and direct his second feature, "Summer Rain," in Spain, Spanish production houses lined up to woo the actor-turned-Hollywood star. But it raised few eyebrows when Sogecine took the prize. The movie production wing of film and TV powerhouse Sogecable has forged a reputation as the co-production partner of choice for Spain's international directors.

Alejandro Amenabar ("The Others"), Alex de la Iglesia ("Ferpect Crime"), Julio Medem ("Sex and Lucia"), Fernando Leon ("Mondays in the Sun") and Isabel Coixet ("The Secret Life of Words") are some of the top-drawer auteur directors who have opted to produce their films through Sogecine, now Spain's most prolific producer. Penelope Cruz, who launched her own production label, dubbed 88, in May, says she will also co-produce her first feature, "Passion India," with the company.

It's not surprising when you look at the company's 10-year track record that reads like a who's who in modern Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodovar being the one notable absentee.

"For me, Sogecine has a solid background as a producer with an endless number of films, all of which are very respectful of the artistic part -- two key reasons for committing our project to them. We agree on the way to make cinema," says Antonio Meliveo, executive producer of Green Moon, Banderas' production house.

And it doesn't hurt that Sogecine has deep pockets. "This business is capital-intensive. You have to have the necessary resources to control production," explains general manager of Sogecable's content, Fernando Bovaira, a former Regency executive who knows how to swim between the Iberian system and Hollywood. "With a small (production) structure, given the state of distribution nowadays, you can't take big risks. And we're in a world where you have to make yourself heard."

As part of the Sogecable empire, itself controlled by Spanish media giant Prisa, Sogecine offers a one-stop-shop, with the advantage of being one of Spain's strongest in each field. The web of resources includes Spain's biggest international sales operation (Sogepaq), a ready-made theatrical domestic distribution deal (with Fox), and access to the country's leading digital platform, Digital Plus, which is owned by Sogecable. The parent company also recently swapped its pay channel license for Canal Plus Spain to free-to-air channel Cuatro, giving it access to more advertising revenue and opening the way for future digital terrestrial channels.

"They offer a comprehensive package -- which you can take, leave or negotiate -- for distribution, international sales and pay TV. That's unique," says executive producer Koldo Zuazua of Medem's production label Alicia Produce, which has gone 50-50 with Sogecine on the upcoming film "Chaotic Ana."

But for Bovaira, the secret of their success is that Sogecine has stayed true to its philosophy of creating a symbiosis between talent and the production team by working elbow to elbow. "We build the projects around the directors who are going to direct them," he says. "And we put up the resources so that that kind of cinema can have an impact in the market."

That seems to be what directors love most. "Quite frankly, it's just that they are hands-down the best," says de la Iglesia, who co-produced his black comedy "Ferpect Crime" with Sogecine. "They understand cinema and know how to read a script and make it work. Not to mention they have international know-how."

In 2004, an upper-management shakeup at Sogecable strengthened the synergies between sister companies Sogecine and Sogepaq by placing Simon de Santiago in charge of both. Regarded in the industry as indicative of the best that Spain has to offer, the U.S.-educated de Santiago straddles production and sales, adding his unique touch.

"No one knows the market like Simon. He is a tremendous asset to any film and certainly in sales," de la Iglesia says. "Sogepaq is interested in seeing the film distributed and is willing to work with buyers to find a formula so it can open in as many countries as possible."

This year, Sogepaq ended its joint venture with Warner Bros. for Spanish theatrical distribution and decided to expand its relationship with 20th Century Fox, which had handled its home entertainment releases.

The upcoming slate of films -- Banderas' "Summer Rain," Iciar Bollain's "Mataharis," Medem's "Chaotic Ana," Guillermo Fesser's "Candida" and Fernando Colomo's "El Proximo Oriente" -- will all be distributed through Fox.

"Companies of a certain size have to act as a locomotive for the domestic industry," Bovaira says. "I think making the bigger projects ... is what creates an image of Spanish cinema abroad."

Industry insiders agree. "Sogecine acts as a kind of Trojan horse for Spanish cinema to travel abroad," Zuazua says. "It's an important role."

 Published Sep. 05, 2006