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Spanish Cinema Embraces Opportunity with Co-Production

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A new film industry superclass is emerging in Spain: movies powered or co-backed by its streaming giants. 

Perhaps the biggest example, Netflix Spain’s Andes flight disaster “Society of the Snow,” scored two Academy Award nominations last month.  

Now, in the run-up to Berlin, London-based Film Constellation has acquired most world sales rights to “The Captive,” from Oscar winner Alejandro Amenábar (“The Sea Inside”) and Mod Producciones, a $15 million period adventure epic on the literary makings of “Quixote”author Miguel de Cervantes, held to ransom in a Moorish corsair jail. 

Film Factory Ent. will take to market Iciar Bollain’s “I Am Nevenka,” about a feminist pioneer in Spain, and an untitled project from “Prison 77’s” Alberto Rodriguez, two fruit of the first movie slate from Movistar Plus+, the biggest Spanish pay TV/SVOD player, announced in January.

Spanish movies overperform on Netflix and Movistar Plus+. As of Feb. 4, Spain had four of the top five most-viewed titles – “Nowhere,” “The Platform,” “Society of the Snow,” “Through My Window” –  on the U.S. streaming colossus’ chart of its most-viewed non-English-language films ever.

“The writing is so similar to America, the U.K. The pace, certainly the quality, the storytelling is quite similar,” observes Roy Ashton, a Gersh Agency partner.

“Spain’s abeautiful country, its weather fantastic, the crews are there and tax breaks almost no equal,” he adds. 

Yet Spain is also exposed to macro market pressures. 

At 74.9 million tickets sold, admissions rose 26% last year, 24% down on pre-COVID cinemagoing, according to Comscore Movies Spain. 

That’s one of the slowest recovery rates in Europe’s big five markets . Naturally enough, distributors in Spain are reluctant to take on ambitious local projects paying bullish minimum guarantees.

At the same time, however, in 2023, the budget of Spain’s national film-agency ICAA was the biggest in history. Meanwhile, from Jan. 1, 2023 Spain boasts some of the most muscular shoot incentives  in the world.

These three factors – slow box office, record production levels, bumper incentives – do a lot to explain Spain’s 2024 film industry, and the deals which its delegation may pursue at Berlin. 

Curiously, “the auteur production sector looks to be recovering a little faster than the mainstream cinema at large,” notes Mod Producciones partner Simón de Santiago, citing encouraging box office runs for titles such as Estibaliz Urresola’s “20,000 Species of Bees,” (€910,925: $974,689) a Basque village set tale of female diversity, and Spanish Civil War tragedy “The Teacher Who Promised the Sea,” directed by Patricia Font, which grossed €1.6 million ($1.7 million). Given lower budgets and P&A costs, films may turn a modest profit from modest returns, De Santiago adds. 

The ICAA support of female and first-time directors has helped generate an exciting generation of new filmmakers, often women, with a large sense of place and a sense of urgency as they tackle hot-button gender, ecological and social themes. 

Small art films drama can, however, have a large problem breaking out to any kind of substantial sales in international, say Spanish sales agents.

So a near 40% hike in Spanish companies and institutions at this year’s European Film market may be explained in part by Spain’s drive into international co-production, as producers look to replace international sales revenues by equity investment in films from overseas partners.

Also, “There are ever more productions. It’s increasingly difficult to raise 100% of their finance in Spain. Spanish producers have to look abroad to co-produce and that’s happening to producers in other countries too,” says Nephilim’s Luis Collar, co-producer of  German Michael Fetter Nathansky’s “Every You Every Me.”

Spain is, moreover, emerging as a go-to place for minority co-producers: “The policy over the last five years of awarding female-led projects is giving a lot of results now. I can find really wonderful, bright and interesting voices in Spanish cinema nowadays,” Kino Produzioni’s Giovanni Pompili, the Italian minority producer of “Alcarràs,” said last October at a MIA panel on The Increasing Interest in Co-Producing With Spain.

As Spain looks to work a two-way street, seven of the 11 Spanish titles selected by this year’s Berlin Festival are co-productions, but all, however, with Spain as a minority partner.

That can be put down in part to public-sector backing. In contrast to theatrical box office, Spanish film production levels had already reached a new record high with a total of 313 films certified in 2022, according to the Marché du Film 2023 Focus.

Two prominent Berlin titles, for instance, – Sundance hit “Reinas,” in Generation Kplus; Panorama Player “Memories Of A Burning Body” – tap Catalonia’s highly successful Minority Co-Production Fund. 

Spain’s ICAA reserves 5% of selective grants to minority co-productions, which can run up to €300,000 ($321,000).  

Where that leaves Spain’s most ambitious producers in commercial terms is another question. 

As some of his big films – Oriol Paulo’s Netflix hit “God’s Crooked Lines” – fail to score Spanish subsidies, Nostromo Pictures’ Adrián Guerra says he’s looking to board two-to-three high-profile international productions, also providing production services in  Spain. 

Netflix seems to be buying less Spanish films for the world, seemingly focusing on big swing originals such as “Society of the Snow” and weighty series. When it does buy, it may focus on highly select territories such as Spain and Latin America on “The Captive.” 

The challenge for producers used to be to carve out a position on movies where it retained part of IP, building its company assets. The new big ask may be to raise the finance to retain total IP on higher end movies.