Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coming Soon: Spanish Blockbusters

By Craig Reck

Edited by Yacong Yuan

The Oscars are over and the Academy has proven that bigger is not always better. The international epic Avatar won a few awards, but not nearly as many as the critically acclaimed film The Hurt Locker. Regardless of which one is better, they are both Hollywood blockbusters. But how can countries rich in culture like Spain compete with these powerhouse movies coming from the United States?

The Spanish movie business is not as glamorous as its U.S. counterpart. Filmmakers in Spain turn to the government for support. Spain’s Ministry of Culture provides the necessary funds to maintain a movie industry, because there are not many private investors. Some producers in the industry say the Spanish government should change its business model. Representing Atlantia Canarias based in the Canary Islands, Vicente Mora says, “We believe that Spain should adopt a new model of business in financing based on the private investment and develop equal lines of exposure.”

Until the model is changed, prospective movie producers need to appeal to the Ministry of Culture. If a movie idea does not promote the culture of Spain, the government will not support it. This results in mostly independent films about real life situations, which can frustrate those producers who want to make sci-fi and fantasy pictures. Paulino Cuevas of Euromedia in Málaga says he understands the reasoning, but “you go to cinema to have an experience, you don't want to go see a movie for instance, where a guy looses his job in Andalusia.”

Movie tickets in Spain cost between 8 and 14 Euros, which is the equivalent of paying $11 - $19 in the United States. Spanish moviegoers now have to decide between the Spanish cultural film and the U.S. import. The decision might seem obvious, but Alejandro Loeza, a graduate student in Pamplona, says he “likes Spanish movies better, but they can’t compete visually with U.S. movies.”

Movie producer Paulino Cuevas is working to change that. He wants Spanish cinema to reach the same level as that of the United States, but Cuevas is convinced that the U.S. invented the movie industry. He says classics like Star Wars with the hero in white and the villain in black are now fundamental to the storytelling process of filmmaking. “I like to copy you guys, because you’re so good – silent movies, D.W. Griffith, everything. It’s a timeless business. I’m 41, but I’m still learning,” Cuevas says.

In hopes of shaking the Spanish system, Cuevas and his production company Euromedia made four movie trailers similar to what you might expect from a Hollywood production company. Among the trailers, Arkham Asylum looked at the darker side of Batman, Captain Harlock focused on a space pirate from a popular manga series, and Bad Boy brought to life another character from Frank Miller, who is the same author of popular graphic novels turned movies Sin City and 300. The fourth trailer adapted the popular comic book Sláine, which is based on Celtic myth. Cuevas later met with the comic book publishers, who appreciated his work despite a surge for comic book adaptations in Hollywood. “They appreciated the movie staying true to the story,” he says.

Cuevas premiered Sláine along with the other three trailers at the Málaga Film Festival and astounded the audience. Unable to attend later film festivals to market his work, Cuevas uploaded the trailers to Youtube. Word traveled fast and Euromedia soon had collaboration offers from Hollywood and all over the world.

Since Cuevas’ initial success in 2007, he has worked with international crews from Germany and the Netherlands, and he’s currently producing a Russian film in Moscow. It is alliances like these that strengthen a country’s movie industry when there are so few local private investors. Vicente Mora of Atlantia Canarias, who signed a $2.7 million investment commitment, says, “They help enormously to develop the (Spanish) industry with greater possibilities of success.”

Until the country of Spain can attract more private investors, filmmakers will have to continue making culturally significant movies with government money. The time of attracting private investors might be sooner than expected at the rate Cuevas and Mora are succeeding. An international blockbuster from Spain could be coming to a theatre near you, because there’s more to Spanish cinema than culture. As Cuevas says, “I work in this business to make my dreams come true.”

Photos courtesy of and tvspain

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