No money, no movies

Spanish film production has almost ground to a standstill in 2012 The industry is worried about the government’s decision over subsidies

Spanish cinema in crisis: actress Manuela Vellés in a scene from 2010 horror movie 'Secuestrados,' directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas.
Spanish cinema in crisis: actress Manuela Vellés in a scene from 2010 horror movie 'Secuestrados,' directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas.

Spanish film production has experienced an alarming decline in the first three months of 2012. In the first quarter of 2011 the Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (ICAA) — the arm of the Culture Ministry governing cinema — reported that a total of 58 productions had begun shooting. In the same period this year, just 21 have started.

Uncertainty and anxiety is affecting all areas of the film industry. The party is over. Telecinco, one of the TV stations that since 1999 has contributed five percent of its annual income to financing Spanish films, has announced a halt in all fiction production for the time being — both film and TV. The reason given is a drop of around 17 percent in advertising revenue in January from the previous month. Sources at the station say it is less about canceling projects, than about assessing costs. “We have to start to produce more cheaply,” said one executive at Mediaset España, which operates both the Telecinco and Cuatro TV stations.

At the same time, state TV network Televisión Española — a fundamental player in Spanish film that is currently lying in limbo without a president or any clear direction — is questioning its own obligation to invest six percent of its income in cinema in the light of the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the Culture Ministry’s new model for the industry remains in the air and the exact size of the National Cinema Fund, which will be made public in the general state budget, is still unknown. But everyone fears a savage cut.

The sum effect has been to bring new productions almost to a standstill. The atmosphere was partly relaxed by last week’s announcement by new ICAA Director General Susana de la Sierra that the obligation of public and private TV networks to invest in cinema was not in danger, as a Popular Party politician had threatened before last November’s general elections. However, the decision to change the financial model of the industry to one prioritizing tax breaks over public subsidies has not been made.

On paper it sounds very good, producers say, but the not insignificant problem is that the Culture Ministry does not yet have the authorization of the Finance Ministry to increase those tax incentives from the current 18 percent to 40 percent.

Despite the Culture Ministry’s attempt to calm the industry, with assurances that the change in the financing model will happen gradually, the feeling within the sector is that projects cannot move forward without anything concrete. Currently, only a brave few are taking the plunge. “You can’t work using something that doesn’t exist,” says one producer.

One of the most ambitious projects to be affected by Telecinco’s decision to stop fiction production has been El niño, director Daniel Monzón’s much-anticipated follow-up to Cell 211, the most successful Spanish film of 2010 with eight Goya Awards and box office receipts of 13 million euros. The film, about a drug deal in the Strait of Gibraltar, was due to shoot between April and May in Cádiz, but has been postponed indefinitely. Around half of its 6.5-million-euro budget was to come from Telecinco, which has already financed part of its development. The delay affects actors, technicians and other workers who had already committed to the dates.

One of those is Cell 211 star Luis Tosar, who had turned down other films to work on El niño and has had to readjust his calendar in the wake of the delay. An actor of Tosar’s renown is not lacking projects, but there are few others like him. In the offices of the acting agencies, the telephones are ringing notably less and the arrival of a script is almost a cause for celebration.

“The situation is very serious,” says Paloma Juanes, an agent with more than 24 years’ experience who represents almost 40 performers. “It’s this year that we started to notice the drastic changes. There are more difficulties every day.”

New types of contracts for both actors and productions will have to be found, whether by giving performers a bigger share of box-office takings or thinking about cooperatives when drawing up a viability plan for a film.

If no solutions are found, it could spell the end of many a promising career. As Pedro Pérez, president of producers’ association FAPAE says, in Spain it is easier to make a first film than a second or third. The crisis could end up clipping the wings of many filmmakers, including David Pinillos, Max Lemcke, Juana Macías, Félix Viscarret, Santiago Tabernero, Vicente Peñarrocha and Pablo Malo, all of whom have attended the Goyas and many of whom have been forced to seek refuge in television.

Other crisis casualties

Festivals. As a result of regional government spending cuts, Pamplona's Punto de Vista documentary festival is now biennial; Valencia's Mostra, Animadrid, and REC in Tarragona have all gone; while FICXixón in Gijón, Valladolid's Seminci and Málaga festival have also been affected.

Public relations. As productions fall, public relations agencies face clients unable to pay and significant rate cuts. Many have had to close or diversify.

Digitalization of theaters. Compared with the rest of Europe, Spain is well behind in installing digital projectors in theaters — crucial for the future. Only 1,300 of 3,500 screens have been converted, all via private funding, says the FECE exhibitors' federation.

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