MOVIES

Netflix bursts onto the Spanish film scene with a homegrown production

Directed by Roger Gual, ‘7 años’ will be released in 190 countries simultaneously in October

Paco León (left), Juan Pablo Raba and Juana Acosta in ‘7 años.’
Paco León (left), Juan Pablo Raba and Juana Acosta in ‘7 años.’

Four friends sit in an office debating which one of them should pay for a tax dodge with seven years behind bars – a moral dilemma central to Netflix’s first Spanish production, 7 años (7 years), a 90-minute film that takes place in a single room over the course of one night.

Directed by Roger Gual and written by José Cabeza, it is to be released in 190 countries on October 28, and has 83 million potential viewers – as many as there are subscribers to Netflix, the streaming content provider that is producing and distributing the film.

The aim is to get people to relate to the characters and to consider what they would have done in their place

Director Roger Gual

Not surprisingly, the numbers are making Gual, winner of a Goya award for best new director in 2003 for Smoking Room, a little giddy. “This is something else,” he says. “My last film [Menú Degustación] had a bit more of an international reach, but my first movie didn’t make it out of Spain. For those of us in the movie industry, the fact that a film can hit 190 countries at once calls for a bit of respect.”

Netflix is about to change the path of Gual’s artistic career, but it could also be a gamechanger for the entire film industry in Spain.

While new operators such as Netflix, which streams videos via internet, have broadened consumer choice, they have also sounded alarm bells for traditional TV channels that are all too aware of the importance of generating content.

Private Spanish channels, in particular, consider these online multinationals to be serious competition, capable of putting their own business in jeopardy.

The Cable Girls

Netflix also has a Spanish TV series in the pipeline. Bambú Productions, – think Velvet and Gran Hotel – are behind a new series that is set in 1920s Madrid and tells the story of four women working as operators for Spain's only telephone company. The cast includes Blanca Suárez, Ana Polvorosa, Maggie Civantos, Ana Fernández and Yon González.

Consequently, Alejandro Echevarría, president of media company Mediaset and of the industry association Uteca, is asking the government to treat all broadcasters equally, no matter what platform they use.

“Technological neutrality should be accompanied by obligations, both economic and performance-related, and supervised by a regulating body,” he said at an association meeting. In the presence of acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, he also called for a “critical review” of the conditions currently applied to alternative distribution companies in direct competition with DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television), not only in terms of audience but also publicity and content.

Within the EU, the idea is to demand that at least 20% of the output of these online companies be produced in Europe as a way of preserving the sector’s interests on this side of the pond.

Obligations in Spain

If Uteca’s demands are taken on board, companies such as Netflix would be obliged to help finance Spain’s public broadcaster TVE and invest in film productions. Private channels pay 3% of their gross takings annually to TVE, while pay-TV operators chip in 1.5%. On top of this, they are expected to pay another 5% to finance movies, series or documentaries produced in Europe. This obligation applies to all channels that broadcast films less than seven years old.

With the movie 7 years, Netflix has gone beyond these legal requirements. “Spain has a long film tradition; it was clear just months after we got established here that we could undertake a great project like this,” says Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Contents Manager.

Private Spanish channels, in particular, consider these online multinationals to be serious competition, capable of putting their own business in jeopardy

Gual, Cabeza and producers Cristian Conti and Federico Jusid were working on the script when Netflix let it be known that they were open to collaborating on a Spanish movie.

“By sheer chance, Cristian told me he knew that Netflix was looking for projects that were relatively low-cost and that this could fit the bill. So we sent them the script and got a positive response,” says Gual, who notes how painless the process was. “TV channels and producers usually make suggestions about who should be in the film, for example. In this case, we suggested the lineup, they approved it and we started to shoot.”

The cast is led by Paco León, Juana Acosta, Juan Pablo Raba and Alex Brendemühl, who play four friends and co-founders of a successful technological design company caught siphoning off funds to a tax haven. A mediator played by Manuel Morón tries to help them decide who should take the rap in a story that has, according to the director, a bit of everything.

“English speakers use the term ‘one-room thriller’ to define this kind of film,” says Gual. “It has drama, suspense and a little comedy. It’s hard to label. The aim is to get people to relate to the characters and to consider what they would have done in their place.”

Both Gual and Juan Mayne, director of Netflix International Productions, enthuse about the actors’ performances with Mayne singling out Paco León in particular for his interpretation of a very different kind of role from the ones he has played in the past (Aida, Three Many Weddings).

English version by Heather Galloway.

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