The Tricks of Spanish Film (Part I)

Before we put down the old structures we need to know how they operate. Spain’s film production is based on public money. No discussion about it. The law established an AUTOMATIC subsidy of 33% of the “producer’s investment”. Not bad! No, especially if the concept is so elastic to include the money the television stations are obliged to invest in Spanish/European movies (5% of their total income).

But first, some concepts clear:
a) AUTOMATIC SUBSIDY means that even if the film makes a ridiculous box office, let’s say 100,000 Euros it may receive 1,200,000 Euros in subsidies about 2 years from the commercial release. It’s really automatic!

b) European norms, extremely enforced in Spain, demands that all channels buy Antenna Rights from local producers summing up 5% of their gross income. That is a tonne of money and the producers’ line up for that. The antenna right means they will exhibit free 2 years after commercial release as many times they wish. It can be prime time (rarely) or 2 a.m. (most common).

c) The public televisions (strong everywhere in Europe) pay between 200,000 Euros to 2,000,000 Euros per film. Sometimes, when the product is “hot” the price can go higher than that.

So, the 33% is advanced in the banks because it bears the State of Spain as guarantor and the money of the television, payable only when the film is delivered is also acceptable collateral for the banks. BUDGET COVERED. Nobody ever invest 1 Euro out of their pockets. Got that? Once this is understood, we can move further and look at official results in the page of the Ministry of Culture of Spain at the following address.

Spanish Film Festival

We can see the results in it, the number of spectators in the movie theatres, who distributed it, the public and private TV channels who bought the antenna rights. All this information is public for anyone. The hidden information is the budget of each film. Only available if a judge authorizes! All the producers alliance want to avoid in order to close any web page they dislike.

 

But let’s consider that every one of the films I picked here as examples had an average budget of 1 million Euros. That’s low as you can get and the results a national shame.

Film: A RAS DE SUELO (2005)

* Spectators: 76
Gross Box Office Results in Spain: 392,10 €
* Distributor by: FAUSTO PRODUCCIONES, SL

With the support of: TELEVISIÓ DE CATALUNYA, S.A.
TVV TELEVISIÓ VALENCIANA

Film: MARIPOSA NEGRA

Producer: FAUSTO PRODUCCIONES, SL
Distributor: SHERLOCK FILMS SL
Spectators: 5.062
Gross Box Office Results in Spain: 23.512,95 €

Film: Faltas Leves

• Producers:
DACSA PRODUCCIONS, S.L.
STEINWEG EMOTION PICTURES, S.L.
• Con la participación de: RTVV;CANAL SUR; EITB; TV CANARIA; TELEMADRID
Distributor: COMPAÑIA PREMIUM DE VIDEO Y TV,S.L.

Spectators: 2.785
Gross Box Office Results in Spain: 9.907,40 €

Film: Mucha Sangre

# Producer: MASSA D’OR PRODUCCIONS, S.L. (www.massador.com)
# Con la participación de: TVE, S.A. and VÍA DIGITAL

Spectators: 6.595
Gross Box Office Results in Spain: 27.238,75 €

Film: De niños
Producer:
MASSA D’OR PRODUCCIONS, S.L. (www.massador.com)

# With the support of: TV3 TELEVISIÓ DE CATALUNYA
LA SEPT ARTE (Francia) and TELEVISIÓN ESPAÑOLA (TVE)

Distributor: ALTA FILMS S.A.
Spectators: 17.885
Gross Box Office Results in Spain: 66.490,20 €

But aren’t there minimums to achieve in order to get the subsidies? Yes, on paper there are many rules. The last producing company here above listed has never, ever made its goals but always got it all it needed. To complete, the head of the company, a radical Catalonian separatist is preparing a film which roughly can be translated to” Catalonia against Spain = Spain against Catalonia”. Famous for her hatred and xenophobic discourse we can wait for a “wonderful” piece of inflammatory and disgraceful “patriotic” film. Paid with public money. For who is not acquainted with Spanish history, Catalonia is an autonomous region of Spain but part of Spain. There is a small minority of racists who preach intolerance and separation of the rest of the country. This person, strangely enough, was in the grace of the right-wing Government in Madrid from 1996 to 2003, and then she moved her political ideals elsewhere.
By the rules, these and the absolute majority of film companies would be shut down by now but depending of the governments and sympathies they always re-float. All with public money. And observing their madness over the new medias (read here INTERNET) the issue for them is not to be “pirated”, nobody wants their movies anyway. The issue is that facts as related here come to light.
Sorry guys from the legacy times! I didn’t die and I this will still go on. ( to be continued)

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Civil Rights X Copyright: Non Negotiable!

Traitor, ungrateful, miserable, bastard, etc. Those were a few names I was called since I decided to make public my positions regarding the on going “battle” between copyright warriors and digital libertarians. I guess many people got it very wrong from the start. The “libertarians” have written a Manifest and I support it without reserves.

What is being played here is something much deeper than a “cat chasing the mouse” fight in a small country like Spain that I guess more than half of humanity ignores where it is and a much larger percentage the history it carries back for more than 2,000 years. Yeah, two millenniums but cutting to the chase: back in 1936 a coup d’etat started a civil war in the country and Europe and the rest of the world turned their backs. It was Spain and it was not their problems. Thirty nine years of bloody dictatorship followed those events. Currently, Spain can and probably will be played as a “game-scenario” for the worst case scenario again. In 1936, Germany and Italy supported the fascists and bombarded the civil population in such bloodshed until then unknown by humankind. When in 1939, Hitler spread the fire through Europe and the world, the main powers already knew what to expect.

Guernica

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

After working many years in the entertainment industry, in many different positions, and also selling my blood for small (independent) companies in an idealistic stupid way, I gathered enough knowledge of all the tricks that can be played by every single player of the game in film and music productions: from the writer to the distributor, passing thru the producer and directors reaching down the secretary of production. I never saw a positive liquidation (final accounts where the remaining “profits” should hypothetically be paid to the producer), never at all! Even if there were cents left, the producing company would still “owe” the distributors. If there were profits, they would fall into expenses accounts and future developments. No profit, no income taxes to be paid. Reset to zero and everybody continued to be friends as always. That’s how the game is played. Producers feed writers and directors with bread crumbs, paying their mortgages, buying groceries and so they are on the leash and “grateful”. Buyers of TV stations are invited by producers to banquets, vacations in the Riviera and receive generous incentives such as loads of champagne boxes as Christmas gifts (totally legal) to allocate their resources to those friendly producers in their circle. The so acclaimed high level employment that the entertainment industry, specially film bring to the economy in general averages 4 to 5 employees (sometimes including the owner of the joint) earning 1,200 Euros per month without legal hours respected (40 hours/week in Spain) They should be “happy” because they are in their way to the glory. That’s their due to be paid to the industry before gaining the right to “really do something”. All the rest, when the subsidies fall in place, and when the TV purchases also combine, out they go hiring. There is literally an army of desperate people out there to get two months salaries (average production time). And they all fly in as mosquitoes in the jungle. It is marvellous to see and sad to realize that they also live out of dreams. That is to be respected, to live by a dream and side line with starvation the remaining half of the year.

Europe

This is Spanish, French, Italian and almost all Europe’s reality, let alone the US where I have friends earning the same since 1991, yes, correct, 18 years ago and the same weekly pay. This is only possible in Europe because there are special “social cushions” where the mass, the people who really make the film, can fall back in the work insurances and not turn into homelessness. This is the truth and I dare anyone to proof me the opposite hiring an independent research firm without conflicting interests in these industries.

So you should be guessing why am I “betraying” my people. What is my interest in that? My answer is: I want to see different people, new talent, new ideas springing and new ways of doing business. The mediocrity is produced by a system which was profitable until the means of reproduction were scarce. I loved to see what Arin Crumley did with “Four Eyed Monster” and hated when 10 days before principal photography my film had to be cancelled because one co-producer decided she was making me a favour co-signing the deal (allowing with that to advance the subsidies) and ordered me to relinquish all my rights to her. It was a brutal, it was stealing and it was a rape but I was strong enough to resist it and send her to hell. My film was not done but I look forward to the future and she looks to the gifts she must to give the local TV station managers these Holidays. I guess I’m better of than she is. Ever and forever! I play for the future and the rest struggle to retain petty privileges.

I guess talent is to be nurtured, embraced, and cared for. Italy had one of the most vibrant filmmaking scenes of the entire world and is reduced to rubble. One Italian actor told me once: “The old ones, as brilliant as they were, didn’t allow space for a new generation and now we have mediocrity or rare exceptions”. That is not the future I want for Spain, for Europe and as a matter of fact for nowhere.

Digital have changed the scenario forever and there is no coming back. They, “artists” have the social cushion where to fall (and some have multimillions in banks and property); let them lay in peace there. It’s not acceptable to even discuss neither negotiate civil rights giving in to the defence of copyright. Let alone when the copyrighted material was paid with public money. The architect charges the project of a bridge, he is paid by the government or whoever, but he doesn’t retain the right to charge everybody who crosses that bridge. Point Period. It’s also a given that nobody can copy the project, construct the same bridge design elsewhere and say it is their own creation. The right to have your credits in the making of a film, music or theatre play are not in discussion. Your merit was to create them and you were paid for it. You screenwriters and directors: how many of you begged producers to give you a chance? How many of you waived salaries? Give me a break! If anyone copy the authorship of my writing and publish it without even naming me, I will sue in the courts of law. If my name is mentioned, please go ahead! You are welcome to reproduce anywhere! Creative Commons, some rights reserved, namely authorship is reserved. Reproduction? Do it yourself with some clicks!

What about music then? Music Companies paid dearly radio stations, TV programmers, etc. to play your music in order to have your music reaching the public. That was also the reality. Just a few years ago. So, let’s drop the masks! Kids would win a luxury car; the multinational would make tonnes of money.

And in the most physical side of the matter: it is not possible to control what you are doing thru your broadband. Simply as that! The USA has developed and distributed sophisticated software which scrambles outgoing and incoming IP address to give away to Iranian people surpass the censorship of the Ayatollah’s. The only way around, and even so, it would be hard as hell, would be a Chinese cyber patrol model.

Civil Rights Movement

NON NEGOTIABLE CIVIL RIGHTS

So, my friends, Sarkozy did whatever he pleased (except place the “Prince” in the EPAD) and people talked but didn’t care too much about the Hadopi. Anyway there is a way around. Good and dearly respected French friends of mine have written that response to me these last days and made me reflect why the Spaniards are so different: because the mere idea of the government censoring our acts is beyond any acceptance. The memoir of the dictatorship is in the DNA perhaps and we cannot trade the civil rights for an obsolete copyright law, flawed from the beginning to the end. Again, Spain is a laboratory of freedom in Europe. Hopefully this time, people will join us and take this task as if it was the defeat of the National Socialism 70 years ago and not turn their backs in indifference. What happens here, if successful, will spread. At least in Europe and Latin America; such a proposal in the USA, well… that is for another book.

Internet is burning in Spain (and the government too)

Prime Minister Zapatero was the first elect government back in 2004 as a direct consequence of the new technologies (internet and SMS’s) and risks to be the first to lose the government if he doesn’t back out the pretension of adopting a repressive policy against internet downloads.

Spain's Prime Minister Zapatero

To start, we have a millionaire industry where artists live in Hollywood style palaces that causes no pity in the general populace. Second, in Spain, P2P is not illegal: everybody pays on purchase of any blank DVD, CD, Ipod, laptop, or whatever electronic device a “canon” (tax) that goes to feed the multimillion arches of the author’s collection agencies. Third: piracy is to copy and sell the works of others. That is not the case here, the right to copy was acquired once you paid for the copying/media device.

But, blind to the fact that about 75% of the population is connected to the Internet and out of these 80% download products for their own consumption, the government decided to “slip” into a general economic law to combat the recession, instruments which wash away the role of the courts of law and transfer such powers to the Ministry of Culture commanded by a representative of the old filmmaker’s union the right to cut connections and web sites if they considered fit to do so.

Copyright’s laws must to be totally reformulated. It’s unconceivable that the “property” remains the authors “property” 70/80 after his/her own death. It is also immoral and outrageous that in Europe and other countries where films are basically paid of with public money remain as a private property.

The consequences of such acts were swift: in 6 hours 58.000 blogs in Spain where raised against it and within 24 hours more than 1 million pages reflected the issue according to Google.

Today, the government (Ministry of (in) Culture) called the most influential figures of Spanish internet spheres to “discuss” the issue. González-Sinde, the Minister of (in) Culture abandoned the meeting in the middle of it.

Ministers of the Socialist Government of Spain

She must go immediately and a serious discussion about copyright extent must to be carried out in Europe and in the whole world. The beds are burning and we won’t stay passively waiting repressive laws in the style of the disgraceful Hadopi’s law in neighbouring France.

Promiscuity, Parasites and Beer

Simply Arianna Huffington has once more shot several vultures with only one shot. Congratulations Arianna! This time she has spelled out the ridiculous arguments from Murdoch News Corp. and some of the NYT arguments as well in a terrific post today in the Huffington Post.

Arianna Huffington

I understand the NYT out of desperation is trying everything, all mad magic potions in order to keep its grandeur of last century. It’s a pool of professionals which deserve all my respects.

But as Arianna has brilliantly exposed in her post today, Murdoch calls everybody “thieves” while he and his companies practice it severely without any shame or apologies: citing the article of Techdirt.com, the post shows that “The Wall Street Journal has a tech section that’s nothing more than a parasite — uh, I mean, aggregator — of outside content. FoxNews.com has a Politics Buzztracker that bloodsucks — uh, I mean aggregates and links to — stories from a variety of different sources, including the NY Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and others.
AllThingsD has a section called Voices that not only aggregates headlines, but also takes a nice chunk of text — and puts the links out at the bottom of the story.
And Murdoch’s News Corp. also owns IGN, which has a variety of web properties, including the Rotten Tomatoes movie review aggregation site — which is entirely made up of movie reviews pulled together from other places. Did someone say “stealing”?

When “people” of the kind of Murdoch decide to do something against a given situation we can predict all sort of dirty, scummy and filthiness coming along the way. Those kinds of “people” simply don’t know the concept of fairness. The only understand of the world they have is their OWN POWER which, all things considered, will not remain as it is nowadays for much longer.

An old time friend of mine, in Germany, used to say “beer should not be sold but rented; anyway almost always you leave it in the bar you got it from”. And of course I couldn’t stop laughing when I read Arianna relating a discourse she had to hear in Monaco from a German tycoon named Mathias Döpfner, CEO of of the German publisher Axel Springer and creator of the German’s tabloid BILD (controlling 25% of the European Market in 32 countries and more than 150 newspapers and magazines) saying: “If it’s your business decision to offer beer cans for free, fine,” he said. “But don’t take our beer and offer it for free.

That caused a certain shock to our dear Arianna: “it struck me as a really bizarre metaphor. Information is hardly the same thing as a product that can only be consumed once by a single person. If you consume a news story, you might be one of millions. If you consume a beer, no one else can consume it.

Well, well, there are “people” with bizarre habits who maybe “recycle” their own beer in order to not share it with the germs of the toilets in the bars. Love for their “products”, maybe.

(Internet) FICOD 09 high and low points

I guess it is time to summarize and make a balance of the high and low points of the FICOD 09 (International Internet Content Conference held in Madrid, Spain between November 17/19) which had about 8,000 participants converting it in one of the biggest of the world. Sincerely, I couldn’t care less about its size but I do care a lot about the quality and for that reason I will try to put the spot light in the high points and in the low points of it as well.

By far, Bernardo Hernandez (Google Worldwide Marketing Director) and Kevin Spacey were the shinning stars of the constellation. Mr. Spacey showed how there is a combination of great art, comprehension of current times and embracing the challenges rather than fighting them as a “mad dogs” in the way to its final rest (another post already dedicated to him). Bernardo, the “golden boy” of the Internet in Spain gave a brilliant presentation with facts, numbers, perspectives and above all enthusiasm inherent to Google’s Internet dominance. Some of the numbers are really amazing: in the last 25 years, the processor’s capacity have increased 3,500 while the price reduction for RAM memory reduced 45,000 times and the storage price (HD) also has decreased nothing less than 3.6 million times! That said, he made a point to show and prove that the main distinction Internet poses regarding previous technological advances is its blind blowing speed: it took just 50 million users in the Internet and 3 years to reach an global advertising spending of 1 billion dollars while the same number of users such as radio and TV took 37 and 15 years respectively. Ten years ago Google didn’t exist; today it is the power which rivals Microsoft.

Bernardo Hernández

To watch his presentation in English, click here. Also in the bright side, I would like to name the courageous and passionate Rodolfo Carpentier and Carlos Blanco, Spanish internet incubators who did not spare anybody when blaming the “great” Venture Capital for Internet development in Spain of being simply amateurs (in the bad sense of the world) negligent and ignorant of the opportunities the often miss to the rest of Europe and the USA.

Going to the dark side of the Conference and confronting bravely the backwards corporative reps of EGEDA (Spain’s Film Producers Association) and SGAE (authors collection agency for Spain and Latin America) we had Javier Sánchez (founder of the pioneering ADN STREAM).

All the authors collection’s agencies reps, the defeated music industry representatives portrayed everywhere as the example of what not to do (poor things!); the unfortunate invitation of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America) who told the audience in a pathetic way that his past was the Agriculture but if it was to defend America’s (money interests) he would do fine the same in this conference. Really embarrassing! the Minister of (in) Culture who read a discourse clearly studied by many assessors this time in order to not commit her usual gaffes but yet could not refrain herself to transmit an aggressive and “read to fight the copyright’s war” expression out of every word spoken thru her angry mouth. Specially if we see in context: she was preceded by Ana Gómez, USA representative and special guest who has spoken not a word about repression or law enforcement but on the contrary listed all the efforts the U.S. is putting in improving infrastructure to the maximum extent. And the Minister of (in) Culture was followed by the Minister of Industry and Commerce of Spain (host and main sponsor of the event) who was more moderate in attitudes and postures but missed a great opportunity to make government policy announcements that would make a real difference in the general offset of the meeting. The Prime Minister Zapatero should also have found a space to come to the opening in his agenda and show Spain and the world that the deep recession is really embraced as an opportunity to change the archaic economic models which undermine the future of the country for generations to go.

As always, Spain has its charm, is warm in the heart and classicist and stoic towards the new. I love the country, I feel at home in the streets of Madrid, Barcelona or Seville. It’s my home! Accents and body languages change but the essence, for good and for bad remains. The self-condescendence, the inferiority complex towards the neighbours (in Europe of course) and towards the American counterparts but also the aristocratic, feudal mentality (now translated to digital times) of refusal to change attitudes, to democratize the work relationships and spaces and to embrace the “foreigner and different” as the US do in difficult or in expansion times: doesn’t matter where you come from, the Americans analyze what you have to offer. No matter what you have to offer, Spaniards (and Europeans in general) look who you are and “what are your real intention$”. That is a mentally that will keep Europe always behind if not changed. It is time to understand the all digital business is global and all “nationalisms” are the borders of the fearful minds of renewal. They won’t defend you from a hypothetic “invasion” but instead, it will crush you in isolation.

Spanish Minister for (in) Culture, Mozart and Copyright

It’s really amazing to see the quantity of stupidity, arrogance inherent to power can produce in the world. Well, considering that we are all with a fresh memory from the Bush’s era, nothing is absurd anymore and even “leftists” brag their wisdom to the world as if we were all followers, ignorant followers of the leadership.

Last week, the Minister of (in) Culture of Spain, responsible to guard, protect and improve more than 1,000 years of human kind culture stored in the country (to say the least) has declared publicly to the RTVE (State Radio and Broadcasting Corporation) according to the report of the prominent newspaper EL PAIS that Mozart “has lived in financial misery because he didn’t receive copyright’s royalties” and if he had had them, he and his family would have had a better life”. Ms. González-Sinde’s (in) culture is notorious in Spain and wherever she has stepped in to spread her wisdom”. Nevertheless, she has at her disposal advisers to avoid her gaffes.

Mozart wasn’t ever poor. That we all (except her, maybe) know. But yet, he was the precursor of copyright infringement. The article of the respectful and cultivated journalist and commentator Enric González helps us to bring the real facts to light.

Mozart poor home

Mozart's poor birth home

The obsession to defend copyright and repression at any rate the (in) culture Minister has made her oversee the fact that Mozart “pirated” Miserere Dei, Deus from Gregorio Allegri.

In short, the situation was that music piece was only interpreted inside the Vatican and the music’s scores remained property of the Pope and with only two copies more: one in the hands of the King of Portugal and the other with a Franciscan Priest (musician). Sadly enough, a nasty, non-law-abiding 14 year old kid named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the Vatican in 1770 and listened to the oeuvre d’art. His brains functioned with 64 bits processing capacity and back home, he wrote the music scores. A few days later, he returned to the Vatican, listened once again and made the necessary corrections.

Mozart Illegal Downloader

Mozart Nasty Kid

That was copyright infringement Ms. Minister of (in) Culture of Spain. What would you do with that nasty kid if you had the power to do anything at all? Jail him? Order lobotomy? What a great benefit to humanity you would have caused preserving the right, the divine right to preserve that work only for Your Holiness’s ears!!!! Shame on you! Jail the Spanish kids, censor, and cut the country back to the times of dial-up connections as you also already defended. You are the culture; you are the progress of sciences and knowledge for humanity.

“Do what I say but do not do what I do”. That seems to be the conclusion to end up with once we learn that she, her assistants or whoever in the Ministry has copied almost word by word her own biography from from Wikipedia without mentioning it (neither the authors of the wiki). Again: shame on you! And again, do the country a favour: step down!

Certainly there are brilliant kids out there who you call criminals and many of them will make and be part of history, while you will remain a mediocre screenwriter and if lucky something like Antonio Salieri (the envious bloodsucker from “Amadeus”, the film, not reality, pay attention to that once more!!!): but yet portrayed as a vicious, poisonous person defending the industry not the artists.

Empowered kids: a whole new picture

Just a quick look at the new picture in the making in Uruguay since a couple of years and now in full course of action. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative has implemented with the support of the left wing government of Uruguay the first worldwide experience of covering the whole population of children in the public elementary school with one laptop each.

When we consider the effects that this action can produce to the new generation, it is simply mind blowing. First of all, it tears apart the main blockage to equality in a society which is access to information restricted to who can afford it. It makes me curious to check what will be the scores of these students compared with the previous generations and compared also with the kids who have no access to these tools.

Since Mr. Nicholas Negroponte presented the programme, I have to say that my first reaction was pretty cold given the usual lack of initiatives of all governments regarding to education and mainly if these efforts are targeted towards the lower social classes. However, Mr. Vázquez (Uruguay’s President) took it seriously and the country mobilized towards the goal and they have accomplished the first objective: saturation of the young population with ownership of the small, cheap but effective first laptop with total connectivity, built-in multimedia applications, running XO operating system.

This video can give a first impression of the early consequences of these brave and absolutely necessary step towards a truly knowledge based society.

These kids will be able to truly turn the country’s reality upside down in less than a decade. Children are competitive by nature; we all were there once upon a time. Considering that they will be empowered to reach virtually all sorts of information and form themselves (with teachers consequently having to readjust their roles or be surpassed by the pupils), it is not far fetched to foresee these kids forming a massive pool of creation. They are already manipulating photos, making small video clips, forming networks. They become active actors of their own lives and the questioning of power of knowledge will need to be revaluated. How will adults impose criteria over younger generations if they don’t have the same knowledge as they do?

No matter what comes along, the main point is that the tools are given and that is the right sort of subsidy a state has the duty to provide to its people: access to knowledge and freedom to be creative.