Producer out of passion
by Carlo D'Ursi
- César Benítez created Cristal Producciones in 1988. Soon after that, the company got kid-sisters and in 2001, the whole family merged into one company: Bocaboca Producciones
As a production company focused on features, Bocaboca specialises in comedies and helps renewing the genre thanks to the work of directors and script-writers such as Manuel Gómez Pereira and Joaquín Oristrell. The choices of Bocaboca often lead to great successes, in terms of films (Boca a Boca, Todos los hombres sois iguales, Cha-Cha-Cha, El amor perjudica seriamente la salud, Entre las piernas, La Gran vida) and actors (Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Victoria Abril, Carmen Maura, Eduardo Noriega, Salma Hayeck, and Carmelo Gómez).
What makes Bocaboca different from the other Spanish production companies is that its excellent results are owed not only to features but also to TV productions. For that matter, this versatility is part of the company's strategy.
Bocaboca extended its activities to TV production in the middle of the nineties with programmes which became great hits right away, such as the entertainment show called Pasapalabra and the series Al salir de clase ('after school') and El Comisario. Soon, the managers of Bocaboca realised how important new technologies were; in 1999, they decided to create a daughter-company dedicated to internet contents. Boca Interactiva made a good start by designing a website for the series Al salir de Clase. In December 2000, Bocaboca became associated with Grupo Correo, the Spanish leader in terms of communication —this great company is indeed present not only on TV screens (terrestrial or digital), for it owns 25% of Tele5 and holds shares in many local channels, but also on the radio (Cadena Cope), on the internet (OZÚ), and in traditional newspapers, with 18 titles to which ABC was recently added.
Following this operation, Grupo Correo decided to extend its activities even further and produce more audiovisual and digital material, making the most of new technologies. The managers are also keen on producing more content, a field in which Bocaboca is definitely a keystone.
Cineuropa: In the past few years, the success of El otro lado de la cama and Torrente has proved that comedies are most popular on the Spanish market. Did you choose to produce Semen, a Love Sample out of fondness for the genre or out of fondness for the project?
César Benitez: I produce films because this is what I like doing, that is, I do it out of passion. Television is a parallel activity which I enjoy a great deal besides the fact that it is also more profitable. My luck is that I was always able to produce films I really liked, without worrying about the rest. I started working in television for more pragmatic reasons, but the cinema remains a passion. I love comedies and that is all that counts.
In Spain, it takes about two years to finance a film. How long did it take to finance Semen? Was it difficult? Why co-produce with the UK within the ambit of the Sales & Leaseback scheme? What was the English producer's input?
It was relatively simple to finance Semen; after the success of A mi madre le gustan las mujeres, we knew it could not be too difficult. Once the final script was ready, it took us six months to find the money.
Co-producing with Future Films Limited indeed implied using the Sales&Leasback system. This collaboration with the UK is not based on a financial need but on our will to conquer new markets in Europe, for being a member of the EU does not mean there is de facto a common market. Films seldom reach out of the national borders. Future found a musician, took care of sound editing, recorded the music, and paid for the negatives.
Are you working on other European productions?
Our next project is El anfitrión by Norberto López, a thriller in English for which we still haven't set dates of production. Then, there will be another thriller shot in English, La habitación de Fermat ('Fermat's bedroom'), by Luis Pedraita. Both projects are co-produced by Future Films Limited.
England and Spain seal a deal
Semen, a Love Sample is a co-production organised between Bocaboca Producciones (Spain) and Future Films Limited (UK) within the ambit of the bilateral convention on co-productions signed by both kingdoms. On the artistic front, the British participation is limited to the music of the film, which shows how willing the local authorities are to grant the British nationality to co-productions for which the English producers are only minority partners (in our case, Future only provided for the music and paid for some material including the negatives). It seems that the UK is finally getting involved in European productions instead of going on working in joint venture with big American studios in order to produce commercial blockbusters.
Future Limited financed the film through a scheme called Sales&Leasback, explains Cesar Benítez, the CEO of Bocaboca. S&L always involves many operators, including many law firms who help finding out a financial strategy to gather 10 to 15% of the budget of minority co-productions. The programme is twofold:
- first, the producers have to give up the ownership of the film in favour of an English company (not the co-producer but a holding),
- this holding immediately grants the former all rights forever.
Thus, the holding benefits from tax-reliefs, part of which go to the producers so as to finance the movie. This scheme would be simple and innocuous if it were not for the Spanish law according to which state aids and tax-reliefs can only be granted to production companies provided they still own the film. What happens then if the production company loses its ownership? In practice, nothing; this operation has no material consequences. However, on a legal point of view, the producers are put in a weak position; the legal system does not adapt to their needs fastly enough, forcing them to do without a proper legal protection.