News Column

Film Producer Has Activist’s Heart

On the heels of his latest success, David Valdes says he wants to concentrate on Hispanic-themed films.

By Rick Laezman
May 2002

The Time Machine’s triumphant debut was no doubt satisfying for David Valdes. The film – a Valdes-produced adaptation of the 1895 classic by H.G. Wells, directed by the science-fiction pioneer’s great-grandson, Simon Wells – took in a box office–topping $22.5 million the second weekend of March. Starring Guy Pearce, the movie reportedly cost more than $120 million to make. Now, however, Mr. Valdes says he is swearing off action fare in favor of “character-driven” Hispanic stories. “I am done with action movies,” insists the veteran producer, whose extensive credits include a number of successful collaborations with screen legend Clint Eastwood, including the risky but critically acclaimed Bird and White Hunter, Black Heart. The pair’s revisionist Western Unforgiven won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in part for its remorseful look at violence. He has also collaborated with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. “There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stories with Latino dynamics,” he says. “It’s time for them to be told.” Mr. Valdes, whose career has spanned more than two decades in film and television production, has considerable clout in the industry. His 20-plus films have grossed in excess of $1 billion worldwide. The Green Mile alone grossed $350 million, and the movies Unforgiven and In the Line of Fire have grossed about $100 million each in domestic release. Still, in a sign that the challenge is daunting even for a well-placed insider, Mr. Valdes is unsure how to get studios interested in Hispanic-oriented films. Not that he hasn’t tried. “For the last five or six years, I have been trying to develop some Latino-themed projects, but very few of these movies are being made,” he says, adding that he’s occasionally had to use his own money on such projects. The blame, he maintains, falls in part on the structure and motivations of the big studios that dominate Hollywood. He says they’re not interested in high-quality filmmaking, much less character-driven stories with Hispanic themes. “Today, they’re conglomerates, and they no longer want home runs. They want grand slams,” he says. “The studios want franchise, tent-pole event pictures – huge, huge movies. Or they want teenage fare.” Blockbuster movies net studios huge returns at the box office and from the sale of merchandise such as T-shirts, books, and even spin-off television shows, he explains. However, Mr. Valdes also faults the Hispanic community for its seeming indifference to the dearth of Hispanic-oriented movies, and says Univision and Telemundo have to invest in programming other than telenovelas. “It’s not just about producing Latino-themed programming,” he says, “it’s about producing good-quality stories” – a process with which he’s more than familiar.

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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