Impressed by the financial success of films such as Frida and A Day Without a Mexican, a growing number of U.S. production companies and distributors are gearing their efforts toward English-speaking Hispanics.
The potential market is enormous: The nation's largest and fastest-growing minority makes up 40 percent of opening-weekend moviegoers, according to Arenas Entertainment, a leading Hispanic film producer and distributor in Los Angeles.
More attractive still is the market's high proportion of English-speaking youth. Independent film companies believe they can target this segment of the Hispanic audience without losing the mainstream market.
"We found that 55 percent, almost 60 percent, of what is considered the Hispanic market consumes American TV in English. That's a huge number because, in the end, that's the young audience and the audience that really carries the money," says Alvaro Garnica, film division director at Plural Entertainment, a Miami-based entertainment production subsidiary of Spanish media giant Prisa.
No industry-wide consensus exists on the best way to reach Hispanic moviegoers: Major studios typically rely on stars such as Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek to attract Hispanics or target them with special advertising campaigns. But smaller production companies are also becoming more confident about making films for English-speaking Hispanics.
"You have a lot more filmmakers [using] Latin themes or Latin ties, but the movie's done in English. You see more of a crossover," says Alberto Pérez de la Mesa, director of Hispanic acquisitions for Maverick Films, a Toronto-based independent film production company that recently began producing English-language movies for U.S. Hispanics.
Several recent movies have tapped some of the Hispanic market's potential with English-language productions. Frida, a 2002 Miramax film based on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, earned more than $25 million in U.S. box offices, according to industry estimates. It cost $12 million to make.
And this year, the independently produced A Day Without a Mexican, which ponders what would happen if Mexican workers suddenly disappeared from California, took in $3.5 million – more than twice what it cost to make – after showing only in Texas and California.
There have been costly missteps as well, such as Chasing Papi. Studded with Hispanic actors and produced and distributed by Fox, the project was touted as a landmark crossover film before it opened in 2003. Made in English but advertised largely in Spanish-language media, Chasing Papi grossed a disappointing $6.1 million at the box office (Fox has not released the project's production costs).
"To be quite honest, Hollywood is still in a learning curve," says Mike Doban, general sales manager for Televisa Cine, which distributed A Day Without a Mexican.
That's not necessarily true for independent production companies that see the Hispanic audience as their niche. Arenas Entertainment, which started 15 years ago as an advertising agency specializing in marketing major studio films to U.S. Hispanics, now makes and distributes films to the Hispanic market. With more than $20 million in venture-capital financing, Arenas hopes to build upon its reputation as a savvy independent studio, bringing movies with budgets of up to $5 million to the Hispanic market. (See "Turning the Silver Screen Gold," Hispanic Business, March 2004).
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