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Latin Suppliers Say Quality, Language Biggest DVD Drivers

11 Oct, 2007 By: Billy Gil

(L-R): HM's Angelique Flores, Lionsgate's Arturo Chavez, Laguna's Monica Ricardez, Warner's David Hernandez, Desert Mountain's Leslie Haas, Xenon's Leigh Savidge (Photo by Billy Gil)

When it comes to putting Latino films on DVD, it seems the same rules apply as they do with any film: content is important.

A group of players in the Latino film industry took part in a panel on distributing Latino films on DVD Oct. 9 as part of the 11th annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), which took place Oct. 7-14. The panel, held by LALIFF in partnership with Home Media Magazine and moderated by HM managing editor Angelique Flores, took place at the festival village at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, Calif.

Lee Savidge, CEO and founder of Xenon Pictures Inc., echoed the sentiments of all present when he said a solid, structured story is the foundation of a good film, thus making it vital to putting quality content on DVD.

“Make sure the script is as good as it can be,” Savidge said.

Arturo Chavez, director of Spanish-language programming for Lionsgate, agreed, saying: “A good story is a good story in any language.” Chavez pointed to films such as Pan's Labyrinth as examples of quality storytelling that translates beyond language barriers.

But speakers also were realistic about those barriers, and others that face the Latino film industry.

David A. Hernandez, director of multicultural marketing for Warner Home Video, broke it down into rough numbers: If there are 40,000 storefronts in the United States, only 3,500 carry Spanish-language films, he said.

“The language your film is in will tend to drive what shelves you're found on,” Hernandez said. “The minute you do something in Spanish, you will be limited.”

Leslie Haas, president of Desert Mountain Media, said retailers don't necessarily see Spanish-language films the same way they see foreign films in general. Latino dramas, for instance, need to be marketed to retailers as Spanish-language foreign films rather than Latino films.

Crossover appeal is extremely pertinent, panelists agreed. Haas said more than half of the audience for Amores Perros was Anglo, and Chavez said probably 85% was Anglo for Pan's Labyrinth.

“If you don't think about the crossover appeal … you're limiting the market space,” Haas said.

An audience member asked if it mattered what country in Latin America the films came from. Chavez said that although Lionsgate, for instance, has released films from Spain, Argentina and Peru, “we can't forget that 73% of the Hispanic population in the U.S. is Mexican.”

And, when it comes to Latino documentaries, “it's even more limited,” said Monica Ricardez, director of business and market development for Laguna Productions Inc. She said it's a “mixed market,” meaning that her company has had both successes and failures when it comes to marketing Latino documentaries, which she said take up less than 2% of retail shelf space.

Chavez agreed, saying Lionsgate has done well with biopics, but shelf space is very limited.

The panel also agreed that, besides actual content, something filmmakers might not consider when creating a film is actually very important when it comes to marketing that film: box art. Besides the obvious qualities retailers look for, such as if a title has been well-received, if it has notable or famous actors and if it is in a profitable genre, retailers care about what's on the cover.

Hernandez said retailer concerns can be as fickle as box art color. He also said that suggested retail price is critical, in that it may limit the amount of product a retailer will purchase.

Haas said that even with a perfect script, actors that have appeared in numerous films and great production values, a film can be lost on the cutting room floor if not for careful, yet swift editing. She said a number of Latino films are too slow for American audiences.

Chavez said that Latino films present a bit of a risk for studios, and that it's difficult to recoup expenses if the title doesn't succeed.

“In Latino film, you have one shot and one shot only,” he said.

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