October 3, 2007

Global Picture

Thinking Outside The [U.S.] Box

By James Tella

Niñas Mal is the 14th highest grossing release in the history of Columbia Pictures.
For years Hollywood success meant topping the U.S. box office, but mastering today’s entertainment world means thinking about the entire world, said Ignacio Darnaude, executive vice president of International Creative Marketing at Sony Pictures Releasing International, during a recent on-the-lot session for Peter Stark Producing students.

“One look at the numbers and it’s plain to see that films produced locally abroad are getting a higher percentage of the international box office,” Darnaude told a group of first and second year Starkies who were his special guests at Sony’s Culver City studio on September 24.

The Spanish-born Darnaude, who has carved out a unique niche since graduating from the Stark Program in 1989 as a Los Angeles-based exec dealing exclusively with the international market, presented the up-and-coming producers with a litany of cold, hard facts:
Ignacio Darnaude '89 is a Los Angeles-based exec dealing exclusively with the international market.

In 2005, four foreign films grossed more than $45 million outside the United States. In 2006, that number was 10. Last year in France the local film You’re So Handsome out-grossed Casino Royale. In Germany, 2006 marked the highest box office level for local films in 30 years. And in Darnaude’s native land, four out of the six highest-grossing Spanish films were released by Hollywood studios.

“Tentpoles such as Spider-Man and Shrek are performing well, but mid-range U.S. movies are not as appealing to foreign audiences as they used to be,” Darnaude said.

To underscore his theme, Darnaude screened his hugely successful production Niñas Mal (Charm School). The film, which tells the tale of a rebellious girl forced to enroll in a school that guarantees to turn any young woman into a lady, was the first movie Sony had ever made in Spanish. Created in Mexico solely for domestic release, the $1.7 million project yielded $7.2 million at the box office, making it the fourth-highest grossing locally-produced film in the nation’s history. Among both domestic and international titles, Niñas Mal is the 14th highest grossing release in the history of Columbia Pictures.

Various one sheets for Casino Royale with a country's local stars illustrate the importance of marketing to an international audience.
Working with Sony’s Mexico office on Niñas Mal and the upcoming Casi Diva (Road to Fame), Darnaude also pointed out that a global approach is as vital to marketing as it is to production. Citing the example of how Volver grossed more than Borat when they were released in Spain last year, Darnaude noted that studios are increasingly tracking the release dates of locally produced films to avoid direct competition.

Ironically, at the same time when companies are becoming more sensitive to the value of locally-produced works, the very people who give them their local flavor are becoming “internationalized,” according to Darnaude.

“It gets increasingly difficult, because many times, once directors become a hit they come to the United States and it gets harder to find talent faithful to their native industry.”

In summing up the day’s lesson, Darnaude told the class to be ever mindful of the global perspective. “Hollywood movies still rule. But more and more, the local films are moving up.”