The Catalan audiovisual market

Shooting of the film Solo química [Just a Little Chemistry]. © Rodar y Rodar.

Does it make sense to speak of a Catalan audiovisual market today? Catalonia’s audiovisual ecosystem is undergoing a serious crisis. We have talked with professionals in the sector, namely, directors, producers, scriptwriters and institutions, about the causes that have led us here and the possible solutions envisaged.

Audiovisual production in Catalonia has had an underlying driving force for many years: TV3 [the primary television channel of Catalan public broadcaster Televisió de Catalunya]. The crisis of the Catalan Media Corporation (CCMA) has forced producers to rethink their business and seek out new markets. With drastic budget cuts in recent years, Catalan production has run into difficulty.

While audiovisual production is steeply on the rise in Spain and throughout the world, it has reached unprecedented lows in Catalonia. The audiovisual tax has been overturned and its reinstatement is uncertain. For Catalan cinema, and especially Catalan-language content, there is the added problem of distribution and screening.

Making films in Catalan showed merit in its own right for the generation of Bellmunt, Ventura Pons and Antoni Ribas. However, in the batches of recent filmmakers trained at the Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya [Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia] (ESCAC), this merit is often lacking. Furthermore, in Spain there is reluctance to watch films in Catalan. The procés [Catalonia’s bid for independence] has not helped.

In this regard, the network of film festivals, under the umbrella of the Catalunya Film Festival association, is a bastion of resistance for Catalan-language films and an alternative to purely commercial screening. Netflix and HBO’s entry into the Spanish market has left Catalan on the sidelines, but it will also certainly generate new opportunities and dynamics that cannot yet be appraised.

A country without its own production has no story. Autochthonous production must be fostered. The question is how to go about it. What has happened in recent years and what must we do from now on? Must we define the requirements for a production to be considered Catalan and, therefore, eligible for grants? Would it be helpful to give the filmmaking industry tax breaks?

Retrat de Carmen Abarca

Carmen Abarca. President of Associated Scriptwriters of Catalonia (GAC)

The solution involves increasing public investment, a question of political will. It is not just a matter of reinstating operators’ tax, or of giving tax incentives to production, but of making it clear that audiovisual culture must have a decent budget allocation. There are very small European countries with minority languages that export their products around the world, focusing on originality and creativity. The original language of a production is not an obstacle to reaching a global audience. Payment platforms have shown that good stories triumph far and wide; therefore, we must promote the distinctive nature of our culture. Apart from increasing private and public investment, the model of production must be radically changed. It is not a matter of competing in terms of budget with international megaproductions, but rather of focusing on the creativity of a team of professionals and creators with a great deal of experience and emerging young talent, trained in our universities and film and scriptwriting schools. Creators are the cornerstone and we must support high-quality Catalan audiovisual content if we want to make a name for ourselves on the international scene.

Retrat d'Isona Passola

Isona Passola. President of the Catalan Film Academy. Scriptwriter, director and audiovisual producer of Massa d’Or Produccions

The Government dropped TV3, just as Madrid sees more production than ever because platforms such as Netflix and HBO have been set up. There has been a massive migration of professionals to Madrid and, along the way, we have lost presence of the Catalan language, which has been limited to very small-scale projects, awash with voluntarism or driven by young students. With the audiovisual tax contested and the Government of Catalonia budget extended, we are losing the story, just now that 71% of young Catalans consume audiovisuals every night and we are not serving them. In other European countries, domestic production is highly subsidised and protected; for example, in France, if a film is made in French, 50% of the production is covered. Here the Government, specifically the Department of the Presidency, should channel funds into TV3 to give impetus to fiction in Catalan – a series cannot be sold abroad if there is no push from TV3 to start with. The last time I led a project on TVE [national state-owned public-service television broadcaster in Spain], which is also a public company and should foster Catalan, I was told that I would have to make it in Spanish because TV3 did not contribute sufficient resources. In addition, the Department for Language Policy should help producers with a commercial ambition to shoot films in Catalan.

Retrat d'Agustí Esteve

Agustí Esteve. Director of the production company El Terrat

The major crisis hitting the Catalan audiovisual sector is not recent; it began in 2013 and raged until 2016. Overcoming the crisis coincided with the emergence of new platforms, by new companies, and overhauled the domestic Catalan market. Now, I think that talk of a Catalan market is obsolete; the audiovisual market is no longer walled in and this has led to new outlets for producers. There are more opportunities, but it is also true that there are more companies competing with them. The CCMA crisis has spurred us on to find new customers, and this is good because it helps us not to be complacent.

The last ten years have seen a veritable revolution in the field of technology and the possibilities for consuming and generating content. Everyone can generate content. What sets one content apart from the next is talent and quality, but any one of us can generate it and, besides that, any one of us can access it from just a simple telephone device. Democratisation has been tremendous and, from my point of view, this is positive for enhancing societies’ standard of democracy. Now we have greater choice within a wider selection of content, which can be consumed how and when we want.

I have no magic formula, but I firmly believe in singularisation, in being different, affording added value, being authentic and doing what you can do, because your personality is unique. Having enthusiasm and talent and, depending on the commission or project executed, having the necessary resources, because it is undeniable that part of the difference stems from quality.

Retrat de Joaquim Oristrell

Joaquim Oristrell. Scriptwriter and film director

Catalonia is experiencing a politically complicated situation, which in turn affects culture. TV3, like all public broadcasters, is funded with our taxes, but we see that it has ceased to be a priority for our politicians, who focus on other investments. The audiovisual sector has lost momentum. Many of us have had to go to work in Madrid on account of the lack of work in Barcelona. People who still work here with much lower budgets, do so with vocation, drive and heroism. The situation we are experiencing will not be rectified until we clarify which side the current political conflict is taking. I am not a utopian, but rather a possibilist, and I believe that politics must be governed by the head, not by the heart. The audiovisual sector in Catalonia will not bounce back until we have political stability. Catalan producers and creators have already shown that they can offer quality proposals with sparse budgets. Merlí [Merlin], Polseres vermelles [The Red Band Society] and Nit i dia [Night and Day], which have been exported, are examples of the country’s talent. To unleash this local talent we need more resources and a decent budget. Unfortunately, politicians often prioritise more attractive investments and overlook culture and education, to which more attention should be paid.

Retrato de Raimon Masllorens

Raimon Masllorens. President of the Spanish Federation of Audiovisual Producers (PROA). Executive Director of the production company Brutal Media

In the last eight years, TV3 has witnessed a spectacular decline and the Government continues to look the other way. Added to the misfortune of the audiovisual tax are cuts to the Culture budget, which has fallen to unexpected levels. We live in a more audiovisual world than ever, there is more production than ever, and we therefore need a clear policy for the sector. PROA asks that the Government roll out this policy, in order to set forth a plan and then seek the necessary resources to bring it to fruition.

We need a well-defined project, which involves more than just strengthening TV3. It must be borne in mind that the future will be increasingly digital. Therefore, we should have a platform – which could be public-private and beyond TV3 à la carte –, where the user could watch programmes broadcast by Televisió de Catalunya, but also content from private producers, who need and deserve public support if we want them to generate high-quality proposals. Without a strong audiovisual fabric, building a country’s story is very difficult.

Retrat de Neus Ballús

Neus Ballús. Director, scriptwriter and audiovisual producer

Those who finance or subsidise the audiovisual sector have to appreciate that there are a number of productions that challenge us to question ourselves; they generate a story and identity. There are realities that, if we do not portray them, nobody will.

It is very important that each environment, with its cultural identity, be given the opportunity to express itself, but there are a whole host of industrial restrictions that are generating a change of model that is not conducive to making Catalan-language audiovisual products or content rooted in Catalonia. This has forced us to take part in international co-productions, which may be an incentive to do very universal things. It is important that productions rooted in the territory can travel without forcing them to be standardised. TV3 should share this priority.

The change of model, which is due to the emergence of platforms, is international. It changes the consumption model, which forces us to rethink the purpose of movie theatres and the role of television. Value must be placed on the shared experience of going to the cinema, which is different to sitting on the sofa in front of the TV at home; new generations must be taught (seeing a painting in a catalogue isn’t the same as seeing a work of art in a museum), so that the social nature of cinema is preserved. Platforms like Netflix or HBO have replaced the video club, but they cannot replace the work of film clubs or festivals. As a filmmaker, I find there are stages in the life of a film that I miss. It is upsetting enough to see that people don’t go to the cinema, but we do not have control either over how our film is consumed or screened.

Retrat de Marta Lladó

Marta Lladó. Manager of Catalunya Film Festivals

In spite of the crisis, the number of festival goers rises every year. The audience has exclusive, unique and collective experiences. The occupancy rate of movie theatres is 77% during festivals, they get sold out and attendance increases by 30% annually. Approximately 50% of Catalan cinema is consumed at film festivals, which are a cornerstone and unequivocal part of the film industry in Catalonia. We work with various agents from the industry (producers, screeners, distributors, etc.) in the dissemination of diverse, plural and creative cinema, audience creation, awareness raising of certain issues and values, the promotion of meeting places and networking in the sector. New projects come into being linked to festivals taking place in Barcelona, which have led to the exporting of programmes and local know-how and have led to the creation of distributors. Festivals educate the viewer’s perspective, foster internationalisation, and bear a cultural and economic impact. They must be asserted as essential arenas for the getting together of professionals, the circulation of works and their marketing.

Retrat d'Enric Gomà

Enric Gomà. Scriptwriter

More needs to be invested in the script and having it finished before choosing which movie will be produced. Decisions, therefore, should be taken based on finished scripts and not on an idea. A script is a well-structured 110-page document, with all the nuances; more must be commissioned and, in any case, a different amount should be paid if it is ultimately produced or not. Direction must join the process later on, and the scriptwriter can lend them a hand, but a powerful production must start off with a good script.

In the last forty years, Spanish cinema has witnessed a boom: Almodóvar, Erice, Amenábar, etc. It has gone from contempt to tremendous admiration and has produced commercial hits. And Catalan cinema has only achieved that with Pa negre [Black Bread] and Estiu 1993 [Summer 1993]. Spanish cinema has enjoyed a history of success that Catalan has not yet accomplished, partly as a result of screening problems, and partly due to lacking its own media ecosystem. We have a repertoire of frontline actors who work for fairly reasonable fees, but they are not stars. Star actors who can attract audiences to theatres are lacking.

Retrat de Lluís Alcarazo

Lluís Arcarazo. Writer and scriptwriter. Mediapro Studio

Ten years ago we slid into a general crisis, which gravely affected the Catalan audiovisual sector, since TV3 suffered serious financing difficulties and everything felt the brunt of it. Then, in recent years, platforms have emerged, such as Netflix and Movistar, thereby proliferating the amount of audiovisual products and changing the landscape. We have gone from a complicated scenario to a great situation. However, beneath this current boom a deterioration of the working conditions is concealed; less is earned than ten years ago for the same work, but the range of themes and style have broadened when it comes to telling a story.

As regards the Barcelona-Madrid connection, the Catalan capital has lost momentum for the aforementioned reasons, since much of the production is executed in Madrid and the big producers have set up shop. Despite this divide, Mediapro Studio produces 34 series around the world, and many find their place in Europe through Netflix.

Productions like Merlí [Merlin] and Nit i dia [Night and Day] have been purchased thanks to digital platforms, featured in two areas: international series and local products; the technical standard of production is very high, there are good editors and good directors of photography. In this regard, we have taken a leap forwards in terms of content and quality. Ten years ago exporting proved difficult, but now series are conceived for an audience that goes beyond the local one. TV3 is currently making productions with platforms, such as in the case of Nit i Dia, which Netflix bought. TV3 keeps the première, but it is then transferred to international platforms.

Retrat d'Oriol Sala-Patau

Oriol Sala-Patau. Executive producer. Head of Fiction and Cinema at Televisió de Catalunya

We need money and political will to reverse the stalemate we face as regards the production of series and films in Catalan. An appropriate budget, which would offset the revocation of the audiovisual tax, should allow us to produce a minimum of three series per year for our prime time. The pilots of the last three series broadcast for TV3 (Benvinguts a la família, Si no t'hagués conegut and Les de l'hoquei) [Welcome to the Family, If I Hadn’t Met You and The Hockey Girls) were purchased by Netflix. Co-production with this platform is a success for Catalonia that has put Catalan on the world map and has also given visibility to the talent of Catalan scriptwriters, directors and actors. We also reaffirm our commitment to the afternoon or evening soap opera, with a talented acting cast who later help fill theatre seats when these actors take to the stage. And in the field of cinema, it is hard to finance films in Catalan, especially when co-produced with other state channels, but we continue to prioritise large-scale products such as Incerta gloria [Uncertain Glory] and other smaller-scale ones, such as Estiu 1993 [Summer 1993] and Els dies que vindran [The Days to Come], which travel well around the world despite not always having a great commercial circuit.

Retrat de Joan Burdeus

Joan Burdeus. Film and television critic

There’s a problem that we could call ESCAC syndrome. Most Catalan film and television schools, as in Spain, are totally hijacked by an American conception of cinema, which makes us second-division Hollywood film producers, where the dialogues seem to have emerged from Google translate.

The solution is not particularly magical: make more series and better ones in Catalan. Although there will always be a global marketplace of blockbusters, local production has a permanent competitive advantage: it is the only one that can be conceived from beginning to end to talk about your world. The mafia in the port city of Baltimore is fascinating, but that of the port of Barcelona – proud leaders in European cocaine consumption as we are – is equally impressive and we should be able to talk about it better than anyone else.

Series are the quintessential cultural conversation, the best vehicle for shared culture, the social cement that allows us to talk about something other than politics and soccer with relatives, friends and co-workers. The problem with series is that they are expensive, needless to say, but they are only expensive inasmuch as they are not part of your priorities as a country.

Retrat de Miquel Curanta i Girona

Miquel Curanta i Girona. Director of the Catalan Institute for Cultural Companies (ICEC)

We have experienced a triple crisis: economic, political and model. The economic crisis triggered a fall in revenue and budgets, which in turn forced us to consider an audiovisual tax. In 2017, the Constitutional Court slashed this tax and sparked a political crisis, which added to the crisis affecting the business and consumption model due to the emergence of Netflix and other OTT platforms (over-the-top, digital platforms on demand), which are vigorously taking root in Europe and are unsettling the Catalan industry and creators, who no longer have as much control over how their works are consumed. The public sees less films in movie theatres and more series through these new media, which are seeking locations to produce in Spain.

In the face of this evolution, we have to assert the talent we have for attracting these platforms, as well as harmonise tax incentives for filming, like in the Canary Islands or Navarre, and put them on a par with European countries, which have a good tax rebate. Furthermore, we must showcase the high standard we have in animation, documentaries and service companies.

In view of the situation, what solutions do we have? We must revive the strategic plan for the audiovisual sector. We are urged to approve new budgets in Parliament, which would allow us to offset the 16 million euros lost from the audiovisual tax.

To be able to attract OTT, they must be given tax incentives to encourage them to film here; Catalonia has its own way of making films that could be an interesting contribution to these platforms. And we must do our best to increase the activity of Catalan producers, right here, to rebuild strength in the industry.

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