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Universal to build on Mama success with more co-pros

After Mama’s growing US and international box office success, David Kosse tells Screen “there are more opportunities for this kind of film,” including a sequel to Andrés Muschietti’s horror hit.

US and international box office hit Mama has travelled a remarkably long way since causing a stir on its short-form debut at the Sitges Film Festival in 2008.

What began as a Spanish short from touted commercials director Andrés Muschietti and his sister, producer Barbara Muschietti [the team had no previous feature credits], grew into an English-language, international co-production backed by Universal and Guillermo Del Toro and starring Oscar nominee and white-hot leading lady Jessica Chastain.

Vitally, it is fast-becoming a major box office hit, having grossed $89.2m worldwide from only a handful of territories.

Mama, initially championed by Del Toro, who wanted to push the film through his development deal with Universal, marks a winning production model for Universal Pictures International Productions, which was intrinsic to the film’s development.

Co-production hit

UPIP has a strong recent history of developing local language productions but Mama marks a palpable hit for a rare English-language, international co-productions distributed by Universal in the US and most international territories.

“We all liked the project a lot but we were finding it hard to make it work in the US,” said Universal Pictures’ president of international David Kosse [who admits studio execs were “creeped out” by the short].

“We decided to move it over to Universal Pictures International Production group in London and to partner with Barbara Muschietti’s production company, Toma 78, who reconceived the movie as an English-language Canadian-Spanish co-production.”

The Thing and Scott Pilgrim executive-producer J Miles Dale took a lead from Canada, with Muschietti and Dale both finding local partners, including Antena 3 for TV rights in Spain. The film shot in Spain and Canada, with eOne taking Canadian rights.

“We were the backstop of worldwide distribution, so the team had that guarantee,” continued Kosse, who is now keen to build on Mama’s success with similarly structured features.

Fresh models

“This was partly about putting talent together and having a degree of independence on the production side,” said the London-based exec.

Mama ultimately came together as a great commercial proposition [Universal briefly considered it as a Spanish language project].

“And it’s a great example of what the group in the UK is looking to do: finding projects that can be international co-productions, which we back, or partner to co-finance, and on which we then take worldwide distribution. This group continues to reconceive of different ways and models to put movies together.”

First of many

Kosse now hopes Mama can be the first of many similarly structured success stories: “We’re looking at a lot of these types of films, of different genres. Many are in planning stages.”

One such feature is Keanu Reeves’ upcoming action Man of Tai Chi, which is a Chinese and English language film on which UPIP has partnered with Village Roadshow, Wanda and China Film Group, with Universal holding US rights.

Mama franchise

With Mama having grossed $89.2m [$68.2m from the US] with 43 territory openings still to come, including UK, Germany, France, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Japan and Italy, Kosse admits the prospects of a sequel are good.

“We think there’s potential for a Mama franchise,” he added.

“We’d like to do another one. But those conversations are in the early stages.

“Mama is the first of this type of model that we’ve had enormous success with so there are more opportunities for this kind of film.”

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