Miguel & William, a period romantic comedy that pits literary giants Cervantes and Shakespeare against each other, represents many firsts for writer-director Ines Paris.
After more than a decade writing and directing television sitcoms and two successful Spanish-language romantic comedies, co-directed with Daniela Fejerman, Miguel & William is Paris' first solo feature and her debut foray into a foreign language (about 7% of the film is in English, the rest in Spanish).
And as producer Antonio Saura, of Zebra Producciones, points out, the $7.8m (EUR6m) Spanish-UK co-production - which opens in Spain on February 2 - is the largest Spanish film to be directed by a woman.
The concept first came about when Saura and veteran actor Juan Luis Galiardo chatted about what would have happened if the two literary giants had actually met. Saura then contacted Paris because "we thought the best way to address two such important men was through a woman", he says.
Paris, who studied theatre and was an actress before becoming a writer and director, says she immediately fell in love with the idea. "I thought this would make great comedy," she recalls. "You're dealing with two geniuses, and if you were to get too transcendental you could make something really boring and erudite. But both these men were also comedians."
One historical fact was key: "Shakespeare disappeared for a few years from England and nobody knows where he went," she says. "He was a comedic writer when he left and he came back a writer of tragedies." The film sees him follow a woman to Spain. And despite being called Miguel & William, the film's real protagonist, played by Elena Anaya, is the woman at the centre of the love triangle. British actor Will Kemp, who worked with Anaya on Van Helsing, plays Shakespeare, rival to Galiardo's Cervantes in all things artistic and amorous.
The film's period setting was responsible for the budget coming in substantially higher than the Spanish average. Some 80% of financing came from the Spanish producers and the remaining 20% from the UK's Future Films, through an investment and a sale-and-leaseback deal. Warner Bros signed on early to distribute in Spain, and VP of European production Simona Benzakein was active in the production from the start. It will now throw its muscle behind Miguel & William with a 200-plus print Spanish opening before Bavaria presents the film to buyers at Berlin and Cannes.
Miguel & William "marks a qualitative jump for me", Paris says. She is now working on plans for two other comedies, which she hopes will include Saura and Benzakein again.
Miguel & William
Plot: Literary giants Cervantes and Shakespeare embark on an adventure to change their creative destinies.
Budget: $7.8m (EUR6m)
Producers: Zebra Producciones, Miguel&William PC, Fundacion Cuarto Centenario, Future Film Group (UK)
Int'l sales: Bavaria Film International
Key cast: Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Juan Luis Galiardo