Two former Sogecine executives, Fernando Bovaira and Simon De Santiago talk about their new production outfit Mod Producciones, which made a big impact last year with its first film, Alejandro Amenabar’s historical epic Agora
Major Spanish broadcaster Sogecable’s film production wing Sogecine has produced some of the great Spanish movies of the last 20 years, including Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside and Julio Medem’s Sex And Lucia. But in 2007, the broadcaster decided to wind down its film activities, and as a result most of its production team fled for other ventures. The first to make the big leap was Fernando Bovaira, former head of the pay TV business, and director general of Sogecine.
“I was part of the team that launched pay TV channel Cuatro, but once my mission was complete, I wanted to get back into film production through Sogecine, but we didn’t arrive at an agreement, so I decided to go it alone by setting up my own company, Mod Producciones,” explains Bovaira.
Soon after Pablo Alfaro, former head of finance at Sogecine, joined Bovaira as head of business at Mod, followed by Simon De Santiago, director of production and international at Sogecine/Sogepaq (the film distribution wing of Sogecable) and now a leading producer alongside Bovaira.
“We had already formed a strong relationship at Sogecine, and were determined to continue creating quality films with commercial value at Mod Producciones,” says De Santiago. “Obviously we had to adapt to the fact that we are an independent company and no longer part of a large audiovisual group, which means finding funding is harder, but we have good relations with key directors like Amenabar and are looking to do international co-productions.”
Bovaira had already produced Amenabar’s previous films from Open Your Eyes onwards, including The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, before he joined the director on Agora. But with this historical drama set in 4th Century Alexandria about the astronomer Hypatia, both Bovaira and Amenabar knew they were scaling new heights.
“Alejandro [Amenabar] certainly felt vertigo before shooting began in 2008. This was an $80m production, so there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders,” says Bovaira. “We had to rebuild Agora from scratch. The movie has a scale you cannot fake.”
Despite mixed reviews and only muted interest at Cannes last year from buyers, the film went on to take $30m in Spain through Fox at the end of 2009 and has since been sold to most territories through Focus Features International.
“The film has beaten our expectations in the Spanish market and we are confident it can perform internationally as well,” says Bovaira.
Next up for the Mod team is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Barcelona-set thriller Biutiful, starring Javier Bardem as a criminal confronted by a childhood friend, now a policeman. Spanish actors Ruben Ochandiano and Blanca Portillo also star. Inarritu’s Cha Cha Cha is co-producing, alongside Universal and Focus Features, which is handling sales and willrelease the film in the US. A slot at Cannes is expected.
“Inarritu was looking for a Spanish producer on the project and so came to me with the script, which I thought was very strong and so we came onboard. We are putting the final touches on it now,” says Bovaira.
Mod has plans to work with both Amenabar and Inarritu again on their next projects, currently at the ideas stages, but in the meantime they are also supporting promising first-time Spanish film-makers. First up is Oskar Santos’ hotly anticipated thriller El Mal Ajeno, which Amenabar will also produce through his outfit Himenoptero, alongside Telecinco Cinema, all of whom worked together on Agora.
Based on a script by Daniel Sanchez Arevalo (DarkBlueAlmostBlack), the film stars Eduardo Noriega as a doctor whose life is transformed when he becomes the victim of a shooting. Alta Films will release the film in April in Spain, following its premiere at Berlin in the Panorama section.
“There was a question mark over the fact that Oskar is a first time film-maker, but we are very proud of the job he has done, and with a quality cast that includes Belen Rueda, we hope it can be a break out hit in Spain and potentially do well internationally,” says Bovaira.
From 1996, he headed up Sogecable’s production activities through Sogecine, overseeing several leading films such as The Others and Mortadelo & Filemon,The Big Adventure, before also taking on the top job at Sogepaq in 2001, overseeing distribution. In 2004, he took the big step up to managing director of contents at parent company Sogecable, but decided to split from the company in 2007 to set up Mod Producciones.
Simon De Santiago
Joined the Sogecable group in 1997 as part of the film acquisitions department of Canal +Spain where he also set up the Script Development program. In 2002, he was offered a new post as head of distribution of Sogepaq, before taking over as head of production and of the international department of Sogecine and Sogepaq, promoting major Spanish films such as The Sea Inside to the foreign market. Now a leading producer at Mod Producciones.
Took on the role of finance director of Sogecine in 1997, before becoming joint head of film production and distribution of Sogecine and Sogepaq, and then in 2004 he also took on the responsibility of managing the area of contents for Sogecable. In total he was involved in more than 40 feature productions. Now head of business at Mod Producciones.