Aiming to fill a niche for Spanish and other producers increasingly hard-pressed to finance feature films in their own markets, two veteran players have formed Madrid-based co-production negotiation outfit Cinearch.

Co-founders Maria Jose Poblador and Carlos Batres officially presented the company, which has been operating for several months, on Sept 22 at the Donostia-San Sebastian International Film Festival (Sept 18-28), where Spanish producers debated their current situation during a one-day European Producers' Club Forum.

"After years of growth we're confronting a real crisis in this sector," said BocaBoca chief Cesar Benitez. "Our market share is down while the number of productions and costs of production have risen."

"Spanish distributors aren't supporting us with p&a while local broadcasters aren't buying Spanish films," added Zebra Producciones head Antonio Saura, backed up by figures from the Spanish Producers' Federation (FAPAE) showing the number of films acquired by local broadcasters dropped significantly between 2001 and 2003, particularly at the now-merged pay platform.

"The current situation makes it hard for Spanish producers to compete, and this is where we come in," say Cinearch's Poblador, a former agent and producer with 25 years experience in film, and Batres, a lawyer previously with the European Commission.

"There are also a lot of foreign companies interested in co-producing with Spain."

Cinearch helps Spanish producers attach foreign co-producers and apply for institutional financing, and brings international projects to Spanish companies.

They also help producers seek foreign sales agents and craft international contracts. The company's client base so far is concentrated in Spain, Argentina, France and Italy, and spans feature films, documentaries and TV movies. They charge a percentage of the amount attached to each project.

"Producers are now working with smaller personnel and expense structures - they don't have an international representative or lawyer in-house," says Poblador.