The whole is greater than its parts for Pantelion Films, a joint venture between Lionsgate Films and Grupo Televisa.
Five-year-old Pantelion Films has been on a roll since the 2013 release of Instructions Not Included, a feature starring Mexican comedian, television actor and director Eugenio Derbez. Saying it “resonates beyond borders,” the Washington Post also said it was the most successful Spanish-language film at U.S. box offices in history.
That breakout success for Pantelion is the result of a business strategy that enabled the studio to experiment and refine its offerings.
Under the aegis of James McNamara, formerly CEO of Telemundo and now chairman of Pantelion, Lionsgate had released two Spanish-language films, Ladrón que Roba a Ladrón and La Mujer de Mi Hermano. Both were created as vehicles for TV stars, according to Edward Allen, COO of Pantelion Films.
“Latino audiences are very star-driven,” Allen says.
While those two movies met with some success, Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa believed there was more opportunity and more success to be had. They formed Pantelion Films to take it to the next level.
The new studio knew it might take some time to get the formula right, and that it would need to test many things – testing them within the context of releasing feature films. Pantelion didn’t know whether dramas, comedies or horror would most appeal to Hispanics, and whether features should be in English, Spanish or both. (Approximately 75 percent of the dialog in Instructions Not Included is Spanish.)
“We knew we needed to have as many at-bats as possible,” Allen says. “We managed our risk on a company level as well as on a film-production level.” In other words, budgets were carefully controlled so that the studio would have time to get the recipe right. “We didn’t want to go out and produce big-budget films and, after two or three failures, we’re done. Because we managed our losses, we have been able to keep trying new things until something worked.”
Allen says the success of Instructions Not Included was that turning point – although the formula is not entirely clear or simple. Certainly the presence of Derbez, a crossover star who is not only hugely popular in Mexico but who has also appeared in mainstream U.S. movies and TV shows, was a huge factor. So was the universality of the plot.
“It’s a universal story that people — irrespective of your culture and your preferences – can relate to, about unconditional love,” Allen says.
Then, there’s the English title for this mostly in-Spanish movie. Allen says this decision was partly to address some perceptions that Spanish-language films were of less quality than English-language movies, but more to emphasize the universal appeal.
He says, “If you make a universal story that touches the human condition, but you perhaps dress it in or give it the DNA of a particular culture, that’s when magic happens.”
A true JV
When Pantelion Films was formed, it aimed to take advantage of synergies between Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa. Lionsgate had a solid infrastructure in place, while Grupo Televisa had access to acting, creative and production talent.
“We are a true joint venture,” Allen says. “We use the resources of both companies to operate our business.”
This means that the Lionsgate team that handles films like Hunger Games and Divergent will use those same contacts to get Pantelion films into theaters across America.
Pantelion has a full and ambitious catalog of releases planned for the rest of the year. Next up is Vatican Tapes, to be released on July 24. The English-language horror film was produced by Lionsgate and Lakeshore Entertainment and stars Michael Peña. “Horror, especially with religious or Catholic elements, tends to perform well,” Allen notes.
On Labor Day weekend, Pantelion will release Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos, the third installment of a Mexican animated comedy film series produced by Huevocartoon Producciones. Allen says that each of the films has done very well in Mexico and that the Spanish-language film “contains a lot of Mexican DNA.”
In October, Pantelion will release Ladrónes, a sequel to Ladrón que Roba a Ladrón, the Lionsgate film that started it all.
Allen now sees the market for its films as a lot higher than what it was when the studio was founded. But that doesn’t mean Pantelion Films can rest on its laurels. He says the studio will need to continue testing and evolving to meet the tastes of the changing Hispanic audience.
“The audience is changing,” he says. “More and more people are acculturating, and there are more young Latinos. Their experience and their tastes will be very different than those of their parents or the older generations.”