Thursday, December 8

The roller coaster of subsidies for Spanish cinema

The Government has already committed to ERC to provide the Fund for the Cinema Law for production in Catalan, to finance dubbing and to guarantee that the platforms introduce both dubbed versions and subtitles when they exist. This has been the agreement that has allowed to unblock the General State Budgets, in the face of the initial request to oblige the services of streaming to offer a percentage of Catalan production in its catalog. However, the new Audiovisual Law is much more than the dispute between the independence party and the Executive.

The objective of the regulation is to adapt the legislation to the reality of a market defined by new consumer habits that, in turn, are linked to the appearance of an increasing number of on-demand television platforms, that is, Netflix, HBO Max, Disney + or Movistar +, among others. The previous regulation is from 2009, but since then new technology companies have appeared that have modified the mass consumption of audiovisuals and, therefore, the law had become outdated.

In this way, quotas for European and Spanish works are established in the catalogs, the obligation to allocate part of the income to new productions or requirements to protect minors, gender or race diversity. All this, in addition, framed in the creation of a hub audiovisual, still poorly defined, which aims to make Spain a destination for companies interested in producing content.

But exactly how much does the Government allocate to finance audiovisual production? The Ministry of Culture refers to the memories of aid to cinematography collected each year. These only refer to cinema because, as detailed, television series do not have specific help from the Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts (ICAA).

In this way, if the total budget granted to the different aid lines is compiled, it is obtained that, in recent years, 2018 is the most generous period, with almost 112 million euros. On the contrary, the worst is 2013, with 36.9 million euros during the mandate of Mariano Rajoy and in the middle of the financial crisis. It was only a year after the popular raised the VAT on cinema from 8% to 21%.

Regarding this exercise, that of the General State Budgets for 2022, the aid received by Spanish cinema remains static at 70 million, the same amount that the PP reserved for 2017 and which disappointed the sector. “We have not focused on production, but on other issues that seem equally relevant to us. For example, all the money from the cultural bonus that is in the cinema is not detailed in the budget, because I don’t know how much of this bonus goes to end up in the cinema. Let’s say 20%, which is 40 million euros more, “the Minister of Culture, Miquel Iceta, explained a few months ago, when asked about it by this newspaper at a press conference.

Behind the large annual figure of aid to the cinema there are different items that change according to the sign of the Government and sometimes even from one year to another. For example, in 2014 and 2013 they decided to group aid for the production of short films into just one item, when it is normal for it to be in two: to the pieces made and those that are on the project. Due to this, the comparison between periods is not easy, since the juggling with the games is also determined by the current situation.

For example, in the 2020 aid report you can find a section for showrooms as a result of the COVID-19 crisis that amounts to 13 million euros, covering almost 20% of the budget. There are also cases in which the items disappear: in 2018 the Amortization of feature films ceased to exist, intended to defray part of the costs of certain productions during the first 12 months of exhibition. But why?

His explanation is the approval of the Royal Decree that modified the 2007 Film Law, which established that “general aid for the production of feature films will progressively replace aid for the amortization of feature films.” The reason is known as ‘blockbuster fraud’, advanced by El País. An internal investigation by the Ministry of Culture uncovered the collusion between producers and theaters to falsify the collection data and thus access aid.

Regarding independent production, the aid is grouped into three lines: selective aid for the production of feature films about projects, aid for the production of project short films and aid for the production of short films made. These three items, as can be seen, maintain an ascending line as of 2017 and in the last report, that of 2020, together they add up to almost 13 million euros.

However, as the ICAA explains to this newspaper, independent companies can also benefit from the largest endowment line, that of general aid for the production of feature films on project, since large producers have the obligation to co-produce projects with them because their ownership over these cannot be greater than 60%. In the latest available report, in fact, it can be seen how this item served to finance 70 films, mostly with a budget of 1.2 million euros. Among them are well-known titles, such as Maixabel or Thaddeus Jones 3, or others something more niche, such as Mom is on tinder or A boyfriend for my wife.

In these aid reports there is no section dedicated to productions in co-official languages. Asked about this, the Ministry of Culture points out that these can benefit from those considered as “difficult audiovisual works”, an incentive measure approved a year ago by the Council of Ministers to favor greater diversity in productions. In the case of a film screened in Spain and shot in Basque or Catalan, for example, incentives of up to 80% of the recognized cost are received.

We therefore have to wait to see how the new Audiovisual Law connects with a national production environment that for years has demanded a series of improvements that, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, have been aggravated.