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Local Producer Bets On George Romero For World Success

Fernando Allende believes island film industry has potential for marketable productions


March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico’s budding film industry "not only has the capacity to satisfy the local market but can conquer the world with productions made on the island."

So says Mexican actor / singer / producer Fernando Allende. With three successful local productions to his credit, he is now embarking on his most ambitious project yet: a horror flick to be directed in Puerto Rico–cross your fingers–by no less than horror cult master George Romero, creator of the classic trilogy, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead.

Allende, who begins filming his fourth feature-length film Qué familia más normal II in April, values cinema and is a strong believer in the potential of the local film industry.

"The movie industry has many assets. It is a nonpolluting industry, can create good values, and is an industry that entertains," said Allende, whose good looks and talent propelled an acting career that began in Mexico in the early 1970s and climaxed in Hollywood where he filmed with Peter Ustinov and Joanne Woodward, among others. He is currently in the cast of El Cimarrón, a costume drama produced by his friend Iván Gonzalo Ortiz. The $1.2 million film is one of the most expensive ever financed with local money.

"Puerto Rico’s budding film industry includes top actors and incredible movie and television technicians and crews," said Allende. "Plus, the island photographs so beautifully. The light of the Caribbean is so crisp."

Local film makers are generally held back by limited financing and distribution channels. Allende believes local stations servicing the Puerto Rico market could offer greater support by purchasing more local TV productions. Instead, stations rely more and more on outside programming because it is less expensive to buy.

"There is no incentive for local stations to buy from island producers," he said, going on to suggest a tax credit for stations that buy locally might be one way of promoting the island film industry.

Allende has been lucky in being able to successfully market the three films he has made since settling on the island with his wife, Mari Mediavilla, and their two sons. The family had lived in Aspen, Colo., for 18 years but moved to Puerto Rico on the eve of 9/11.

All three movies were sold to local stations and two of them were also picked up by Venevisión International, which holds the international rights for television, cable, pay-per-view, and DVD / VHS, with Allende getting a cut on these sales. "As a producer, the key is to recoup your investment locally so the money from international sales would be gravy, the cherry on top," said the producer. He is thankful for a 40% tax credit the government grants local producers since it helps offset the risks of moviemaking.

His first two features were Patrulla del Caribe, which cost $175,000 and was sold to Telemundo, and Siempre te amaré, a $225,000 production that employed 150 people (double the number needed for Patrulla) and was bought by Univisión. He broke even on the first movie but has made money on all the others since.

Last year, Allende and collaborator Alina Marrero hit upon the idea of a situation comedy that would mine the humor inherent in families whose members hail from different countries. The $260,000 film, which involved 175 people, so charmed executives at Venevisión International that the company decided to pick it up for the international market even before it was sold locally, once again to Univisión. "Venevisión International is the most important distributing network in Latin U.S.," he said. "Venevisión can put you all over."

Allende’s success formula includes giving local station executives a synopsis of the film and a list of the cast (99% of the roles in his productions are filled by local actors). He then asks for a "letter of intent that doesn’t compromise them to buy the film, unless they like it."

Subject matter is key. Allende said that for a movie to succeed beyond Puerto Rico, it must have a story with the universal appeal to easily cross over to other markets. Siempre te amaré, which Venevisión International also picked up, was a love story revolving around reincarnation, a belief held by many around the world.

His next feature, Qué familia más normal II, has a $275,000 budget. This time around, he will be able to shoot the film’s interiors in his own studio, a 52,000-square-foot former Playtex plant in Dorado outfitted as a studio, courtesy of a friend who owns the property.

After that, Allende has his sights set on a more ambitious undertaking, one he feels has all the necessary elements to be marketable and to "show the world what we can do in Puerto Rico."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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