By Rachel Dodes (Wall Street Journal)
Last year, comedian Will Ferrell met with the founders of Nala Films to see if they’d be interested in footing the bill for a low-budget comedy in which he would star as a simpleminded Mexican ranch hand.
“We asked him, ‘Do you speak Spanish?’ ” recalls Darlene Caamaño Loquet, president of Nala Films, which wants to produce movies aimed at the Hispanic market. “He said, ‘No.’”
Not a problem, they said, even though “Casa de mi Padre”—to be released March 16 at about 400 U.S. locations—is almost entirely in Spanish, with English subtitles. The film also inverts the seven-year-old company’s original mission statement, which was to make films in English with Latino stars.
Will Ferrell – speaking only Spanish – stars in “Casa de Mi Padre,” a film spoof of telenovelas and Mexican westerns. Rachel Dodes has a preview on Lunch Break.
Still, having Mr. Ferrell in the lead role, they thought, would be a selling point for both Spanish and English speaking audiences. The trailer is exactly the same for both groups, because Hispanics don’t like to feel they’re being marketed to differently than their English-speaking neighbors, says Emilio Diez Barroso, chairman of parent company Nala Investments.
“We wanted to say, ‘Let’s have the Gringo validate it,’ ” he says. “A lot rides on him.”
Mr. Diez Barroso, 36, is the great grandson of Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta, who founded Televisa, Mexico’s biggest media company. He says there are good business reasons to pursue the Hispanic market: In 2010, Hispanics accounted for nearly 30% of frequent moviegoers, even though they only comprised about 16% of the overall population, according to the most recent figures from the Motion Picture Association of America.
‘Let’s have the gringo validate it’: Nala Films made its latest movie, with Will Ferrell, in Spanish with English subtitles.
“Casa de mi Padre” mocks the war on drugs, spoofs genres from melodramatic telenovelas to Mexican westerns, and co-stars well-known Mexican actors such as Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, as a drug lord named “La Onza,” or “The Ounce.” To boost the humor for bilingual viewers, much of the film’s profane dialogue was deliberately mistranslated.
“Casa” was financed for less than $10 million entirely by Nala. In an unusual move, distributor Pantelion Films, the Spanish-language division of Lionsgate, and a joint venture with Televisa, agreed to give Nala approval over all aspects of the film’s $8 million marketing campaign. Much of this will go to ads on TV networks like Univision, which is partly owned by Televisa and offered attractive advertising rates because of the family connection, Mr. Diez Barroso says.
“Casa de mi Padre” is Nala’s first film to hew—somewhat—to the company’s original business plan, which was to make movies in English, but featuring Hispanic actors and themes. After attempting to develop several such projects, Mr. Diez Barrosa says he realized “we, as Latinos, wouldn’t watch these films.” Instead, they focused on movies that would appeal to broad audiences, such as “In the Valley of Elah,” about a soldier who disappears after returning from Iraq, and “Shelter,” a horror movie with Julianne Moore. Last year’s “Ceremony” swiftly went to DVD.
None have rocked the box office thus far. The producers’ biggest win has been “Dan in Real Life,” a 2007 comedy starring Steve Carrell, which grossed $48 million in the U.S. “The Air I Breathe” in 2008, with Kevin Bacon and Julie Delpy, vaporized.
Nala has had its movie successes, however: Mr. Diez Barroso was a board member and large stakeholder in Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the $2.5 billion “Twilight” franchise. Lionsgate acquired Summit this year in a deal valued at $412.5 million.