New York -- As CEO of Pantelion Films and managing director of Televisa USA, Paul Presburger’s perspectives of creative projects aimed at the Hispanic community are informed by two visions.
Relative to theatricals, Presburger views matters from the “inside looking out.” As for the smaller screen of TV, his perspectives tend to focus from the “outside looking in.”
In a conversation with B&C executive editor Dade Hayes here Wednesday at the Hispanic TV Summit, presented by Multichannel News and B&C, Presburger discussed some of the thinking behind the top grossing film aimed at Hispanics, Instructions Not Included, as well as current TV series Devious Maids on Lifetime and Nickelodeon’s Hollywood Heights.
When it comes to movies, Presburger took some initial cues from Bollywood, noting that when “you could open the pages of Variety on Tuesday morning,” he would invariably see some Indian theatrical community films among the top box office generators, even through the South Asian population in the U.S. does not nearly approach the 50 million Latinos who reside in this nation.
As such, Pantelion Films, backed by LionsGate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa, was formed in 2010 and became dedicated to and branded toward Latino-led features, which has yielded Instructions Not Included that has now taken in a record $40 million-plus at the box office. Next up: Pulling Strings, which is bowing on Oct. 4.
“Running trailers for the next film is important,” Presburger said, speaking of continuity between Instructions Not Included and Pulling Strings before screening a first-ever preview for Chavez, the biopic about the American labor leader, for Summit attendees. The film is slated to open on April 4, 2014.
Presburger said when the company was established he thought that Hispanics were under-served by Hollywood. Research showed that was not the case: Whereas Hispanics comprise 17% of the U.S. population they account for 26% of movie ticket sales. Moreover, 33% of frequent movie-goers are Latinos.
Instead, Presburger realized that Hispanics were under-represented on screen. He said Pantelion moved to develop films in which Hispanic faces extend beyond those of gang members or immigrants.
“We want to find movies with universal themes that could be made for any nationality, but we’re going for from a Latino-American point of view,” he said. “We’re talking about look inside out. Our core demo release is something for a Latino audience, but because the focus is universal, we want good cross-over as well.”
Presburger believes Pulling Strings, a romantic comedy, starring Jaime Camil and Laura Ramsey, orbiting around the former obtaining a visa, will be a very good test because the film’s dialog is split between Spanish and English.
Looking to broaden the audience for its films, Pantelion is also expanding its media mix. Initially, it relied on commercials on Univision -- the top Spanish-language media company in the U.S., for which Televisa is long-time program supplier -- to carry the promotional ball. Now, it is employing a number of other outlets, including outdoor billboards, and schedules on E!, VH1 and ABC Family.
Speaking of the latter, Televisa USA, the domestic studio unit of Televisa, is preparing a Chasing Life, an adaptation Mexican series Terminales for a 2014 debut on ABC Family, this time with the setting in Boston. That follows Nickelodeon’s run with Hollywood Heights (the Mexican telenovela Alcanzar Una Estrella, Reach For A Star) and Lifetime’s Devious Maids (Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar, They Are the Home's Joy).
In crossing borders, Presburger explained the company’s outside looking in philosophy for television.
“We want to make series for general audiences in the U.S. When we started thinking about this business, we asked, ‘What is our competitive advantage? What will make us succeed?’ Well, we could bring the Latin America experience to the general market drawn from 70,000 hours of TV that has been produced for Latin Americans.”
It’s a gambit that is also drawing significant Latino audiences to the networks. Presburger said “Devious Maids is over-indexing with Latinos by 130% for Lifetime; Modern Family under-indexes with Latinos on ABC.” “We want to over-index with Latinos,” he said.
Presburger also said that Televisa USA has an edge in working with Latino and Mexican talent. To that end, George Lopez has just inked a film and TV deal with Pantelion Films and South Shore, the film and TV ventures between Lionsgate and Televisa.
Principal photography is slated to begin in New Mexico this month on Pantelion’s English-language feature, La Vida Robot. Starring and produced by Lopez, the theatrical is based on a true story of four Mexican-American teenagers from Phoenix who form a robotics team that builds an underwater machine that wins the national robotics competition against the reigning champions from MIT.
The first Lopez TV projects for U.S. networks from South Shore, a TV studio venture between Televisa USA, and Lionsgate, include several comedies and an action drama in development with Stan Lee.