Latin Conference: Studio Heads Behind 'Instructions Not Included' Want Everyone's Eyes

From left: Paul Presburger (CEO, Pantelion Films), Benjamin Odell (president of production, Pantelion Films) , Bruno Del Granado (agent, CAA) at the Billboard 2014 Latin Music Conference and Awards, Miami, FL.

Michael Seto

Music has the power to transform films -- that becomes especially true when the film is considered a Latino movie.

Latin Conference and Awards: Full Coverage

Or at least that's what the heads of Pantelion Films attest. Pantelion is the first major Hispanic Hollywood studio that aims to be the face of Latin entertainment in North, Central and South America.

Off the heels of their 2013 breakthrough, "Instructions Not Included," which became the highest-grossing domestic Spanish-language film ever, and their highly-anticipated "Cesar Chavez," Pantelion’s CEO, Edward Allen, and president of productions, Benjamin Odell, spoke at the 25th Annual Latin Billboard Conference in Miami Tuesday with a clear message: movies and music go hand-in-hand.

“Music is so key. We want to create soundtracks where the artists who sing our songs also [help] promote the film,” Odell said.

"'Chavez' was number one or number two at the box office in California on opening weekend -- but it bombed on the East Coast and especially in Florida, where it was dead on arrival,” Allen said. Perhaps music might have made a difference. But also they’ve learned that the Hispanic market is not homogeneous.

“The stories need to be universal. We’re trying to stay away from a Mexican movie or a Cuban movie,” Allen said. “If someone comes to us and says ‘Here’s a border crossing story’ or a story on the drug war, we’re not interested."

“If we make movies for Latinos, we are going to miss them. They, like everybody else, want to be part of the bigger fabric of America.”

Their next blockbuster attempt, with the working title "La Vida Robot," is a story of five Arizona high school students who enter a robotics contest that is, others believe, out of their league, starring George Lopez in a rare dramatic role.

“It’s an underdog story. It could have been anyone. It could have been urban, white, Chinese,” Odell said about the core story. Except for the fact that the kids are all "Dreamers," the name given to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents and educated here.

But while "Instructions" made half of its $100 million box office sales in Latin America, "La Vida Robot," which is in English, may be a harder sell there, Allen said. “George Lopez is not known in Mexico. So we are using music to make it more relevant to Spanish language audiences."

“By using music, which already has crossover appeal, it can be a way for us to expand our movies.”

They will likely have the exact opposite problem with the movie they are producing about the life of Mexican comic actor Cantinflas, which moderator Bruno del Granado called a “risky proposition.”

But what’s most important is telling good stories -- not Hispanic stories, not Latino stories, but global stories. After all, Hispanics over-index on movie tickets nationwide. While they are 17 percent of the population, they buy 25% of all movie tickets. “And what are they going to see? Disney. Features. The Latin market loves horror films.”

Latinos are not an underserved market, he explained. “They are underrepresented.”

Where Hispanics are under-indexing in movies are romantic comedies -- like "Instructions."

“We’ve tapped into something, if [we're bringing them] something they’re not getting from Hollywood,” Allen said.

But it still has to feel like a major motion picture, both agreed.

“We don’t want the market to think they can live with ‘less than,’” Allen said.

They are also glad to be teaming up with an entity like Univision, who helped with the promotion and distribution of "Instructions."

“Univision has been a rather important partner in terms of launching our movies,” Allen said. “It’s a really strong joint venture, and we are really committed to it. But I would say we’re still learning.”