A string of good decisions makes a hit
The success of The Orphanage came at an otherwise bleak moment for Spanish cinema. Weak and fragmented into hundreds of small production companies, the industry appeared incapable of reacting to dwindling audience numbers. Although many producers blamed piracy for the drop, others pointed to the Spanish public's flagging interest in domestically produced fare.
RODAR Y RODAR: A LABORATORY OF CREATIVITY
The Orphanage project evolved from a single nucleus: a production outfit called Rodar y Rodar. Under the direction of Joaquin Padro and Mar Targarona, the company started out in advertising, before eventually growing into a solid business venture. During the film's production, the group also developed a screenwriting workshop as well as a fiction division that worked on both film and television productions.
Thanks to the dynamism provided by advertising production, which required the duo to work with a multitude of professionals on short-term projects, Padro and Targarona had the opportunity to see firsthand the pool of talent available in the city of Barcelona. Years of experience in advertising had also allowed them to experiment with a variety of technical crews and artists, which proved an excellent testing ground for their eventual work on fiction projects with consolidated teams.
Gradually, the company was able to build a foundation of sure bets: teams of young talent armed with great creativity and professionalism, looking to make the leap to the big screen.
This time, the opportunity would come for Juan Antonio Bayona, who was one of the most prominent directors in the field of advertising and video clips. For Bayona, the chance to do his first feature film was a dream come true.
THE MAKING OF A HIT
Knowing that they were supporting a director of unquestionable talent, Padro and Targarona provided encouragement and advice to Bayona in his quest to find the ideal material for his feature film debut. Bayona found the seed for his project in a script by Sergio Garcia.
Longtime friends, Bayona and Garcia were equally passionate about the project. They assembled a team of professionals whom they had already worked with on other occasions and whose ability they could have absolute confidence in. The trust and friendship that existed between team members were keys to success.
The strength of the script, along with the director's passion and personal background, were enough to get two heavyweight players to come on board: The award-winning Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro signed up as executive producer, and the celebrated Spanish actress Belen Rueda agreed to play the leading lady.
This combination of factors led everyone to be fully dedicated to the project and feel a sense of ownership in it. More than simply wanting to do a good job, the producers recognised that this movie constituted a rare opportunity to carve out a spot for themselves in an industry where competition is fierce. They knew that this was the best possible letter of introduction for their budding careers, and they made the most of it.
DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING
In February 2007, the producers of The Orphanage went to the European Film Market in Berlin, looking for distributors. At the time, Guillermo del Toro's six Oscar nominations for Pan's Labyrinth was causing quite a stir, and anything bearing his name was music to the ears of distributors around the world. The Orphanage was snatched up and pre-sold in 10 countries, despite Rodar y Rodar having only presented a small, albeit stunning, trailer.
The media proceeded to spread the news of this success, and thus the promotional buzz began.
Also crucial to the film's success was the participation of Telecinco and Warner Bros. As co-producer, Telecinco had an obvious vested interest in the movie being a success, since return on its investment would depend on that. The broadcaster cooperated with the movie's marketing directors, which translated into an aggressive TV ad campaign, with commercials at every break and constant references to the movie during its most popular shows. The distributor, Warner Bros, also poured €3m into its promotion, an amount that far exceeded the overall budgets of most Spanish productions.
After a highly successful premiere at the Sitges film festival, The Orphanage opened widely on October 11, 2007. In just four days, the movie earned €6m.
Thanks to continued support from Telecinco and Warner, positive reviews and word of mouth, the film remained number one at the box office for six straight weeks. By the end of its run in the theatres, it had brought in more than €24m to become the top-grossing movie of the year in Spain and the biggest box-office hit ever for a Spanish-language film.
STROKE OF LUCK OR STROKE OF GENIUS?
The success of The Orphanage was the result of numerous factors. Without a doubt, the film's hefty promotional budget had been utilised in an exemplary way, which had a sensationally positive effect on the box-office turnout.
However, not all movies that benefit from massive and efficient promotional backing end up earning such overwhelming support from the public. Both the director and the producers attributed a good deal of the film's success either to chance or to the "magic" that surrounded the movie.
But behind this apparent stroke of luck lies a string of good decisions, which ultimately made this project a winner.