When Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro announced that they were forming a production company together at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival (the aptly named Cha Cha Cha), the partnership came as no surprise to anyone who had been following their steadily rising careers. In an interview with journalist Charlie Rose earlier this year, the three Mexican moviemakers (who collectively garnered no less than 16 Oscar nominations in 2007) sat down to discuss their shared process and essentially foreshadowed the deal that was to come to fruition just a few months later.
I consider Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth and Babel to be sister films,” Cuarón explained to Rose, “and I don’t think it’s casual or a coincidence. It’s just that our creative process is a process that we really share with each other. From the moment of gestating or thinking about stories, we’re talking all the time. During the writing process, we keep sharing our screenplays and are brutally honest with one another. Then, during shooting, we are like support groups, because we suffer so much and need to talk to someone else who suffers, as well… But that is the thing: In a sense we like to stick our forks in each other’s salads, so what happens is that unconsciously I think we [influence one another’s films], and I think that has to do with that process. But the core of that process is friendship.”
“Every one of these three guys can get their next movie made—they don’t particularly need each other,” says Rodrigo García (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Nine Lives), one of the two other moviemakers who have also signed on to work under Cha Cha Cha. “I think it’s more of a desire to give a formal structure to something that is already happening. So I think they thought, ‘Well, the three of us don’t need to do it, but it would be good to do it and why not include other people that we’re already involved with anyway and guarantee a slate of five films so that we have a guaranteed way of making our next movies,’ which is pretty extraordinary.”
Before signing a deal with Universal and Focus Features, the moviemaking trio shopped their new company around to other studios, including Paramount Vantage and Warner Bros. The final deal resulted in a $100 million, five-feature production partnership with financing, distribution and international sales handled by the individual studios (Universal and Focus Features will share domestic distribution duties while Focus Features International will handle all outside releases and sales).
In addition to one new feature apiece from Cuarón, Iñárritu and del Toro, the contract also includes two other movies, which will be written and directed by García and Carlos Cuarón (Alfonso’s brother), whose Spanish-language directorial debut, Rudo y Cursi, is already in production with previous Y tu mamá también collaborators Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.
“I think that they banded together at a really good time in their careers,” says Anne Thompson, Variety columnist and deputy online editor. “They wanted a degree of independence and control—they wanted to own their films and the copyrights of those films and they were able to go into the marketplace with the help of CAA and put together a really good deal.
“Sometimes the studios are reluctant to do these kinds of things because they feel like they’re setting some kind of precedent—that the talent are going to be able to rise and take more of the pot away from the studio,” Thompson continues, “but in this case I think they saw the benefits of giving these filmmakers their head—letting them run around creatively and be responsible for the pictures that they were making—and then being given some pretty good pictures as a result to release. I believe that in this scenario everybody recognized that better movies would result—and that was in everyone’s interest.”
Production companies helmed by popular actors and directors are, of course, nothing new. From the 1919 deal between Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith that ultimately formed United Artists to 1969’s not-as-successful First Artists Production Company, helmed by Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, similar partnerships can be traced all the way back to the very beginning of cinema. What makes Cha Cha Cha so interesting is the level of unique, almost unprecedented creative talent (not to mention the non-competitive camaraderie) that each individual director brings to the table. “You’d have to go back to the late 1950s and 1960s—to the French New Wave group of François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette—to find as potent and gifted a band of international moviemaking friends as these three,” Chicago Tribune movie critic Michael Wilmington wrote earlier this year.
One important—and undeniable—aspect of the partnership between Cuarón, Iñárritu and del Toro that distinguishes this union from all of the aforementioned is the directors’ shared native culture and language (a first in the history of film here in the U.S.).
The five-picture deal is set to include at least two Spanish-language films (if not more) and although each director has managed to balance making English-language and Spanish-language films with the same ease they find transitioning between the independent and studio realms, their roots and distinct identities will always influence their work—both on-screen and off.
“We are Latin directors and I don’t think we want to be anything but Latin directors,” García concludes. “What they want and what we want is for the term ‘Latino director’ to mean something completely different. These are guys who are sought after by studios and producers around the world and are offered a very wide variety of movies. You can put Y tu mamá también on one end and Hellboy on the other or 21 Grams on one end and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the other. So while I think they have great pride in being Latino directors and they should be considered Latino directors, these three are Latino directors that can direct anything.
“Just the fact that they picked this name, Cha Cha Cha,” García muses. “It is almost a stereotypical Latino name—it is so self-referential… You know, ‘The Three Amigos’ were a joke in that John Landis movie—they were those three gringos playing the Mexicans. These guys don’t shy away from taking the stereotype and turning it on its ear, and that speaks of their confidence. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not ‘We’re no longer Latino, we’re of the world.’ No, no, they are Latino and they are of the world. It’s not a matter of erasing the identity but of saying, ‘We are Latino—but you’d better be thinking of us for anything…’ And people are definitely doing that.” mm