EXCLUSIVE: “Something is changing in America,” says LA-based Mexican megastar Eugenio Derbez. “Look at the success of Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther: that’s America today. There are a lot of people who want to see themselves reflected on screen. Now it’s time for Latinos. There are 58M Latinos in the U.S. so in Hollywood, it’s not about just hiring a Martinez or a Hernandez — screw that — it’s about telling stories that are interesting to different kinds of audiences.”
Multi-hyphenate Derbez and producing partner Ben Odell know this better than most given the success of their four year-old U.S. production company 3Pas Studios, which specializes in Spanish, English and dual-language movies and series and which has been at the forefront of the growing niche for commercially-minded, Latinx-oriented content with crossover appeal.
Hits for the company so far have included the 2018 dual-language remake Overboard [$92M global theatrical off an estimated $12 budget] and 2017 comedy How To Be A Latin Lover [$62M global off an estimated $10M budget]. On the small screen, stand-up/competition format LOL: Last One Laughing has been one of Amazon’s most-watched non-English shows with a second season due to air later this year.
3Pas is tapping into the sizeable Latinx audience both at home and abroad. Hispanics make up 18% of the U.S. population and this could grow to 30% by 2050 (though Donald Trump’s policies could dent that growth). Latino audiences scored the highest rate of movie-going last year among ethnic groups in America and more than half of the current Hispanic population in the U.S. is from Mexico, which itself is among the top-ten international box office markets. Globally, Spanish is the second most-spoken native language.
Derbez, who stars in much of the company’s content, is a brand in himself with more than 20M followers across Instagram and Twitter. Recent U.S. credits include Paramount’s Dora And The Lost City Of Gold, Sony’s The Angry Birds Movie 2 and Nickelodeon’s The Casagrandes. He is also well known in Mexico for voicing American stars such as Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart and Jim Carrey in local dubs.
The company’s progress wasn’t guaranteed, however. The foreign-language market in the U.S. can be unforgiving terrain. When Derbez relocated to LA from Mexico City he knew it would take guts. Hence the company’s name — 3Pas is a play on the Spanish word ‘tripas’, meaning ‘guts’.
The duo were emboldened by the stateside success of Derbez’s 2013 Mexican comedy Instructions Not Included, which took $44M and is still the most successful Spanish-language movie ever in America.
“I remember a U.S. cinema-goer thanking me for Instructions Not Included,” recalls Derbez, who starred in, directed, co-wrote, produced and edited. “‘That’s the first time I’ve seen a Latino in a movie here where they’re not a criminal or a drug lord’, they said. My character didn’t speak English but he was a great dad, he was a hard worker, he was a good guy. We need different types of stories. Stories that can inspire and make us feel good. That’s the way to conquer the Latino market.”
“This is an adrenaline-filled time for the industry,” chimes in Odell, who used to head up production at Lionsgate-backed Pantelion Films, with whom 3Pas has had a productive but soon-to-expire film distribution deal.
“I look at movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Coco and see how barriers are being obliterated by Netflix and other platforms such as Amazon, Univision and Pantaya and it’s clear that the conversation has changed,” he continues. “There’s an openness that wasn’t there before. We have to keep building a Latin American star system to support that change but TV can also be so niche nowadays. Success can come from a show like Vida or a global show like Narcos. It’s the first time in 25 years of making content for this market that I see a real opportunity and a drive from Hollywood to support it. The sky’s the limit for 3Pas.”
“At the same time, it’s also important to remember when thinking about this space that there’s no such thing as ‘a Latino’, per se”, he adds. “There are almost 60M Latinos in the U.S. alone. When you make a movie in France, you’re not making a movie for 70M people. You’re not looking at everyone. We look at Spanish markets that way.”
The company’s slate and head count are growing. Among movies due to shoot this year are The Valet (working title), scripted by Overboard writers Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, and Miss Granny, a Spanish-language comedy adaptation of the Korean box office hit. Meanwhile, Ariel Winograd-directed Spanish-language film Backseat Driver (aka Y Como Es El?) is in production.
“We have dozens of projects in development, especially on the TV side,” expands Odell. “We have projects in development with most major platforms. Our aim is to appeal to Eugenio’s core audience but we’re branching out beyond that. We have four main content avenues: English-language movies which we describe as having ‘universal appeal/Latin feel’; Spanish/Mexican movies which can work in U.S. and overseas; English language TV; and Spanish-language scripted and non-scripted TV.”
“My next goal is to direct in English,” reveals Derbez. “I have two options. One is a Mr. Bean-type comedy film called Kukul for Pantelion which is being written by Mark Gibson (Snow Dogs) and Philip Halperin (Snow Dogs). It’s a very physical piece, almost referencing the silent era movies. It will be bi-lingual. I usually star in the films I direct and I imagine that will be the case here, even though it’s a difficult process. The other is Un Cuento Chino (Chinese Take-out), adapted from the Argentine film, but we’re in discussion about that one because it may make more sense for that to be made in Spanish.”
Also up for discussion is 3Pas’s next film distribution partnership given that their Pantelion deal expires soon. “We’re evaluating where might fit best for us,” discloses Derbez. “It will be about creative freedom.” The company has a first look TV deal with Lionsgate.
Both Odell and Derbez refuse to let Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican agenda obscure the positive gains made by the Latinx community and the ambitions of companies such as 3Pas.
“It breaks my heart,” admits Odell. “My wife is Colombian, my kids speak Spanish, we are very proud of that community. The Latino story today is the story of our ancestors. The more Trump wants to separate us, the more we want to bring people together. Ethnicity wasn’t discussed in Overboard because we want to normalize it. We won’t be making series like Narcos because we don’t want to portray drug traffickers and gangsters who represent such a tiny portion of the Latinx population.”