Infinity Hill’s Axel Kuschevatzky: Talent, not Content, is King

John Hopewell

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BUENOS AIRES  — For much of this century, Argentina’s Axel Kuschevatzky led a double life.

On one hand, he served as a hugely hard-working movie producer for Telefe, then Telefonica Studios, then Viacom Intl. Media Networks, bringing their much-needed finance and promotion clout to some of the finest South American titles of the last decade: “The Secret in Their Eyes,” “Wild Tales,” “The Clan” and “Neruda.”

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On the other, he was a glamorous Academy Awards presenter for TNT, a journalist, radio commentator, occasional screenwriter and even actor, channeling his huge passion and knowledge of film and beyond -Billy Wilder, jazz.

Now he’s cut loose. Kuschevatzky’s launch of independent film production company Infinity Hill, with producers Phin Glynn (“Waiting for Anya”) and Cindy Teperman (“Animal”), was the biggest news at least partially related to Latin America at November’s AFM.

Variety caught Kuschevatzky at Ventana Sur on fire, in full flow, as he set out the partners’ vision as a multi- territory movie production house occupying one of the industry’s key roles today – a conduit between the huge demand for content, including high-profile films, and talent.

Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges talked of “casualidad inevitable,” inevitable chance. How inevitable was it that when you set up Infinity Hill, you’d do so with with multiple offices – and in Los Angeles, Cindy here in Buenos Aires, Phin in London?

My experience over the last 15 years in audiovisual production – not just cinema but the evolution’s highly pronounced there – is that we’ve gone from local to national markets to co-existing global markets. Films have a sense of place in cultural terms but not necessarily a physical or geographical one. Most people outside the U.S. don’t know where films were made: They may think they’re American when they’re British, or vice-versa. Market opportunities, tax incentives, co-production coin makes it logical for us to work with other countries, in what has become a kind of inevitable evolution, to paraphrase Borges.

Teperman: Growth will come from not shutting oneself up in a single market, but growing in different ones. Axel’s idea of uniting three places is highly attractive. There are synergies, they go together.

There’s a sense at this year’s Ventana Sur that people are working even harder than ever to make better films, series….

Markets, consumers, are ever more demanding which makes markets more competitive and gives industries more global conscience. Countries that even 10 years ago were not considered production hubs are suddenly now important players. Spain in TV is a paradigmatic case, raising the bar across the board – which raises the bar in the rest of the world….

One of Spain’s top TV producers, Plano a Plano’s Cesar Benítez argued at Mip Cancun that Spain’s boom was sparked by it’s 2010-12 economic crisis: Producers had to get their acts together, raise standards, cross frontiers. Could that happen in Argentina? 

Argentina’s going through one of its historic, predictable, recurrent and traditional crises, like all Argentina’s crises. The industry learns skills, works more creatively than pre-crisis, But crises are complicated if producers don’t manage to generate projects worthy of co-production with other countries. Argentina itself now has an stiff uphill battle to pay its own costs, so it has little option but to look abroad. People have to adapt.

Buenos Aires’ Rei Cine has just announced that Film Factory will be selling “The Intruder,” from Argentina’s Natalia Meta, which you co-produce. How large will the presence of Argentine films be on Infinity Hill’s slate? 

There are Argentine. British, Spanish, Mexican movies, others made in the Dominican Republic. We’re really not tied to any place. What we’re interested in in each and ever country is the combination between talent and mechanisms that facilitate financing and production. But what we do is pursue talent, and talent has no frontiers.

The battle for success in the new film-TV world is a battle for talent…..

We’ve all heard a thousand times the phrase “content is king.” But what makes content king? It isn’t created by spontaneous combustion, nor machines, it’s talent. Creating an international company means recognizing talent can be found in a whole host of places. at different scales, making different types of movies. At Telefonica and Viacom, I liked to combine mass audience titles and arthouse. What we’re doing at Infinity Hill isn’t much different. We’re betting on a diversity of voices, talent, the diversity of every film, of models. One of our principal assets as a team is our the capacity to adapt.

Teperman: Adapting is key, and something we’d like to think we’re good at.

You mentioned at the AFM that the company’s main base would be in the U.K. Why is that?

A combination of two factors: The tax incentive system is among the best and most advanced in the world in a country and has been up-and-running for decades, so it’s relatively easier to finance films than in markets like, say, Argentina.  We also want create films with global distribution and the language in this sense solves many challenges.

More people speak Spanish – some 480 million – than English as a first language, however. Won’t that weigh in the future?

That figure’s a bit deceptive. Local cultures in Latin America are very different, some closer to others, such as Argentina to Spain. Yet Chilean films aren’t seen in Colombia or Colombian films in Mexico. There are, however, figures that cross over: Edgar Ramírez, Eugenio Dérbez, Salma Hayek. And there are local stars which travel: Ricardo Darín, Guillermo Francella in Argentina, for example. With the expansion of pan-regional pay TV and international VOD platforms, however, figures are appearing that are beginning to appear to impact in countries where it wasn’t so much the case 20 years ago: “La Casa de Papel’s” Ursula Corberó, for example.

I’ve asked about the U.K., why set up in Los Angeles? Is it because the platforms, Netflix for example, that still take their decisions there on bigger films?

L.A. is key to understand where production and consumption are going. That for me is the principle reason for being there.

Could you walk us through your most advanced projects? 

“The Doorman” [produced by Glynn, starring Ruby Rose (Warner Bros.’ “Batwoman”) and Jean Reno (“Leon”). a Lionsgate U.S. pick up] is in post-production, as is “The Intruder.”“Hunters in the Dark,” adapting Lawrence Osborne, is scheduled to shoot in March. William Boyd, writer of “Any Human Heart” and co-writer of “Chaplin,” is adapting Graham Greene’s “The Captain and the Enemy,” which is a project that may roll after “Hunters.” There are other projects which are quite advanced but that we can’t mention yet.

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