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Why has The Human Voice turned out to be a box-office smash?

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- Pedro Almodóvar’s latest short film, starring Tilda Swinton, has become a mainstream phenomenon in Spain after being released in theatres and grossing €120,000

Why has The Human Voice turned out to be a box-office smash?
The Human Voice by Pedro Almodóvar

The Human Voice, presented at the most recent Venice Film Festival, barely lasts 30 minutes, was helmed by Pedro Almodóvar, based on the play of the same name by Jean Cocteau, and is toplined by British thesp Tilda Swinton (see the news). Developed and shot (in English) during the coronavirus pandemic, it created enough of a buzz for two Spanish distributors – Avalon and Wanda Visión – to join forces in order to acquire and release it in 150 theatres on 21 October. The result has been quite spectacular for a short work like this (which are generally not released in mainstream Spanish cinemas on a regular basis), given that it has grossed €120,000 and has been seen by over 30,000 paying viewers.

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But what is the reason for this immense success? Without a doubt, it’s because the director of Pain & Glory [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Antonio Banderas
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile
]
turns everything he touches to gold, and in addition, he threw himself headfirst into promoting his latest cinematic creation with exactly the same tenacity and grit that he demonstrated previously while marketing his feature films. Furthermore, Swinton, the star of I Am Love [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Luca Guadagnino - director
film profile
]
, agreed to be interviewed by various media outlets, and the distributors inked deals for advertising campaigns that were on a similar scale to those for their feature releases.

To get a break-down of these aspects, we got in touch with Enrique Costa, director of distribution at Avalon, who assured us: “We purchased the rights when we saw all the positive reactions to The Human Voice at Venice. El Deseo, the production company run by the Almodóvar brothers, liked our proposal and they agreed to the collaboration. And afterwards, we looked for the best possible date in the calendar so that the short would be seen all over Spain.”

But why two distributors? “We had already worked together on various films, and we realised that the strategy was working well: two amicable companies working together to achieve the broadest distribution reach possible, in terms of contracting theatres, reaching out to the media, and carrying out advertising or promotional activities,” continued Costa.

“Of course we invested in advertising: we had to weigh up the size and scale of the title, and from there, we came up with different campaigns. Since the pandemic and the lockdowns, advertising prices have changed a tad compared with what they were eight months ago,” he stated. “We also had to gauge the budget, bearing in mind what we were hoping to gross from the film: in this case, we knew that the ticket price (between €4 and €6) was going to be lower than a normal ticket, and so that was quite different if you compare it to the release of a feature, but the level of investment was just as high. Because if you want a title to be visible, you have to invest in advertising; it’s not enough to have big names on the poster.

“And I looked for cases involving similar short-film releases where that was the sole hook to buy a ticket, but I didn’t find any. It’s true that we’ve seen one or two accompanying a feature (especially animations), and we have even managed to release a bundle of four in the past, but a huge impact like this has never been achieved, to date,” summed up Costa.

It seems that the example is also inspiring others, as Filmin released Lux Æterna by Gaspar Noé, which lasts 51 minutes, in Spanish theatres on Friday 27 November. However, we would wager that the Argentinian-French director won’t have the same pulling power as his Spanish counterpart.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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