Warner Bros. International makes a splash at this year’s ShowEast, with Monique Esclavissat, executive vice president international productions/acquisitions & Latin America distribution, receiving the show’s International Distributor of the Year honor at Monday’s International Awards Luncheon. After joining Warner Bros. in 1998, Esclavissat now oversees LATAM distribution and local-language productions, both key components of Warner Bros.’ overall operations.
Though some of Warner Bros.’ more successful international releases may not have name recognition stateside—think the pair of movies based on the manga Gintama, which together made shy of $70 million in Japan—they’ve proven a valuable and lucrative component of the studio’s overall business strategy. Through investing in local product, the studio offers up a diversified film slate, cultivates enthusiasm among local audiences, and invests in filmmaking communities.
For Warner Bros., an investment in local productions doesn’t come at the expense of studio fare. In Latin America, Warner Bros. is a dominating force in horror, with its popular Conjuring Universe—including spinoffs Annabelle, Annabelle 2, and The Nun—consistently pulling in big numbers. As of press time, It Chapter 2 is dominating the Mexican market, having easily grabbed the number one spot in its debut weekend.
Esclavissat spoke to Boxoffice Pro about the current state of distribution and Warner Bros.’ Latin American operations.
With Disney buying Fox, there’s now one less major competing for audience attention. Does that have any impact on how Warner Bros. operates?
There are always plenty of companies and product competing for audience attention. The biggest impact on our business continues to be the changes in consumer taste and habits and the competition for their time and attention. It is more important than ever that W.B. focuses on its content [and] variety of offering and stays connected with its customers.
In terms of international markets, which are the territories where you’re seeing rapid expansion?
In Latin America, the region I manage, we are seeing big expansion in Colombia, Central America, and also markets like Peru and Bolivia. Exhibitors are investing in the region and opening as well as renovating cinemas, so we can together reach new audiences with our product. Even in more established markets like Mexico and Brazil, there are still areas that are underserved and offer good expansion opportunities.
Though a love of movies is universal, there are different cultural nuances—not to mention government regulations!—that have to be considered when you’re distributing to so many different markets. What does Warner Bros. do to manage this challenge?
We work hard, supported by talented local executives, to understand and build into our plans the specific cultural and economic considerations, alongside the moviegoing habits for each individual territory. Getting that mix right is essential to the success of our overall operation. Related to this, in a number of the key markets we also have a growing local production operation. Working with local production partners, we have the opportunity to find great local talent and more diverse voices, creating an increasingly diverse slate for moviegoers.
What year did you first join Warner Bros., and how has the company changed in that time?
I joined W.B. in 1998 and have enjoyed a great and varied career, working with industry colleagues across the international markets. I have been very lucky to be offered new opportunities in the 20 years at the studio as changes have occurred across both distribution and local production. It has been incredibly rewarding to shepherd projects from the green-light stage to box office and awards success.
It’s a particularly exciting time of change across the whole industry at present, including here at Warner Bros. with the arrival of our new CEO Ann Sarnoff and being part of WarnerMedia. Ultimately it is the product, the franchises, the talent, the filmmakers, [and] the relationships Warner Bros. has secured that continue to be essential. As are the people behind those choices, who have been crucial to our success as the business and the landscape have evolved. As we approach the celebration of the studio’s centenary in 2023, content is even more key. I’m looking forward to the many new films yet to come.
What are some of the upcoming Warner Bros. movies that you’re the most excited about?
That is a tough question and you won’t be surprised to hear that I’d commend our whole slate. Looking to 2020 and beyond, I am very excited about our female-led films such as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and Wonder Woman 1984; Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, because he always brings something different and challenges us and the audience in a great way; and our more family oriented titles such as S.C.O.O.B. and the Tom and Jerry movie, which are what the Latin American family audiences want to see.
What are some of the Warner Bros. properties that do particularly well in Latin American markets?
W.B. is the market leader for horror [and] has released the top eight all-time horror films in the region, including the hugely popular Conjuring Universe and IT and IT Chapter Two. The company’s superhero films consistently perform at the top of the market, with Justice League, Wonder Woman, Shazam!, and Aquaman each garnering close to or exceeding $100 million in the region. As cinemagoing in Latin America is driven by families, other genres that have also done well are animation, family films, and action adventure.
What are some international films that did particularly well in their local markets for Warner Bros. in 2018–19?
Our recent successes have included films from many territories such as: Der Junge Muss An Die Frische Luft (Germany), $36 million; Gintama Live Action 2: Rules Are Made to Be Broken (Japan), $33 million; and The Witch (Korea), $27 million.
How important is supporting local films to Warner Bros.’ international strategic vision?
It is a very important part of the overall strategic vision. W.B. has been involved in local film production since 2000. There is a strong appetite for local films that W.B. can participate in. It is a great complement to the U.S. studio product. We want to invest in local talent and promote local filmmaking and creativity. We can share our expertise and provide support to the local industry. As a result, we can also help expand local audiences by offering more diversified product, being more in tune with the local culture, identifying new opportunities, maybe even local talent that wants to come and do a film in Hollywood.