The Biz: Slim budget film courts controversy

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When you're launching around the time of expected uber-blockbusters such as Universal Studio's "Van Helsing" and Warner Bros.' "Troy," you might have to play the controversy card.

At least, that's the thinking of the filmmakers, the distributor and the advertising agency behind indie mockumentary "A Day Without a Mexican," which opens May 14, head-to-head with "Troy" and a week after "Van Helsing."

The first step was a teaser billboard campaign that did just that. Within hours of the installation near a Hollywood drugstore, a shopper complained about the slogan that read, "On May 14 there will be no Mexicans in California." The only other text was the film's Web address.

After the complaint, Viacom Outdoor offered another location a few miles away in exchange for taking down the billboard at the first site. The ad agency, Eleven-Eleven Advertising, Santa Monica, Calif., agreed to the move.

"We knew it would push buttons," says Glenn Garland, creative director and partner at Eleven-Eleven. "We want to give this film its best shot and stretch the budget."

There haven't been further complaints about the ads, Garland says, and the campaign has not been changed.

political satire

The movie, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Sergio Arau, is a political satire that looks at California as if more than one-third of its population, the entire Latino community, suddenly disappeared. The over-the-top story has such highlights as Angelenos rioting at car washes-because there's no one there to wash the cars-and Dodger games called off because the club can't field a team without Latinos.

The film is co-produced and distributed by Televisa Cine, part of the Mexico City-based entertainment conglomerate Grupo Televisa. Cine recently opened an office in Los Angeles as part of its plan to move aggressively into U.S. entertainment. "A Day Without a Mexican" is the division's debut effort in the States.

Televisa Cine plans to distribute seven feature films a year, mostly its own product. The movies, aimed largely at the Latino market, will be a mix of English and Spanish language. The company also will launch a home-entertainment label in the U.S., with products based on Televisa TV programming and other sources.

"A Day Without a Mexican," which is filmed mostly in English and will play in major theater chains, will launch in Southern California before hitting Texas and then moving to Miami and up the East Coast. Its ad campaign will roll out to accompany the release pattern.

The film, which started its life as a short and was produced for about $1.5 million, is meant to stir debate, as is its ad campaign. The flap has gotten attention from, among others, Fox News, CNN International and a host of Spanish-language media outlets. Traffic to the Web site for the film has soared since the billboard's debut and quick tear-down.

"We wanted to be provocative and bold and playful," says Yareli Arizmendi, who stars in the movie and co-wrote and co-directed it with her husband, Arau, the son of "Like Water for Chocolate" filmmaker Alfonso Arau. "The ad campaign perfectly matches the tone of the movie. "

A second phase of the outdoor campaign will focus on two of the movie's characters, a well-heeled state senator and his wife, sporting mops, brooms, and lawn blowers under the tagline, "There Goes the Neighborhood." Another will show a picture of a farm worker, mocked up to look like a missing-persons poster, under the tagline: "Missing Jose." The campaign-in both English and Spanish-features billboards in high-traffic areas and 6,000 wild postings, followed by radio and TV spots. Marketing firm Latin World Entertainment worked with Eleven-Eleven.

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