While a lot of producers put the cart before the horse and get press for their properties before frame one has even been drawn, Montr’al-based H2V Ent. and various international co-production partners have been quietly toiling away on three fully financed animated features scheduled for completion in spring of 2004. Never heard of H2V? There’s a reason for that.
H2V president, CEO and content creator Henrique Vera Villanueva tells Animation Magazine Online, “We kept so quiet that even industry people in Canada said, ‘who the heck are you and how are you doing this?’” He explains, “We were lucky enough to find partners with vision and balls.” The company is working with Excalibur Animaci’n S.L in Spain, Animatoon in Argentina, and Manga Latina, Concept-E and Mirason in Canada. H2V subsidiaries H2V Distribution in Canada and H2V Releasing LLS in Ireland are also involved.
The secrecy wasn’t so much about protecting intellectual property as it was about making sure there was product in place before turning on the hype machine. “I read in the trades all the time where this or that that company has 15 fantastic projects in production, but then you never see those 15 magical works,” says Villanueva. “We have an old saying, you don’t knock at the door unless you know you’re going to enter.”
Villanueva says H2V has positioned itself in the market as one of the few Canadian companies not producing animation for kids. The studio’s first three features, Monica Made in America, Piñatas and Manga Latina: Killer on the Loose are aimed at viewers over the age of 13. The company is shooting for theatrical releases in the U.S., which is a tough nut to crack for animation targeted at adults.
While he understands that most U.S. distributors don’t know what to do with cartoons that don’t revolve around cuddly talking animals, Villanueva says it’s a challenge he and crew are ready to face head-on. "That’s now, but eventually [distributors] are going to have to deal with it." He points to the generation being raised on video games and anime TV shows as the driving force behind a growing demand for different kinds of animated product.
Manga Latina: Killer on the Loose is inspired by Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, which takes place in New York City at the time of the "Son of Sam" killings. H2V’s version is described as an in-your-face, pop-art-influenced dramatic piece sprinkled with comedy and controversial elements.
Piñatas is the more cartoonish of the three films. Set in a Tim Burton/Dr. Suess-like world populated by piñatas, the storyline is a critique of the modern political process. Villanueva explains, "A piñata is one of the few things that is made for the specific purpose of being destroyed. We wanted to use that symbolism." The metaphor is particularly poignant today in California, as we’ve seen an elected official put in a high place only to be knocked down months later.
Monica Made in America is a sexy thriller and H2V’s answer to certain anime titles that take sexuality to strange places. "Who wants to see gang rapings by giant monsters? That’s not sexy," Villanueva comments. Developed before Stripperella was even on the radar, the film follows the adventures of an exotic dancer who leads a secret life as a special agent in the year 2010. As the stock market is booming like never before, babies are disappearing at an alarming rate. It’s up to Monica to discover the link and solve the mystery. The movie takes cues from Silence of the Lambs and The X-Files, and H2V is hoping it will establish a tent pole for a larger franchise.
While two of the projects have a decidedly Latin flare, they are all English-language films produced first and foremost for the U.S. market.
Villanueva, who was born into a family of respected Venezuelan filmmakers, actors and painters, has lofty aspirations for his new company. The former child actor declares, "We would love to become the Miramax of animation. In the early ’90s, when I was aspiring to be a filmmaker, each time I saw the Miramax logo I knew it was going to be funky."
H2V corporate advisor Maria Isabel Rios comments, "We’re very serious about doing it right," to which Villanueva adds, "And when you’re having fun, you’re doing it right."