Spain is riding high on a wave of international shoots. Locations in the country are hotter than ever since the tax rebate was increased in May 2020 to 30% and the cap for the total tax rebate was upped to $11m (€10m).
Nevertheless, the country’s film commissions and service companies keep lobbying the government to further raise the financial incentives and exploit fully the riches of a country that boasts an abundance of diverse locations. Its urban landscapes range from medieval to Moorish, with architectural gems and radical contemporary designs, while its natural settings include deserts, luscious forests, mountain ranges, rocky coves and beaches that are soaked in an average of 3,000 hours of sun each year — all connected by a reliable transport network.
“In an area roughly the size of Texas, we have everything in terms of locations,” says Fernando Victoria de Lecea, a producer at Menakoz Films and president of Profilm, an association that includes most of the main service providers in Spain. “There has also been a significant improvement of the incentives, and the skill of our crews is good and praised by all the companies that come to work here. We tend to forget that our film professionals are so good because they have grown up making Spanish films and series. We have to keep making sure the policies to increase the number and calibre of international shoots go hand-in-hand with the support of the local industry.”
Menakoz Films recently worked on Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, transforming a village on the outskirts of Chinchon (in the region of Madrid) into Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico circa 1955. “Wes was really pleased by the construction of the set and the natural light,” says de Lecea. “We were lucky with the weather. We shot in August, September and October and he was delighted with the sky, the shape of the clouds. And we were equally delighted to work with him because it was all very easy and a great working atmosphere. We started on the project in February  so we had months to build the set to the precise indications given.” The film’s allstar cast includes Margot Robbie, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson and Adrien Brody.
Asteroid City is just one of an increasing number of international projects to have shot in Spain following the success of shows such as Netflix’s Spanish-made Money Heist and the second season of Warrior Nun, as well as NBCUniversal’s Vampire Academy. Warrior Nun filmed in Madrid and Vampire Academy in Navarre. The Andalusia region has also been busy with the third season of His Dark Materials and the fourth season of Killing Eve, while the much-anticipated Game Of Thrones prequel House Of The Dragon has used locations far and wide, from La Calahorra in Granada to Catalonia, following in the footsteps of its parent show. Netflix’s The Crown has also returned to the country for season five.
In addition, H2L Media Group, Nickel City Pictures and Parallel Film Productions’ Marlowe, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson as Raymond Chandler’s fictional detective, filmed in Catalonia, while STX’s The Interpreter, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, shot in Alicante and Zaragoza. Netflix’s The Mother, from Nuyorican Productions and Vertigo Entertainment and directed by Niki Caro, shot in the Canary Islands. Season four of Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski, is heading to the region this summer. And HBO Max’s rock-climbing reality show The Climb, with Jason Momoa, has used Catalonia as one of its locations.
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Almeria’s breathtaking Tabernas desert in the south has also witnessed more traffic than usual. During the spaghetti western craze of the 1960s, locals say there were so many shoots that crews and extras would sometimes end up on the wrong set, and not realise their mistake until action was called. More recently, Almeria has doubled for Australia in The Crown and has hosted modern westerns such as Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers. The first season of Palomar and Bron Studios’ steampunk series That Dirty Black Bag starring Douglas Booth, Christian Cooke and Dominic Cooper, along with Showtime’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Bill Nighy, were shot there. The city of Cadiz, also in Andalusia, was used by Bollywood production Pathaan, starring Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone.
“The key to our success is the institutional involvement and the fact the whole audiovisual ecosystem is working as one,” says Carlos Rosado, president of Spain Film Commission, who is pleased “global production companies have Spain in mind” when looking for locations. “Productions, big or small, can find everything they need in our country,” he adds.
“We are extremely competitive and [have] proven production value, as Money Heist has shown. This is a key factor in attracting more and more shoots. “The list is impressive and the future full of promise,” adds Rosado on the increase of foreign projects. “Not only for international shoots, but local productions are also strong.” Spain’s film success in 2022 includes Carla Simon’s Berlinale Golden Bear winner Alcarras, Alberto Mielgo’s Oscar-winning short The Windshield Wiper, as well as Oscar nominations for acting talent Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem and composer Alberto Iglesia.
The lack of sizeable studio space has long been a problem in attracting inward investment, but in March this year the European Commission gave the greenlight to reopen Ciudad de la Luz (City of Light) film studios in Alicante. The studio had to shut in 2012 because of a European Commission ruling, after Pinewood Studios complained in Brussels that the public funds invested in the facility amounted to unfair competition. The ruling has now been lifted, to the delight of many. However, line producer Jose Luis Escolar, head of production service company Calle Cruzada, suggests that “it would make much more sense to have a facility like that in Madrid or Barcelona.”
On the subject of new studio space, Peter Welter Soler, partner and executive producer of service company Fresco Film, says: “I have it on good word that there is a lot of interest by international investors to open more filming facilities in Spain and Portugal. We need it. In order to make it happen, the government should consider lifting the €10m [$11m] cap because the type of productions these investors have in mind are really big budgets and long shoots. I’m thinking of an American major that is launching a series of say €100m [$108m] or €200m [$216m]. With a higher cap we could be even more competitive both in shoots and shooting facilities.”
Negotiations are ongoing but there is hope, with industry sources praising the current government for doing more for this industry in a year and a half than all the previous administrations, after Spanish president Pedro Sanchez went to Hollywood and talked directly with US studios. “The government finally sees the potential of an industry that employs a lot of people, is diverse, environmentally sound and promotes the country towards another key local industry — tourism,” says Escolar. The boom in international shoots has meant many crew members have a chance to be promoted more quickly, “getting to posts of responsibility in five months, instead of the five years it took me”, says Fresco Film’s Welter Soler, who is working on Sky series A Town Called Malice, created by Nick Love and starring Jack Rowan, Tahirah Sharif, Dougray Scott and Jason Flemyng, which has the Canary Island of Tenerife as its main location.
Welter Soler confirms the company is “busier than ever”, even more so than in 2020-21 when it worked on Uncharted, starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg (which shot in Alicante, Barcelona and Madrid), Netflix’s In From The Cold and Palomar/Bron Studios’ That Dirty Black Bag. Uncharted was one of the big-budget productions that shot in Spain between 2020 and 2021. Others included Netflix’s Red Notice, starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, and the BBC and Amazon series The English, an epic western set in 1890 starring Emily Blunt and produced by Drama Republic in association with All3Media International. George Clooney’s Netflix feature The Midnight Sky was another to visit in the Canary Islands, along with Apple TV+’s Foundation and Netflix’s Sky Rojo, the new show from Alex Pina (Money Heist), which also filmed on the mainland.
The improvement of financial incentives, the sooner-than-average restart of filming in Spain in the summer of 2020 and the increased demand for content by VoD companies were some of the reasons for the country’s rise in popularity. On a logistical level, while the difficulties of travelling during a pandemic have eased, the cost of fuel has increased across Europe, meaning service companies are dealing with unexpected rises in their budgets. “We are trying to juggle it the best we can, like we tried to navigate the lorry drivers’ strike in Spain in March,” says Welter Soler.
Another unexpected cost was the increase in Spain’s minimum wage, approved in February by the government, meaning producers like Escolar, whose company Calle Cruzada was working on the first season of NBCUniversal’s Vampire Academy, had to implement the changes mid-shoot, with subsequent impact on the budget. More recently, there has been an increase of requests to shoot in Spain following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Profilm trying to accommodate inquiries from big studios that are looking to avoid Eastern Europe. “Productions are understandably looking for safe destinations, like any other businesses that require big investment,” says Spain Film Commission’s Rosado. “But, most important is that peace prevails and Eastern Europe can go back to work. There’s room for everybody.”
The transport network and accommodation services are some of Spain’s main assets, with infrastructure already in place for tourism. Film crews are accomplished and the feedback from international producers is very good, according to the main Spanish service companies. These include Babieka Films, Calle Cruzada, El Ranchito, Fresco Film, Meñakoz Films, Minded Factory, Nanu Films, Nostromo Pictures, Palma Pictures, Seven Islands Film, Sur Film, The Mediapro Studio, Truenorth and Volcano Films.
Spain can also provide specialists for underwater shoots. Spain Film Commission offers free services and assistance for shooting. It also advises on financing, location scouting and administrative services. Note that autonomous communities in the country have their own film commissions too and that Profilm, Spain’s international shoot sector trade association, can also provide information (X profilm.es). Founded in 2018, Profilm started with seven partners; that number has since doubled. There are studios in Terrassa (Catalonia) and the Canary Islands, in addition to Madrid’s five-stage Secuoya Studios where Netflix is operating (part of Madrid Content City, currently in development and expanding its facilities to 10 stages).
Construction has been completed on the complex in Gran Canaria in the Spanish archipelago. The facilities offer two independent soundstages of 1,200 square metres and 1,800 square metres, each 12 metres high with built-in lighting and scenic bridges. There will also be workshops, storage buildings, space for the art, costume and hair and make-up departments, offices and backlots.
In terms of film sets, the big news has been the reopening of Ciudad de la Luz (City of Light) film studios in Alicante, where JA Bayona’s The Impossible was shot in 2011. It has six stages: two of 2,400 square metres that can be connected, four stages of 1,600 square metres, a backlot and an exterior water tank.
A high-speed rail network, 290,000 kilometres of motorway and roads, and 48 airports help international crews travel easily around mainland Spain’s nearly 506,000 square kilometres, including 8,000 kilometres of coastline. Productions can move from snowy mountains to a big city, sandy beaches and the Mediterranean to tropical forests in a few hours.
The transport network is also reliable between the mainland and the Canary and Balearic islands, with a regular flow of flights and ferries. Most of Spain’s islands have international airports, thanks to the well-established tourist industry, as well as a huge array of hotels and restaurants. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, production service companies and film commissions made a point of underlining the fact the country also has a good health system.