Spain’s potential 30% filming incentive and Netflix’s decision to set up a European hub in the country have helped draw a steady flow of international film and TV producers and boosted the growth of a screen sector that already includes a flourishing Barcelona-based commercials industry.
¨Spain has often been called the California of Europe due to its incredible climate, connectivity, and multicultural audiovisual professionals who have solid training and experience to take on even the most complex of international productions,” enthuses Susan E. Walker, international producer at local outfit Aproductions.
Netflix has taken over and upgraded the existing Secuoya Studios in the suburb of Tres Cantos, just north of Madrid. The site includes three 1,200 square feet soundstages, with an option to expand, and is managed by media company Grupo Secuoya, which will also service all Netflix productions that shoot at the facility.
The streaming giant is already heavily invested in the country with more than 20 separate Spanish-language productions having filmed there already, including Money Heist (La Casa De Papel), which is one of the streamer’s most popular non-English-language TV series. It is also backing Madrid-based Bambu Producciones’ High Seas, an ocean-set drama series that used ship sets spanning a total of nearly 30,000 square feet at Tres Cantos.
Netflix’s presence is undoubtedly boosting Spain’s production profile around the world and could also stimulate the development of local crew pools.
One of the country’s biggest selling points is its varied locations. Heritage and modernity sit side by side and the big cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia offer a range of architectural styles, as do the Islamic-influenced cities of Cordoba and Granada. The country’s natural landscapes include mountain ranges and forests, as well as deserts, beaches and clifftops.
“It has been the number one tourist destination for years now due to its hospitality and breathtaking scenery including over 8000km of coastline in three different seas, that go from the tip of the Basque coast all the way down and around to Cadiz,” enthuses Walker at Aproductions. “Just three hours south from London and Paris by plane is a Spanish tropical paradise with 26C year round weather and incredible rainforest and mars-like desert locations.”
Amazon Studios’ series Hanna shot in various locations around the country. “We did a first scout based on the script, where most of the sequences were supposed to happen between Morocco and any place in the south of Spain,” says Ana Ibañez, a location manager on the series. “We were trying to find locations similar to Morocco to try to avoid travelling to another country. After the director’s scout, we were able to recreate many scenes in Almeria.”
The series filmed in the Bardenas desert in the north east of the country and in Almeria on the south-east coast.
HBO also has a strong association with Spain since filming parts of Game Of Thrones in the country. The broadcaster’s European arm has since shot an eight-part TV series adaptation of Fernando Aramburu’s novel Patria, directed by Argentina’s Pablo Trapero, in the Basque region in the north of the country.
Netflix shot parts of the first series of its hugely popular fantasy drama series The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill, on the Canary Islands in the south of Spain, and filmed parts of series three of The Crown in southern Spain.
"During The Crown season 3, we needed to creatively tell stories that were set in many varied locations. and our challenge was to find all of these different landscapes in one country. With Palma Pictures by our side, we found them all across Southern Spain.
Seville was great for us, amongst others it delivered the Beverley Hills Hotel (Hotel Alfonso XIII - who were fabulous with us – it’s always a challenge working in a hotel that is open to guests) and also Athens during the imposition of military rule in Greece during the late 1960’s. We had very good cooperation from the authorities including permission from the military to film in the Tablada Naval Base, which we used as a 1960’s LA film studio. Filming in the city was a very good experience, it felt smooth, without overly oppressive restrictions and a can do attitude. Of course being an Englishman, the weather helped."
HBO Europe filmed an eight-part TV series adaptation of Fernando Aramburu’s novel Patria in the north of the country with Argentinian filmmaker Pablo Trapero on board as lead director. The company has also ordered a new anthology series of films, titled At Home (En Casa), made by Spanish directors isolated at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The short stories will be created by Warner Bros. ltva Espa. In collaboration with Madrid-based Cabello Films.
Spanish outfit MediaPro Studio also began filming the high-profile Spanish-language comedy Official Competition, starring Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, in March this year before production was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Recent US projects to have chosen Spain include Paramount/20th Century Studios’ Terminator: Dark Fate, which filmed scenes in the Murcia region in the south east of the country, doubling for Mexican story settings, and Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984, which shot footage in the nearby coastal region of Almeria.
The Canary Islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Gomera and La Palma have been less adversely affected by coronavirus than mainland Spain, raising hopes the islands may open up to international productions sooner (the film permit office and equipment rental houses have been open since mid-May).
The rise from 40% to 50% for the first $1.1m (€1m) spend by international productions on the islands, and 45% for the rest, means it is now “the best filming tax incentive in the world”, according to Lorena Martin, project manager at Canary Islands Film.
Recent high-profile international productions to shoot on the archipelago include Netflix’s fantasy drama series The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill, which filmed on La Palma and Gran Canaria, and Marvel’s The Eternals, starring Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden, which shot on Fuerteventura at the end of 2019.
Further high-profile shoots include Lionsgate and Millennium Films’ Rambo: Last Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone and Spanish star Paz Vega, which shot scenes on Tenerife for three weeks using a range of urban and desert locations to stand in for Mexican story settings.
“There are an increasing number of US productions coming here,” says the film commission’s Martin. “All the majors have already shot here, and even repeated. While most of the European productions come from Germany, we are also getting an increasing number of films from the UK and Scandinavia.
“The production companies on these projects are hiring a lot of local workforce, and so we need to prepare our local talent to continue to meet the needs of these projects.”
Crews are accomplished and the feedback from international producers on production assistants, sound, art and cinematography crews is very good. Spain can also provide specialists for underwater shoots. Spain Film Commission offers free services and assistance for shooting all kinds of audiovisual works. It also advises on financing, location scouting and administrative services.
“Spain has a great service infrastructure, as well as quality accommodation, food and leisure establishments. Its public health, security and emergency services are among the best in Europe,” suggests Susan E Walker of production services company Aproductions. “Buyout rates for on-camera talent are unbeatable compared to other European countries.”
In addition to the Netflix facility, Spain offers studios in cities including Madrid and Terrassa, but these are generally more suitable for smaller-scale shoots and TV production (Netflix’s studio is not open to third-party productions). The country still lacks a big film studio on a par with those in the UK, Germany and throughout Eastern Europe.
A high-speed rail network, 290,000 kilometres of motorway and roads and 48 airports help international crews move around Spain’s nearly 520,000 square kilometres, including 8,000 kilometres of coastline. Productions can move from snowy mountains to a big city or the beach in a few hours. The majority of Spain’s islands also have international airports, thanks to the well-established tourist industry, as well as a huge array of hotels and restaurants, with most offering good value for money.