Spain’s tremendous versatility will suit the ‘new normal’,” suggests Mike Day, CEO of Palma Pictures, a production services company that worked on the recent Spanish shoots of Netflix series White Lines and The Crown.
Producers admire Spain’s ability to double for other locations at a time when productions are trying to minimise international travel. “About 80% of the time we’re asked to double for other places, like Mexico City, Afghanistan, Greece, the French Riviera, the Caribbean,” Day explains.
“For season three of The Crown,” says Andy Stebbing, a producer on the show, “we needed to creatively tell stories that were set in many varied locations. With Palma Pictures by our side, we found them all across southern Spain.”
The country has been buoyed by the government’s decision to raise the local filming rebate from 20% to potentially 30% as part of a Covid relief package for Spain’s cultural industries. The rebate rate has risen from 25% to 30%, for the first $1.2m (€1m) of local spend by an international shoot, and 25% — from a prior 20% — thereafter.
The cap for the total tax rebate on one shoot has also been increased from $3.5m (€3m) to $11.8m (€10m). “Potentially this means a project of €40m [$47m] could get €10m [$11.8m] back,” says Susan E Walker of Spanish production services company Aproductions, which has offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and the Canary Islands. “Add this to the country’s incredible climate, connectivity and experienced multicultural audiovisual professionals, and it’s easy to see why people in the industry describe Spain as the California of Europe.”
Another plus point for Spain is Netflix’s long-term commitment to the country. The streaming giant created its first European production hub in 2018 when it took over and upgraded the existing Secuoya Studios in the suburb of Tres Cantos, just north of Madrid. The ‘Casa Netflix’ site includes three 1,200 square metre stages and two 1,500 square metre studios, post-production facilities and a multi-use auditorium. It is managed by media company Grupo Secuoya, which will service all Netflix productions that shoot at the facility.
Netflix has filmed the series Criminal: UK at the Tres Cantos site and has invested heavily in more than 20 Spanish-language productions, including High Seas, an ocean-set period drama series that used ship sets spanning a total of nearly 30,000 square feet at the studios. The streamer’s presence is boosting Spain’s production profile around the world and is stimulating the development of local crew pools.
“For the Netflix fantasy series Warrior Nun we only had a showrunner, director and DoP coming from the US and UK — all the crew was Spanish and it worked really well,” says Tate Araez, the series’ location manager.
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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 filmed in the Bardenas desert in the north east of the country and in Almeria on the south-east coast.. “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.”
Rachel Cole, line producer on Hanna, adds: “It was one of my best experiences shooting internationally. I hadn’t worked in Spain before, but the crew was exceptionally organised and allowed us to facilitate any type of filming that we wanted to reach our creative goal.”
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.
Seville was great for us," insists Stebbing, producer on the third series. "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."
Season four of The Crown also filmed in Spain around Almeria. “We shot The Crown at the Taberna’s Natural Park in Almeria, doubling it for Iraq, the Paris Dakar rally and a farm in Australia," says German Traver, the show's location manager. "It is a fantastic, huge space of great beauty that offers, despite its desert appearance, different textures and a great variety of environments that make it possible to recreate different places.”
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 The MediaPro Studio has also resumed filming Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat’s Spanish-language comedy Official Competition, starring Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, having been halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Recent big US films 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).
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.