Spain is one of the busiest international production hubs thanks to its ability to replicate far‑flung parts of the world and a series of attractive financial incentives.
Spain 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 and mountain ranges. Then there are the Mediterranean’s rocky coves and Atlantic’s sandy expanses that are soaked in an average 3,000 hours of sun each year — all connected by a reliable transport network.
But such visual delights would mean little to international producers without the financial incentives to go with them. In May 2020, the government enhanced the existing tax rebate from 25% to 30% for the first $1.2m (€1m) of local spend and to 25% (from 20%) thereafter. The cap for the total tax rebate on one shoot has also been increased from $3.7m (€3m) to $12m (€10m).
There are regional variations: Navarre, a territory within Spain that has its own taxation system, offers a 35% tax credit while the Basque Country offers a 30% tax credit (the incentive is applied with no quota limit). In the Canary Islands, which also has its own tax rules, the rebate for international productions is now at 50% for the first $1.2m (€1m) and 45% thereafter with a cap of $21.9m (€18m).
Spain’s production boom is being driven in part by the US streaming platforms, attracted to the country for its locations and also as a content provider for the vast Spanish-speaking global market. Netflix has chosen to base a European production hub in Madrid, and the streamer is making up the time lost due to the pandemic lockdown in spring 2020.
Peter Welter, partner and executive producer of service company Fresco Film, explains the company is busier than ever, working with Netflix on three English-language series being shot in Spain: spy drama In From The Cold; steampunk series That Dirty Black Bag, starring Douglas Booth, Christian Cooke and Dominic Cooper; and crime drama Top Boy. Fresco also recently worked with Sony on Uncharted, Ruben Fleischer’s feature starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas, and German production Winnetou, produced by SamFilm for Warner Bros Germany.
“We haven’t stopped,” says Welter. “I warned my team we should take our time to rest a bit because I knew 2021 would be extremely busy. And now it’s full on. It’s going to be a record year for our company.”
Once production was back up and running in 2020, Pedro Almodovar was one of the first behind a camera to make the short The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton, while one of the early features to return to business was The MediaPro Studio’s Official Competition co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat and starring Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.
International features shooting in Spain in the past year include Netflix’s Red Notice, starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, and BBC and Amazon series The English, an epic western set in 1890 starring Emily Blunt, directed by Hugo Blick and produced by Drama Republic in association with All3Media International.
The English sees Spain doubling for the US — and the country’s versatile natural and urban landscapes make it an excellent stand-in for all sorts of locations, an advantage when Covid-19 restrictions continue to complicate global travel. For Netflix’s The Crown alone, Spain has doubled as Australia, Mustique, the US and Greece. “It’s a rarity that we shoot Spain as Spain,” says Mike Day, CEO of Mallorca-based Palma Pictures. “Most of the shows want to double Spain as an alternative destination. Requests can range from Syria and Afghanistan to the French Riviera.”
When it comes to facilities, the country still lacks a big film studio on a par with those in the UK or Germany. Carlos Rosado, president of Spain Film Commission, admits this is “a chronic deficit, but digital technology has also impacted on the conception of shoots and made big studio facilities less imperative”.
Secuoya Studios in the outskirts of Madrid is looking to fill the gap with its ambitious Madrid Content City project in Tres Cantos, a facility already hosting Netflix’s production hub. Presently, the 22,000-square-metre site includes five studios, production services, offices and an auditorium. The next building stage, aiming to finish by spring 2022, will include five additional soundstages (one of 2,000 square metres and four of 1,500 square metres), more offices, services and a university campus.
In March, prime minister Pedro Sanchez announced a $2bn (€1.6bn) investment plan for the local film industry from 2021-25 to increase production, attract international investment and talent, and strengthen the presence of Spanish productions in the international market. Raul Berdones, president of Madrid Content City, believes that both this and the 2020 enhancement of the tax rebate will boost the sector. “We anticipate a four-fold increase in demand from international shoots,” he has said.
However, one challenge yet to be overcome is that arising from Brexit: UK film and TV producers are major clients of Spain’s locations sector, and face greater logistical hurdles ahead of any planned shoot. “We are having to wait too long for the paperwork to be sorted by the consulate in London — the amount of formalities and the cost to obtain working visas to come and shoot in Spain could turn some companies away,” says Fresco Film’s Welter. “Something needs to be done urgently.”
According to the Spain Film Commission, steps are already being taken by the Spanish government to address these complications and ease the access of UK crews to the country.