Mega-studios target foreign productions

MADRID — Spain’s long tradition of hosting international film shoots — Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, James Bond, Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” — is almost exclusively due to three reasons: locations, locations, locations.

Brad Anderson found that Barcelona could be converted into Any City, Calif., for “The Machinist,” while “Sahara” was, at times, Catalonia. But when a film demands a soundstage, it’s goodbye Spain and off to Pinewood-Shepperton or Babelsberg, or back to Hollywood.

That might change. With regional governments and private sectors investing nearly a half-billion dollars in new studios and high-tech production houses, Spain is preparing to cater to every need of high-profile pics.

In Alicante, Valencia, the S300 million ($385 million) megastudio complex, Ciudad de la Luz, is finally set to open its nine-ton soundstage doors to the world.

“I have a film background, but for the last four years, I’ve been working with engineers, politicians and architects,” says production head Javier Orce. “I never thought I’d be anxious to see a makeup person in my life, but now I can’t wait for one to get here.”

Designed by Gary Bastien, Ciudad’s final plan includes nine soundstages — two of 25,000 square feet and a superstage of 53,000 — a 54-acre backlot, and customized surface- and deep-water tanks.

Important features include:

  • Fiber-optic infrastructure allowing producers to instantaneously see their actors on set from any part of the world.

  • Mute air-conditioning.

  • Alicante’s weather, boasting the lowest precipitation in Spain.

  • Power and water every 400 feet, with fiber optics running throughout the backlot.

  • The eagerly awaited water tank.

“We plan to have the water tank finished by late 2006,” Orce says, hopefully. “Gary Bastien is in L.A. meeting with the engineers who designed the tank for ‘Titanic.’ “

With six stages up and running, marking the completion of phase one, Ciudad can now welcome productions. The first to test out the facilities are small Spanish indies: Javier Rebollo’s “Lo que se de Lola” and Manuel Iborra’s “La dama boba.”

“Before the big shoots come, we want to make sure that everything works without a hitch,” explains Orce. He also says two unnamed European productions are penciled in for the fall.

Where did Ciudad de la Luz get $385 million to fund this dream studio? Valencia’s regional government, that’s where.

But Valencia is not the only regional government hoping to take its share of the international production dollar. Catalan government is anteing up $189 million for film and TV production from 2002-05.

One beneficiary is the $48 million studio Terrassa Ciutat Audiovisual, skedded to open by year’s end. Terrassa will boast more than 535,000 square feet of installations. Construction is skedded to wrap by mid-2007.

Catalonia’s ICIC film board will put up $7.8 million toward the project, which will house its film archive. Local big gun Filmax Entertainment will install production offices and a 13,000-square-foot soundstage.

Barcelona City Council-run company 22@, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and production/services company Mediapro are building the new Parc Barcelona Media in Poblenou, a new district dedicated to audiovisual production and education.

The center will offer over 500,000 square feet of audiovisual services, a 190,000-square-foot film/TV production center, more than 50,000 square feet of sets and fully equipped production areas, and similarly sized training facilities.

“Mediapro installs the soundstages (and) the high-tech equipment, but there’s more to it than technology,” says Elena Marin, 22@ communications chief. “It’s having the people there who know how to use it. The relationship between the private sector and the university really defines this project.”

That’s not all in Catalonia. Ever-expanding Mediapro, toon producer and channel owner D’Ocon Films Prods. and pubcaster TVC opened offices in the 334,600-square-foot high-tech production center Imagina in October.

To find Spain’s most experienced state-of-the-art studio, head to the island of Majorca for Palma Pictures, a one-stop shop. “In 2000, we completed construction on our studio facility,” says Palma managing director Mike Day. “Carpentry workshops, paint shops, casting suites, production offices, etc., and a 10,000 square-foot air-conditioned soundstage.”

Set up 11 years ago as a small location/production service company, Palma has expanded heavily, with commercials being their bread and butter. “Clients usually come here for the island’s beauty and diversity,” says Day. “But often they need studio space. Our studio facility is a result of that demand.”

Palma has turned being stuck on an island to its advantage. It owns its state-of-the-art equipment. So there’s normally no need to shuttle supplies and gear from the mainland. “Having us here, a producer doesn’t need to negotiate with five or six different suppliers,” explains Day.

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