On Location in Spain: Iberian Film Shoots Cover All Corners of the Country

A traditional destination for Hollywood shoots, Andalusia returned to centerstage last October, when the cities of Seville and Osuna became the “Game of Thrones”’ kingdom of Dorne.

The fifth season of the hit HBO series rolled for 12 days in the Alcazar of Seville, a Moorish castle that doubled up as the Water Gardens of Dorne. In the bullring of nearby Osuna, production spent 13 days filming a four-minute scene with 500 extras.

“Since ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ no other international shoot has generated such popular enthusiasm and media impact,” says Carlos Rosado, prexy of Andalusia Film Commission.

Some 86,000 people initially applied for auditions as extras.

“Like the rest of Spain, Andalusia boasts a great advantage in its varied landscapes, cultures and architectures,” says “Game of Thrones” line producer Peter Welter Soler at Fresco Film Services.

“Game of Thrones’” Andalusia shoot looks location-specific. “When they contacted us, they talked about the Alcazar — that’s what they really wanted,” Welter Soler says.

“It is as if (the Alcazar) was designed for us many years ago,” says “Game of Thrones” co-creator D.B. Weiss. “We couldn’t have paid (to build) this.”

Shooting in 2013 in the Andalusian province of Almeria and also the Canary Islands’ Fuerteventura, Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” invested north of $46 million in its total Spanish shoot, benefitting from Spain’s AIE tax shelter for Spanish film investment.

If “Game of Thrones” producers return to lense future episodes in Spain, they could tap its new 15% tax rebate for international shoots, a credit on local spend.

After Andalusia’s “Game of Thrones” fever, the number of visits by international producers interested in shooting in the region increased around 30%, says AFC’s Piluca Querol.

Meanwhile, the Canary Islands have figured on the world cinema map since 2007, when Spain’s tax incentives took a siesta.

When the Canaries offered a hefty 38% tax shelter for film and TV, Hollywood took note. Warner Bros.’ “Clash of the Titans” and “Wrath of the Titans,” Universal Pictures’ “Fast & Furious 6,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” were partly filmed there. New Canaries’ tax legislation, effective since Jan. 1, greenlit for the first time a 35% tax rebate for international shoots. The rebate is capped at $4.8 million and runs alongside a tax shelter for investment in Spanish productions and co-productions of up to 40% for the first $1.07 million invested and 38% of the remaining amount, with a first-time cap, which means a maximum deduction of $5.8 million per project.

The 35% tax deduction for foreign shoots, which will need a Canary Islands-based services company on board, with a minimum $1.07 million investment, “could serve to create an industrial fabric, jobs and economic diversification,” says Ricardo Martinez, Tenerife Film Commission director.

After new regulations, experts agree that U.S. studio film productions will continue visiting the Islands, but for partial shoots.

“The incentives will enhance the shoots of many up to $16.1 million budget Spanish and European films,” says producer Adrian Guerra.

Further financing tools include a reduced corporation tax of 4% and the Reservation of Canaries Investment, which permits taxpayers to earmark up to 90% of their payments for film and TV production.

The regular presence of recent big shoots has allowed the Canary Islands-based film service companies to increase their competitiveness.

The seven Canary Islands are complementary in landscapes and diversity, but share yearlong stable and sunny weather. These could be some of the reasons why Warner chose the Canary Islands for “The Clash of the Titans,” even without accessing the tax credits that its sequel enjoyed.

Back on the mainland, Barcelona enjoys a burgeoning status as a south European production hub, reinforced by shoots such as Sean Penn starrer “The Gunman,” Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful.”

Catalonia offers Spain’s general tax incentives. In terms of financing, however, it hopes to raise the bar, after its regional parliament approved a new law requiring telcos to plow $0.28 for every data line in Catalonia to back the audiovisual industry.

Kicking off in January, the measure aims to create a yearly $21.9 million new film/TV fund, according to Francisco Vargas, director of the audiovisual area at the Catalan Institute of Cultural Cos. From that fund, government has already set $10.7 million against its 2015 budget, which has allowed it to launch subsidy lines for film and TV productions.

Pubcaster TV3, the most powerful of Spain’s regional broadcasters, is another traditional pillar of Catalan film and TV financing. Catalonia boasts production and services companies such as Mediapro, Filmax, Nostromo and Ikiru, regular partners in big-budget international projects rolling in the region and abroad.

Catalonia also offers studio infrastructure, including Terrassa’s Parc Audiovisual de Catalunya, near Barcelona, where Juan Antonio Bayona filmed Focus Features’ upcoming fantasy-actioner “A Monster Calls.” Among Catalan tech talent are make-up artists David Marti and Montse Ribe, Oscar winners for Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Last year Catalonia hosted 53 feature film shoots, up 36% from 2013; 32 filmed totally or partially in Barcelona, which has become the gateway to other Catalan landscapes, says Carlota Guerrero, manager at Catalonia Film Commission.

Neighboring Navarre and the Basque Country share, to some extent, takes on tax credits policy, derived from their historical fiscal autonomy.

After changing its 1996 Corporative Tax law, Navarre has raised a tax shelter to 35% for Spanish film, TV and animated productions and co-productions. It also added a 35% credit for Spanish and international shoots; the only requirement is they must film at least one week there. The new tax rebate has no specific euro cap, which makes it attractive to high-budget shoots.

“Especially with the new incentive, Navarre will be a preferred destination for Spanish film,” says producer Adrian Guerra says.

The Navarre Film Commission is already collaborating with at least eight Spanish and international production companies that could benefit from the new deductions, says NFC coordinator Sara Sevilla.

“The law will reinforce Navarre’s film and TV sector, avoiding the loss of professionals to other territories,” says Marga Gutierrez at Pamplona-based Arena Comunicacion.

Meanwhile, the Basque Country offers a 30% shelter for Spanish film, TV and animated productions and co-productions, capped at 40% of total production costs.

The law also allows investors to offset production’s losses, if there are any, against future tax payments.

Luis Marias’ “Fuego,” Helena Taberna’s “El contenido del silencio” and Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga’s “Aundiya” are among early film productions tapping into the tax breaks, according to Basque Culture Promotion’s Manu Galarraga.

Standout Basque companies include San Sebastian-based Kowalski Films, co-producer of blockbuster “Spanish Affair,” Further competitive advantages include the energetic commitment by Basque pubcaster ETB to regional film and TV projects, investing north of $4.8 million per year.

The Basque Country also boasts the A-class San Sebastian Festival.

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