The Spanish production boom is being driven by American streaming platforms and high-end cable companies, drawn to the country for its locations, experienced teams, talents, and the window it offers into the vast Spanish-speaking global market.
Spain can also be very profitable: production and post-production services are often cheaper than other parts of Europe such as France, Germany and the UK, and stronger tax incentives are very interesting.
Netflix chose to set up its European production hub in Madrid in 2019, following the success of Money theft, a series originally produced by the Spanish group Atresmedia which became an international success when it started playing on Netflix. Since 2016, the streamer claims to have launched more than 50 local titles, participated in 70 film productions and worked with more than 35 partners. The company’s physical footprint expands as it acquires sound stages and post-production facilities in line with continued production growth.
Diego Avalos, vice president of original content at Netflix in Spain, describes the company’s presence in the territory in terms of the number of jobs it provides. “In the original productions currently underway across the country, at various stages of production, we expect to have over 1,500 jobs for the cast and crew, as well as over 21,000 working days for the extras. until the end of 2021, ”he says.
Netflix is making up for lost time due to pandemic lockdown in spring 2020. It is filming at least three English-language series in Spain this summer – spy drama In Cold; steampunk series That dirty black bag, with Douglas Booth, Christian Cooke and Dominic Cooper; and the last season of the crime drama Boy’s Top.
Amazon also likes Spain as a location for its international projects and is running English, an epic western series starring Emily Blunt, in the country.
As for the Spanish content, Money theft creator Alex Pina has already released his next series for Netflix, Red Sky. And the company claims to have had great success with the thriller Below zero, a Morena Films production launched on Netflix in January 2021.
The film, directed by first-time director Lluis Quilez and starring Javier Gutierrez, was reportedly the most-viewed title on the site worldwide the week it was released. Other Spanish originals in production include Intimidation, Baruca and If Lo Hubiera Sabido.
“Spain offers a cultural and scenic magnificence that is difficult to compare,” says Avalos. “Its monuments, gastronomy, architecture and natural landscapes make viewers all over the world fall in love with this country. Moreover, impossible to forget, Spain is a bridge between two continents – Latin America and Europe – with a language shared by more than 580 million people around the world.
It’s not just Netflix increasing its content in Spanish. HBO Spain produces Country and 30 pieces of Alex de la Iglesia in 2020, and Amazon has the historic dramas El Cid and Without Borders. The latter is in production and in production by the Spanish RTVE under the direction of Simon West. This is the world tour performed by Juan Sebastian Elcano and Fernando de Magallanes in the 16th century and stars Money theft‘s Alvaro Morte as Elcano and Rodrigo Santoro as Magallanes.
Amazon also makes fast-paced period dramas A private matter with Aura Garrido and Jean Reno.
“Spain is a very important territory for us because it offers incredible talents from all fields, including writers, actors, creators and technical teams, as well as rich visuals and
diverse venues that allow us to provide our audiences with high quality viewing experiences, ”said Maria Jose Rodriguez, Head of Amazon Originals, Spain.
Movistar +, the country’s largest pay-TV company, is also investing to strengthen its position. It forges alliances with international partners to create high-end content such as the mini-series by Rodrigo Sorogoyen Riot police, which premiered at the San Sebastian Film Festival last year.
The company has succeeded La Fortuna, the television directorial debut of famous filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar. The six-part maritime drama is his most ambitious project to date and is produced with AMC Studios and MOD Pictures. This is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Paco Roca and Guillermo Corral about the treasure hunt of a Spanish ship sunk by the British in the early 1800s, and has international distribution which includes Karra Elejalde (the Amenabar movie star During the war) and Stanley Tucci.
“Amenabar wanted to tell this story and realized that a series was the best format for it,” explains Domingo Corral, head of original fiction at Movistar +. “It is difficult to compete with these American companies which have much larger budgets than us, but fortunately great Spanish talents like Amenabar like to continue working with us. Partners like AMC in the United States are also essential to carry out projects as ambitious as La Fortuna that we could not have done otherwise.
“We have deals with companies like HBO Latin America, Peacock and Telemundo as well as HBO Max and AMC in the US that help our content travel the world,” Corral continues. “The same is true for most of Europe. The most difficult market for us is the UK, although we have sold Plague [the first original series launched by Movistar+, in 2018] at the BBC.
Local producers notice that the presence of American streamers in Spain changes the type of projects they carry out. “Years ago, if we wanted to make a big budget movie, we had to shoot it in English for financial reasons,” says producer Sandra Tapia of Arcadia Motion Pictures. “Now they’re asking you to do it in Spanish. Platforms and majors want to make sure it works in the local market first.
Spanish is indeed the new English, agrees Netflix’s Avalos. “It’s important that a story retains its authenticity, that it feels locally relevant,” he suggests.
US platforms are integrating into the local industry, with many independent film producers working directly with or inspired by them to turn to television as a format. For example, Tornasol Media and DeAPlaneta are working with German broadcaster ZDF on the series ANA. All in, with Maribel Verdu.
And Avalon is working on the Paula Ortiz series The Red Madonna (La Virgen Roja), on Hildegart Rodriguez, the Spanish politician and intellectual murdered in 1933. Clara Roquet and Eduard Sola write the screenplay. Avalon is also developing series This bloody wall (Esa Maldita Pared) with actor / director Raul Arevalo, Isaki Lacuesta and Isa Campo. The series is based on the memoirs of a bank robber.
The links between the Spanish cinema audience and the local industry are also evident in the growth of local streamer Filmin. The company doubled its 2019 annual revenue to $ 17.9m (€ 15m) in 2020 and is now investing in production as well as theatrical distribution.
As elsewhere in Europe, the Spanish government is working to enshrine in law the amount of culturally Spanish content produced by streamers in order to prevent the sector from becoming a mere service industry for the American giants. The required percentage of investment by streamers in audiovisual content from independent producers will increase to 3.5% (instead of 0.9%); specific to cinema, the required percentage of investment by streamers in independent producers will increase to 2% (instead of 1.8%).