In a bid to further extend its Shooting in Spain brand around the world, the Spain Film Commission (SFC) began in 2018 to name prominent figures in the international entertainment biz as honorary ambassadors. Among them are former HBO executive and U.S. ambassador to Spain James Costos; director Terry Gilliam; actors Emily Blunt and Aitana Sánchez- Gijón; NBCUniversal executive Veronica Sullivan; DP Javier Aguirresarobe and Indian location manager Ramji Natarajan.
Variety approached three of them to give their take on helping to promote Spain as a key destination for film-TV shoots and assess the challenges that remain.
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As the U.S. ambassador to Spain from 2013-17, Costos was laser focused on supporting U.S. studios’ efforts to find growth opportunities. However, despite the country’s many advantages, other European destinations offered better incentives and it was often outbid. Notwithstanding, some major productions landed, led by “Game of Thrones” and “The Bourne Identity,” while some U.S. studios began opening outposts in Spain. “During my tenure in Spain I welcomed HBO and Netflix, and others soon followed,” Costos recalls.
More positive changes came with the current government. “[Prime Minister Pedro] Sánchez saw an opportunity to make Spain a leading destination in Europe for film and TV production. He realized the economic benefits it would bring to Spain post-COVID, by creating jobs and economic growth, not only in the entertainment sector but also a number of secondary sectors, creating jobs in travel, tourism, food and hospitality services,” says Costos.
“So clearly seeing the future of the sector, he made huge improvements to the incentives in 2020 and then went even further announcing the Spain Audiovisual Hub, now making Spain one of the most attractive and competitive destinations in Europe for film and TV production,” he adds, in reference to the plan, launched in 2021, to offer €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion) over 2021-25 to boost audiovisual production and incentivize more international players to shoot and establish production centers in Spain.
“The government and film commissions are innovative and highly motivated to make the production process as adaptable as possible to best support the making of great content,” says Veronica Sullivan, senior VP and head of global production external affairs at NBCUniversal.
For cinematographer Aguirresarobe, whose impressive and varied credits include Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others,” Taika Waititi’s “Thor Ragnarok” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” being an honorary ambassador meant assuming “the responsibility of being the spokesperson for the value and professionalism of Spanish crews.”
“My arguments would focus on the enormous technical facilities and the human qualities of the collaborators that one can find in my country,” he says. “We work at the best and most sophisticated level required by the international film industry.”
Indeed, the creation of the AV hub has changed the perception of Spain not only in the U.S. but also in other countries, which are now exploring Spain as a destination for future productions.
“Given the work Spain has done investing in the sector, they are already seeing the payoff as more and more U.S. productions are coming to Spain. In addition, there are more U.S. studios and platforms opening up offices in Spain to take advantage of what I call a renaissance moment for Spain,” Costos says.
“Honestly, without pin pointing a specific place, I am sure that Spain will be among the top choices of filming destinations for foreign productions. We’re heading that way,” Aguirresarobe says.
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