Spain’s diverse landscapes and attractive subsidies have long held foreign filmmakers in its thrall. From Spaghetti Westerns to Game of Thrones, we take a look at how Spain attracts some of the world’s top productions and became one of the most popular filming destinations on the planet.
Spain’s diverse landscapes are one of its key draws for filmmakers, having played the backdrop for everywhere from the desert of the Wild West to the frozen expanses of Siberia. With deserts, mountains, medieval old towns, Islamic palaces, volcanoes, lush green coastline and dramatic cliffs, Spain can double up for almost anywhere and any time period.
Almería in south-east Spain is the home of Tabernas, the only desert in Europe. In the early 1960s, the area attracted filmmaker Sergio Leone, who constructed a Wild West town there and used it as the main location for his Dollars trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
In 1962, British director David Lean shot parts of historical epic Lawrence of Arabia in Spain, where the country’s southern desert doubled for the Middle East.
In a promotional video released by Spain’s Film Commission in 2013, it explained many of the advantages of shooting in the country, including: “300 days a year of sunshine”, “1,650 square miles of desert”, and “10 different climates”.
Spain is an ideal location for shooting, and a place where weather delays are unlikely. The variety of weather, too, attracts filmmakers. From the desert of Almería to the snowcapped Sierra Nevada and Pyrenees, Spain is diverse enough to fill any necessary backdrop.
After Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean chose Spain again for his 1965 epic romance Dr Zhivago (filming in the Soviet Union, where the story is set, was not an option because the book was banned there). He was assured that there would be snow, but was met with one of the hottest winters Spain had experienced (it’s ironic that the actors, wrapped up in their Russian fur hats, were actually filming in central Spain). His crew used crushed marble for fake snow on the set – a complete set of Moscow built just outside Madrid.
The Others (2001), a creepy tale of a haunted house on the Channel Island of Jersey during World War II, was actually filmed in Las Fraguas in northern Spain. Far from the barren deserts of the south of the country, northern Spain gets much more rainfall, making a lush green landscape and misty setting that was an ideal stand-in for the Channel Islands.
Foreign companies shooting in Spain get a 20 percent tax rebate (40 percent in the Canary Islands and 35 percent tax credit in Navarra), an incentive that has attracted more and more productions to the country. Navarra’s Bardenas Reales Natural Park, a lunar-esque, semi-desert landscape, doubled for the Dothraki Sea in season six of Game of Thrones.
The 2016 film Jason Bourne was partly filmed in the Canary Islands, which doubled for Greece.
Spain is home to a skilled workforce of everyone from directors and extras to technicians, engineers and cameramen.
Much of The Impossible (2012), set in Thailand following the 2004 tsunami, was actually filmed in Alicante by Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who brought along many of the same crew he used on Spanish horror film The Orphanage. The tsunami itself was recreated using real water in a giant water tank.
Woody Allen set his 2008 film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in both the eponymous city and Oviedo in northern Spain, using some of Spain’s most famous acting talent – Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem – in key roles (Cruz picked up an Oscar for her performance).