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Inka Piegsa-Quischotte: Will billions invested in the Spain’s movie industry change the fortunes of ‘Empty Spain?’

Spain has since a long time been a preferred film production location, best known for so-called “Spaghetti Westerns,” shot during the 1960s the wild landscapes of Almeria and surroundings. Hits such as “A Fist full of Dollars” that were filmed in Spain, not Italy as the “Spaghetti Western” tag implies, are still cultural touchstones.

Now, Spain is investing billions to return to those glory days as the Hollywood of Europe.

The latest initiative called AVS Hub, or Audio Visual Hub, debuted last year, representing a turning point in the Spanish film and telecommunications’ industries, with massive financial investments and incentives that will be distributed among different industry sectors. The goal is a big boost for the Spanish economy and the reputation of the country as a desirable location for film production.

But the most dramatic aspect of this initiative to boost Spain’s TV and film industry might be to help reverse the ongoing depopulation of Spain’s rural areas, which I’ve written about in Dispatches. Given that these empty villages are often in the most beautiful and picturesque parts of Spain, the creation of production sites, film sets and new sound stages could be transformative. The films will spur new business ventures and create jobs, which in turn will bring people back to these often neglected areas.

Sound ambitious? Well, we’re talking about billions dedicated to making Spain a top film location.

Last March, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez raised the ante with a 1.9 billion euro AVS Plan to power up the local film and TV production industry and to encourage foreign companies to shoot and to set up production offices in Spain, which claims “the most diverse catalogue of locations in the world.”

One result is that Mallorca-based Palma Pictures provided services for “The Night Manager” and “The Crown.” A combination of extensive and diverse scenic backdrops, great climate, multiple airport hubs and depth of touristic infrastructure make Spain a great choice for visiting producers, Mike Day, CEO of Palma Pictures told movie industry bible Variety. In the past few years, Spain already has been in the forefront of international shoots. But this new initiative pushes its advantage even further.

In other popular film-location countries such as the United Kingdom, Hungary and Croatia, it is increasingly difficult to reserve locations and to hire first-class crews for major productions, according to the Variety post. Training new crews quickly adds to production time. In fact, talent has become such an incentive that international producers already ask for specific crews they’re familiar with to be incorporated in their production says José Luis Escolar, a line producer. Escolar is in the process of preparing Universal’s Television Julie Plec series “Vampire Academy” for Madrid-based production company Calle Cruzada. Here, the AVS Hub may come in especially useful as the plan includes investing 17.9 million euros into expanding the Spanish talent pool.

Not to be left behind, Netflix has announced in April that it is increasing its soundstages from five to 10 in its Secuoya Studios in Madrid’s Tres Cantos complex.

It is not all smooth sailing, though. The new AVS Hub puts mainland Spain in competition with its own territory. A major hub for filming, the Canary Islands, offers a 6.4 million euro cap on film tax incentives whereas the Spanish mainland offers a 12 million cap, something industry insiders consider unfair, and which had not yet been resolved.

Another issue is intellectual property ownership as many Spanish film companies provide their own funding and finance and want these rights to remain in Spain rather owned by foreign production companies such as Netflix.

All in all, the AVS Hub is a very ambitious plan. The ultimate goal is to create a Spanish Hub Bureau in cooperation with ICEX, the Spanish Institute of Foreign Trade, which helps Spanish companies compete internationally.

All in all, a win win situation for Spain.

For more details see the full Variety post here.

Read more here about shooting movies in Madrid.

For more opportunities in “Empty Spain,” see Jennifer Dixey’s post here.

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Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is an international attorney-turned-travel and lifestyle writer based in Spain. She has contributed to BBC/Travel, several in-flight magazines, TripSavvy (Spain) and TravelAwaits among many other publications.

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