If you’ve been on the Costa del Sol for some time, recently you could be fooled into thinking you were elsewhere, namely Hollywood with all the lights, camera, action and glamour that comes with making movies. Re-affirming its new nick-name of the California of Europe, the Costa del Sol is fast becoming a world class location for shooting movies. If you keep your eyes peeled, you may even be lucky enough to spot the stars strutting their stuff for the cameras up and down the coast.
Recently, the clacker boards were in operation for “Oh Marbella”, a movie costing a big $2 million (big for the Costa at any rate), starring Rik Mayall, Lara Belmont, Tom Bell and Mike Reid. The film, to be released in the UK in the spring, is a riotous comedy following the misadventures of a hapless group of tourists arriving on the coast. The production company behind the film are a local venture, VF Versatile Film, who have been in operation for around three years. Director of VF, Keith Welch, is excited about this venture, their latest and largest to date. “We have shot a lot of commercials, corporate videos and TV information footage over the years,” Keith explained. “But Oh Marbella is the largest project we have undertaken. The funding was raised privately and we have had amazing support from local businesses and organisations.” Keith’s partner Piers Ashworth is directing the movie and he is no stranger to big budget productions, with previous credits including Mission Impossible and A Case of Evil. Based at the Mundo Studios in Cancelada, VF boasts their own extensive editing suites and AVID production facilities.
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The film studios themselves have gone from strength to strength since opening in 1999, and are now the largest independent film and television complex in Spain. Davida Sweeney, production manager at the studios, gave me her views on the increased popularity of the Costa del Sol for photographers and filmmakers:
“At the studios we offer a complete service which means we offer all aspects of the production process. Our main aim is to fill our ten rental studios, which range in size from 105 to 708 m2 and these are now busy almost full time with teams shooting fashion, cars and a whole range of other subjects. The weather and the light is fantastic and combined with our outdoor facilities it means the cameras can roll for more hours and as the infrastructure improves almost daily, the teams can get about much easier if they are shooting on location. The Costa del Sol is also becoming more recognised within the business and as a result more and more people are settling here full time. This means that we are able to offer services such as hair / make up / stylists and models removing the need (and expense) for teams to bring their own.”
Mike Brown, owner of target models (www.targetmodels.com Tel: +34 952 908 778) agrees “When I first visited Marbella 25 years ago as a Model on a catalogue shoot for one of the leading UK Mail Order Catalogues, we had to wait in line along with crews from other UK Catalogues or from Germany, Denmark or France to shoot around the Puerto Banus area. Years later, people were saying “Marbella – where’s that?!” Nowadays, it is back on the map and people are realising that the area rivals California, Sydney or Capetown as a sunshine-shoot location. With the Mediterranean coastline, the mountains and the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains, the beautiful beaches and sand dunes of Tarifa and the abundance of historical landmarks, the area is simply fantastic.”
Target opened in June 2000 and hasn’t looked back since. With more than 300 professional models on their books and 1500 extras, Target Models offer an eclectic mix of nationalities. Head booker, Dy Perez has grown up in Marbella and has witnessed many changes ; “I think the Costa del Sol has been re-discovered across all sectors. The property market is booming and many businesses benefit from this.” Target Models have recently opened a sister office in London, mainly to deal with their extensive UK client base but also to scout for talent there.
So what if you want to become involved? Well, at Target Models you can sign up at no expense and if you have no previous experience you go on their books as an extra. If you have experience, or the agency thinks you have potential, they will encourage you to get some professional photographs taken and then you will enter the hallowed ranks of a fully-fledged model, complete with your own page on the Target Models web site. The jobs vary wildly at Target and Dy’s week is always different. Some of their models have made front covers of various magazines, have appeared in music videos on MTV and at many glitzy occasions around Marbella it will be a Target smile that greets you at the door.
If it’s the movies you yearn for, Casting Marbella (www.castingmarbella.com Tel: +34 952 765 018) is the place to head for. Established fifteen years ago by Norwegian photographer Marianne Nilsen, the company has cast for hundreds of commercials, films and music videos. Casting Marbella’s credits include music videos for such veritable show-biz stars such as Madonna, Sting, Jamiroquai and Bryan Adams, films such as Torrente and Don Quijote and TV including Eastenders in the UK and Chromium Blue of the US where the director Zalman King (director of Wild Orchids and producer of 9½ weeks) found not only 80% of his cast but also his star performer Erika Prior. Erika is now a big name in the movie business and her latest endeavour, the film “The Second Name”, is be released all over Spain in the spring and recently won the Best European Film award at the Sitges Film Festival. There are over 6,500 people on the books at Casting Marbella and although they are all entered into a cross-referenced database on the computer, Marianne and her staff rely heavily on the database kept in their heads. “When someone contacts us looking for a particular age range, look and ability to act, etc. we normally have a good idea who we will put forward. We then check the computer and bring up a short list before contacting each person to check that they will be available and the terms suit. We hold video clips of many of our people so we can send them swiftly to searching directors and production houses.” This is very different from when Marianne first started Casting Marbella; “We did everything by hand”, she laughs. “It was a case of sticking little bits of paper onto other bits, things have certainly come a long way!”
The obvious place, or should I say time, to start a career in the performing arts is when you are young and two companies operating classes along the coast for youngsters. One of these is Stagecoach, the UK’s largest, three discipline, part-time stage school with 204 branches in the UK and others across the world. Running classes within schools and at other venues such as Mundo Studios, Stagecoach (www.stagecoach.co.uk Tel: +34 952 897 038) operates in San Pedro de Alcántara, Marbella and Benalmádena and offers 4-16 year-olds a taste of the fun and excitement of the performing arts. Taught to act, dance and sing, youngsters are taught in groups of no more than 15 – a small enough number to allow for individual attention.
If, like me, you are happy to just sit in the audience and enjoy, the Coast’s entertainment infrastructure has never been better. More and more multi-plex cinemas have opened offering a huge array of films. Most are dubbed into Spanish but some cinemas, such as the Gran Marbella in Puerto Banús, now show films in their original version. Theatre too is on the up. Marbella now boasts its own theatre with a year-round program of events including plays, opera, musicals, flamenco, comedies and recitals and even has a children’s theatre for the little ones. As it is a municipal theatre, most of the performances are in Spanish but there is still plenty to attract foreign residents and visitors such as flamenco and other dance concerts.
The Cervantes theatre in Málaga also offers a comprehensive schedule and the theatre itself is beautiful with painted ceilings and velvet-draped boxes in the upper levels. The indoor sports arena and the football stadium in Málaga also showcase larger pop concerts as well as lesser names appearing at bullrings and stadiums up and down the coast. Almost certainly the most dramatic location to satisfy your entertainment appetite is the caves in Nerja. Every summer, a festival is held with a myriad of famous names performing during the two-week extravaganza.
For a truly English experience, the Salon Varieties Theatre located in Fuengirola has been serving up a mixed repertoire of musicals, plays and reviews as well as visiting bands and theatrical companies for over fifteen years. Although the theatre is strictly speaking amateur, it operates exactly like a professional one with technical and front of house staff on the pay role. The theatre runs performances from mid September to the end of May each year.
If home entertainment is your thing, the Coast also will not disappoint. For those of us who just can’t leave our soaps behind, many companies offer UK and European satellite connections so that you won’t miss your favourite show from back home. Alternatively, the Spanish networks such as Via Digital offer multi-lingual channels enabling you to select your preferred language of viewing. You can also really go to town with the fantastic home entertainment systems now on the market.
In addition to all that, Andalucía in general has a relentless calendar of traditional fiestas which provide live entertainment at its best. Three Kings in early January sees processions winding through streets and dressed up Kings throwing sweets to the kids, in February its carnival time, the largest of which is in Cadíz, with wild costumes and fervent partying rivalling that of Rio de Janeiro. More sombre, but nevertheless fascinating, are the Easter parades leading up to Easter Sunday. They are impressive wherever you happen to witness them; the most outstanding, however, are in Seville with huge numbers of people participating. The Easter week holy celebrations lead into feria season with once again Seville topping the bill with their massive week-long fair. All through the summer months, every city, town and village in Andalucía will celebrate their patron saint by dancing, drinking, eating and generally making merry. They are all excellent places to observe traditional Spanish dress and dance. In May, Jerez de la Frontera celebrates its horse fair, Cordoba throws open its patio doors to the public and Sanlucar pays homage to the sherry from the region with their wine festival. All through the summer months the villages of the Axarquía throw parties dedicated to wine, olive oil and cheese, to name but a few, amongst them the excellent Noche de Vino in Cómpeta. In December, in Puerto de la Torre, the Verdiales Music Festival gives musicians the chance to compete on stage as well as welcoming anyone at their impromptu jam sessions.
From the camera, lights and action of the movie world to the femmes fatale of flamenco, from taking part and learning the theatrical ropes as a youngster to enjoying the cultural oasis that is the Costa del Sol and beyond, that’s entertainment!
Jaqueline Roberts, Words & Pix