Bumping into Bruce Willis at the City of Lights Studios

When I came to live in Spain with my family, I assumed working here would be fairly banal. Afterall, this is a destination on the Costa Blanca touted only to larger-drinking British holidaymakers, so the place seemed an unlikely grazing ground for the likes of Hollywood celebrities.

Some of my work is well-placed in Alicante which is host to a fairly new, but superb studio facility, The City of Lights (Ciudad de la Luz). Sadly, despite the huge investment made in it by the Valencian government, there have been very few offers on the table by Hollywood production companies wanting to shoot here. Is this simply down to poor marketing, high production facility costs, or something more?

As I stand pondering this on a lonely balcony over-looking the barren scrub land near Aguamarga, the door swings open. I don’t pay any attention, it’s an area commonly frequented by crew taking a cigarette break. The guy leans over the balcony fairly close and looks out.Cold Light of Day Poster

“Not much to look at, is there?” the guy says after a while. The voice is strangely familiar so I turn and there is Mr Bruce Willis in the flesh. He’s sporting that unmistakable, cocky wry grin that made him famous as he pulls out a cigarette and lights it. My first reaction is surprise. “I didn’t know you smoked!” He hardly changes his expression as if it were permanently etched on his face. He offers me one and I shake my head. “There’s a lot of things folk don’t know,” he answers mysteriously. ” – The less the better! Are you on our Lot?”

I shake my head and explain we happen to be sharing the studios with Cold Light of Day, produced by Intrepid Pictures in LA. It’s the first time in a while that Hollywood has come knocking here. There is no doubt that the two most important productions made to date in these studios are Asterix and Obelix in the Olympic Games with Alain Delon as Julius Caesar, Gerard Depardieu as Asterix and Manolete with Adrien Brody in the title role, Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz co-starring.

Although these two productions brought prestige to the studios, only former had any real distribution, having an initial budget of over $93 million, but a gross take of about $56 million, despite being released in forty countries including the UK.

Manolete, that was made a year earlier (2007) had an initial budget of $28 million and thus far has only been shown at four film festivals – in Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and the United States – but is to go on general release in France at the end of this month, and consequently the commercial results are too difficult to define.

Ciudad de la Luz

City of Lights Studios, Alicante

However, what is clear is that there a number of facilities lined up to try and steal the limelight from the Alicante studios that in these financial times is facing an uphill struggle with the competition despite having the latest and probably best facilities as was pointed out by Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, when he visited last year. Amongst the leading rivals are Pinewood Studios that can count on a 75-year track record, and has under its belt such major recent productions as Sherlock Holmes and Nine.

Cinecitta, the studio complex outside Rome that saw the making of Ben Hur, and Cleopatra as well as almost all the films by Federico Fellini, and whose director has just signed a deal in New York with the powerful Montana Artists Agency, that oversaw the production of such blockbusters as Transformers and Mission Impossible 3.

Structural Feature near Entrance to City of Lights StudiosAtlas Film/Ouarzazate the studio facility in Morocco has been stealing some considerable thunder from its Alicante competitor, the latest being the extensive production of the forthcoming TV miniseries Ben Hur that was all set to go to the City of Lights but switched at the last moment for Morocco, purely due to financial considerations.

Mediterranean Film Studios, the extensive facility based in Malta has already played host to Steven Spielberg for Munich, whilst Wolfgang Petersen made Troy with Brad Pitt there in 2004, and more recently came the unkindest cut of all when Mod Producciones of Madrid decided to make Agora there with Rachel Weisz, shooting the entire production in Malta due to the considerable length of daylight due to its geographical location, and dropping $50 million in production costs alone.

As for the future, the success of Andalucia for the location of the Cameron Diaz/Tom Cruise picture Knight and Day seems certain of have some international repercussions, and Seville, which was the main location was probably chosen after playing host to Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in Die Another Day in 2002.

Green Screen Set

Working on the set at Ciudad de la Luz, Alicante

If all this was not tough competition, now it seems that a genuine rival is set on installing some facilities just next door to the City of Light in Murcia Province. Paramount Pictures, one of the great names of Hollywood, has now revealed that it does indeed intend to set up in the neighbouring Province with the precise aim of film production.

For the moment, though there is only one facility there: Contentopolis that is involved in the production of video games and digital animation, but it does seem fairly obvious that any alliance between Paramount and Contentopolis would represent an extremely serious threat to the future commercial possibilities of the Alicante facility into which the Valencian Government has ploughed a great deal of money.

I guess only time will tell. The Spanish are not very good at marketing themselves, something I’ve learnt over the few years working here. Another guy comes and snatches Willis away to his set as I go back to mine. Perhaps I should be touting my services to Paramount now?

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