Written by on Jan 20, 2011. Posted in On Location

Set Report: Filming on location in Spain with horse racing firm ATG

“Welcome to the Moon!” The Location Guide hasn’t made the world’s first extraterrestrial set visit, but the comparison with the infamously desolate lunar landscape is nonetheless apt. I’m at the Rio Tinto mine an hour’s drive from Huelva, southern Spain.

My travel companions are Ben Lohmer, a Producer with production service company Sur-Film, and Jeronimo Forradella, who’s filming Behind the Scenes footage. It’s Forradella who has offered the lunar comparison.

This is where Sur-Film is servicing the shoot for the new commercial from Swedish horse betting firm ATG, which tells the story of a man’s friendship with a racing horse. I’ve been invited to see the final night’s shooting.

It’s the first week of December and the temperature hovers at around 16 Celcius, while Andalusia is green after a fresh downpour.

The Rio Tinto mine looks like it’s been scorched by an angry deity, jagged crevices penetrating deep into the ground and resembling giant claw marks from afar.

“We don’t normally get rain like this at this time of year,” Lohmer explains, puzzled. “The tone we’ve been aiming for is The Deer Hunter with Robert De Niro, and this part of Spain really lends itself to that. We scouted more than 250 locations in Andalusia to find exactly what we were looking for. We’ve got 120 crew, plus [Horse Master] Richard Cruz who sorted out all the horses on Gladiator and Clash of the Titans. That really gave us the edge in winning the project.”

This part of Andalusia has a rugged feel to it that draws an easy parallel with the industrialised Pennsylvania landscape of The Deer Hunter that the production has sought to emulate. The Rio Tinto Company was established in Spain in 1873 and the site itself has a palpable sense of history. Surrounding hillsides have been split into neat horizontal strata by decades of mining. This has exposed rust-brown wounds that tell a vivid story of harsher times. The landscape grabs the eye and the camera drinks it in.

An enormous train storage depot is the mine’s centrepiece, with an adjoining railway platform that will host a major set-up later in the evening. Rusting train tracks spider out from the depot. I tread carefully across the gravelly terrain as I make my way towards the first major set-up of the day.

A crane mounted on the back of a truck has been positioned alongside a rusting steam engine. The initial idea is to lift the camera high into the air from behind the train as five or six horses gallop past, but Director Rane Tiukkanen changes his mind as he watches the video playback under a rain cover.

The sun’s beginning to sink as the decision is made to keep the height of the crane but to lose the upward movement.

“It’s a great location, isn’t it!” says Mark Ardelius, a Copywriter with Akestam Holst, who’s kitted out in waterproofs and sits in ‘the agency tent’. “We were a bit unsure of it at first. Initially we were only shown photos of another part of the mine that’s just dotted with abandoned and falling down buildings that looked like a war zone, but then we saw the main area. When we realised it wasn’t Chechnya we felt better!”

Jesper Holst, the agency’s Art Director, said: “The great thing about this place is you can do pretty much whatever you want with it – there’s a lot of freedom.”

Cordons and fences are set up to steer the horses in the right direction as they gallop past the train engine. The set-up for each take is time-consuming as the horses have to be walked several hundred feet back to their start-point each time, but it’s not long before Tiukkanen’s happy he has the necessary footage. We then switch to a different angle using a Scorpio stabilised head mounted on a quad bike that speeds ahead of the galloping horses, capturing a head-on view.

With the set-up complete I chat with Fabian Mannheimer, a Producer with Stockholm-based production company It’s Showtime. We move into the train storage depot that’s doubling as a dining room for the shoot and as a control centre for Sur-Film. We find a space around the train maintenance pits and antique engines.

“This place has a great vintage and rustic feel to it – you can’t place it in time,” Mannheimer marvels. “It’s very much suited to The Deer Hunter look we were aiming for. We looked at places in South Africa, Los Angeles and New Zealand. I have to say, though, that the horse-handling in Spain was the best and that was one of the deciding factors."

He adds: "Sur-Film was very quick to come to the project and Ben Lohmer had a clear understanding of what we wanted. This is a part of Spain that’s not commonly seen on film, so that was a clear benefit too.”

The station platform adjoined to the depot is being dressed for the next shots that will once again feature the horses galloping past. Torrential rain is hammering on the corrugated iron roof - as it will on and off for the rest of the night - and turning the train track itself into a muddy quagmire. Luckily this suits the visual tone.

Director Rane Tiukkanen strides purposely around his location dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, discussing his plans with First AD Alan Finlay. The customised quad bike camera rig speeds along the platform and tracks the horses at speed along the length of the station.

Back in the depot I grab a quick cup of coffee with Finlay. “The location and the weather are certainly challenges, but it’s been fine,” he says: “We’re working with two Arri cameras and only a handful of extras. This is a fascinating place to work. It’s not a massive space and the rain isn’t ideal, but you work with it – I’m happy so far!”

The train station has become very atmospheric. The platform has been stripped of most signage and food menu boards to reinforce the spot’s timeless feel.

Lights have been rigged on a wall opposite the platform and plastic barrels have been dotted across the train track to add more variety to the landscape. Smoke machines add to the sense of dreamy mystique, as the quad barrels down the platform tracking the galloping horses.

I’m impressed with the crew. The conditions haven’t been the easiest but the whole operation has been efficient and pretty much hassle-free. The mine itself is certainly a striking location and personally I think it’s crying out for a post-apocalyptic thriller.

We wrap at 1:40am, less than ten minutes over-schedule. The Director seems happy, firmly shaking the hand of everyone around him. “It’s a great location, really stunning!” he offers, adding: “It’s been a great experience!”

Client: ATG
Agency: Ǻkestam Holst, Sweden
Creatives: Mark Ardelius, Patrick Dry, Bjorn Gustafsson, Jesper Holst
Production Company: It’s Showtime
Producers: Fabian Mannheimer, Peter Sarhammar
Production Service Company: Sur-Film
Producers: Ben Lohmer, Andreas Wentz
Location Manager: Wily Blazquez
Director of Photography: Jallo Faber
Director: Rane Tiukkanen


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