Tuesday, August 17, 2021

“Accion!” and cameras start grinding in Almeria, Spain [archived newspaper article]

The Arizona Republic

Associated Press

By Fenton Wheeler

September 27, 1970


ALEMRIA, Spain – “Attention, everybody,” says a man in a red polo shirt, speaking in Spanish. “Let’s do this scene very lively, with animation like professionals.”

     Somebody else shouts “Sound!” in English, the “Accion in Spanish. Five hundred Spanish extras begin to move in and another Western movie in launched in this hot, barren part of Spain.  

    Before the year is out, the province of Almeria, just across the Mediterranean from North Africa, will come close to having been the location for nearly 200 movies. Its dusty canyons and blowing sand make it a mecca for American and Italian film companies producing Westerns.

     Almeria’s natural shoot’em-up geography and cheap Spanish labor were discovered more than a decade ago. Since then even the Russians have gotten into the act with a couple of documentaries. Likewise the Swiss, English, French, Germans and, of course, Spanish.

     Just now Faye Dunaway, she of the no-bra look, is here making a movie with Stacy Keach and Harris Yulin.

     Even with rising prices, Almeria still tops them all as the most economical place to film a Western, say movie executives. Their estimates range from half to one-eighth as much as in the United States. It has become a principal industry for the folks around Almeria, once referred to bluntly as the “backside” od Spain.

     “We do well with the movie people,” says Diego Fernandez, who operates a fleet of taxis shuttling movie personnel to filming sites.

     “It hasn’t solved the unemployment problem,” says Juan Martin Canizares, an electrician in Tabernas, a genuine town a few miles from the manufactured Western town where the United Artists’ Western ‘Doc’ is being filmed. He has worked in three movies as an electrician but he didn’t get a job this time.

     Several hundred Spaniards did. One scene calls for 585 extras to mill about a version of Tombstone, Arizona.

     For doing this Augustin Becerra Carrillo, 42, father of seven and unemployed, gets 450 pesetas, or $6.42 a day. Spain’s per capita income is $729 annually.

     Manuel Reche, 23, of Madrid, a professional horseman gets $18.50 a day.

     Director Frank Perry says a minimum of 200 Spaniards must be hired full time just to keep the film going in Spain. At times, Perry says, he is employing a 1,000 people in housing and feeding many of them

     Most American movie companies are estimated to leave behind a minimum of $1 million every time they film in Spain. Often it is $2 ot $3 million.

     Moviemaking has opened the way to tourism, brought horse stables back and given the city and airport with a daily flight to Madrid. Almeria’s population in 1960 was 86,808. Today it is estimated at 120,000. Land prices have increased 12-fold.

     Most Spanish credit Andre De Toth, the Hungarian born American film producer, with opening up Almeria. De Toth made “Lawrence of Arabia” in the early ‘60s after discovering miles of sand dunes and an oasis complete with palm trees hidden in a ravine just a few miles away.   

     Today, within a 20 mile radius of Almeria, there are six filming sites, three with permanent Western towns for rent.

     “Doc” has side streets a graveyard and 74 buildings, some newly built and some remodeled. The bars and businesses bear authentic names from Tombstone plus a few that production designer Gene Callahan named after friends from his home town of Baton Rouge, La.

     Almeria still has some problems. The Grand Hotel Almeria, built in 1967, now boasts seven outside telephone lines but long-distance calls make take hours.         


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