Where most people can only see a lonely road, he glimpses the car of our dreams. The photographer Aleix Marín has a sixth sense for composition and advertisements. He works as a commercial location scout for catalogues, posters… and has been a few times in Tarragona recently. The appeal of the Laboral, harbour, Amphitheatre, Bank of Spain, Plaça de la Seu or Llarga beach have turned the city into a set for audiovisual productions. “You look at this city with special fondness. It provides advertising industry with a lot of possibilities”, explains Marín, who has been able to bring big names such as Porsche, Mercedes and BMW to the city for their advertising productions.
Six o’clock in the evening, last dose of sunlight at the Port’s breakwater. Aleix and his mates are packing up after a long day at work. They’ve been taking pictures of the surroundings for a new ad of a BMW sports car. The team, of about ten people, gathers motoring photograph specialists specifically arrived from Germany. Aleix is a key element. He’s acquainted with the location and managed to persuade the client. A team of men from the advertising agency and the audiovisual studio have flown to Tarragona. Not a single detail is left to chance. They’re even taking pictures that will then be reflected onto the body of the car.
Those really attentive, might even recognise Tarragona once the ad is launched. Advertising however, it’s not about creating postcards, but selling. This can only be achieved by positioning the product in an appealing scenery, not singular, but rather a more generic one, so that customers can feel it as theirs. Nothing should disrupt the selling product’s prominence. Tarragona has loads of these sceneries, says Marín. “At the harbour is where we found all the client’s specifications; there’s natural light, it’s an open space, it has a clear long road and an endless horizon”, explains. He uses a compass hanging from his neck to point at the North, and know the sun’s orientation and exact position, which is fundamental for photography.
“I’ve had the time of my life scouting, like the time I was in the beaches of the north of Spain. When you’re on your own, you can see a specific location as many times as you like. You work with feelings, and what that location evokes. Once you’re with your team, in situ, this can be a really stressing job. Everything must be the way it was planned, and there’s a lot of people that can actually do their jobs or not depending in very small details”, says Marín. Part of his duty is paperwork, and asking for the necessary authorisations in order to take photographs to a public location.
Madrid, Málaga and Barcelona are “top” locations for commercial photography in Spain. “Customers guides us where they want to go to, and Barcelona really has a lot to say”, claims Aleix. There are about thirty freelance photographers in Catalonia that, just like him, are working on commercial location scouting. Within a 2-hour drive, you get “a large variety on landscapes, high almost Alps-like mountains and large cities, industry or beach”, he states. There is, however, yet another more determining factor: “International agencies like to work with Catalans. They say we’re more reliable, more responsible”, says Aleix, who has been through a lot after ten years working as a freelance.
The same consideration also works for Tarragona, where professionals like Aleix have the logistical support and permit management of the Tarragona Film Office, created in 2010. “Tarragona can play a complimentary role with Barcelona, and has a lot to offer in this sense. Location, however, is not everything. We find local collaboration in here, people want us back; and this is why we are back”, explains Aleix Marín. 200 municipalities in Catalonia are part of the Catalunya Film Comission. Tarragona is the third city in Catalonia with the highest number of shoots and photo sessions, after Barcelona and l’Hospitalet de Llobregat. Every year, almost 100 film productions take place in this city, with the resulting positive impact towards Tarragona and its trademark.
If I were to define the concept “one man band” I would probably try to get inspiration from the figure of Georges Méliès (1861-1931), a Parisian from the mid 19th century that, despite the choice he could have taken to enjoy a quiet life as a “grandeur” and a businessman in the luxury shoe industry (initially taught by his father), he decided to get his life that little bit more complicated by claiming his part of the inheritance and get into the world of pictures and cinema, still to be discovered. It was actually in this field of arts that he played every possible role. Méliès worked as a cartoonist, magician, theatre director, actor, decorator, dressmaker, technician and also producer and distributor of over 500 films, totally handmade, between 1896 and 1912.
CaixaFòrum Tarragona is now paying tribute to this man and will home the exhibition “Georges Méliès, the magic of cinema” until 10 January, an essential showing in order to understand his majesty and his undeniable role as one of the fathers of cinematography. It is not in vain that Méliès is fairly considered one of the pioneers of cinema and special effects. Anna Catà, from Auriga Serveis Culturals, will provide you with the best guided tour round the exhibition.
Using the part of the inheritance he deserved –his brothers got the luxury shoe company–, Georges bought a theatre he used to make his dreams come true: Chinese shadow puppets, magical lanterns and optical cases (the dioramas of today), adding the perspective and all the previous inventions to the player that would then give birth to cinema. Contemporary and neighbour of the Lumière brothers (Louis and Auguste), generally considered as the discoverers of the seventh art, Georges Méliès could be attributed the initial success of the project… and its deterioration, for the benefit of the major industries.
The exhibition at CaixaFòrum allows us for a deeper, more profound look at the Méliès that reigned, like the Sun King, over the world of fantasy genre and trick photography, with techniques that, despite having been improved nowadays, they’re still very present in many of the contemporary films, such as the Harry Potter saga. Georges Méliès succeeded in making a whole generation dream, even though they were not that sure about this incipient seventh art since they wouldn’t really hesitate before going away from the cinema when presented with certain effects. The French filmmaker would use special effects such as the illusionism, pyrotechnics, optical illusions, horizontal and vertical foldouts, camera stops, small electric shocks, dissolved transitions, overprints… he was really ahead of its time.
The tribute paid to Méliès in this very recommended showing homed by CaixaFòrum Tarragona shows the very early years of the French filmmaker, his golden age, with projects later plagiarised in the USA, and his decline. Films, models –like the cinema studio he built–, dressings, decorations, characters, inventions, personal objects… the exhibition is a tour round the Méliès universe.
As for the ending, this doesn’t differ that much from an actual film. After rejecting the family business to go on an adventure towards an unknown world, plagiarisms, changes on trending and, mainly, the industrialisation of the sector, ended up on him being absolutely broke. Thus, completely trapped by debts, he decided to sell his studios and his film collection to a man that would then reuse them to create toys… and shoes. And there it is, the end of the film; of a sad film.
CaixaForum Tarragona: Carrer Cristòfor Colom, 2 (next to Font del Centenari), 43001 Tarragona.
Mondays to Fridays, 9am – 9pm
Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, 11am – 2pm & 4pm – 9pm
Guided tours for general public:
Catalan, Saturdays at 7pm
Spanish, Sundays at 7pm
Guided tours for groups:
By agreement, day and time, at +34 977 249 871
Price per group, 60€ (maximum, 25 people)
José Coronado and his family live in a mind-blowing house by the sea, in Tamarit. Julio Manrique keeps his car in a garage at Pla de la Seu, just opposite the Cathedral. And hidden in Casa Corderet’s back room, in Carrer Merceria, there is an exclusive chess academy, which is also… wait for it, the library of the ‘Centre de Lectura’ of Reus. Life in Fill de Caín, the awarded début film by Jesús Monllaó, takes place around Tarragona, a set with huge potential which, thanks to its festivalish nomination, is now well-known in places such as Mumbai, La Habana, Montreal, Moscow, Miami or Berlin.
Monllaó, Anglo Germanic philologist, had been looking forward to such an opportunity for years. In the late 90s, he left Tarragona to study a doctorate in literature in England. In Canterbury, he experienced the solitude of the immigrant and managed to survive with little, very little, which gave him time to think… and thus he realised that his main purpose in life should be to tell stories; to become a film director. He got trained and got back home in 2000, convinced of being able to make films.
However, the film he had been looking forward to has taken much time, and it has been released just when both Spanish and Catalan film industry are going through rough times, with less productions than ever before. Until now, Monllaó has directed three short films, which have succeeded in the corresponding categories –La Mirada oblicua, Gloria and El legado–, he has also made a documentary, and some TV adds, and has continued to work almost as anything, just as he used to do back in England. He actually adapted the script for Fill de Caín while he was working as a night watchman in a campsite.
Being an active and determined man, the very same determination which had helped him become a boxer and body builder, Monllaó always knew that his aim was to shoot a film in Tarragona. And, despite the fact that the city had never had cinematographic models, he was never taken seriously at first. “People didn’t really get it. They would look at me utterly shocked, and I was even told to give it try in Hollywood. Instead, I always believed in the possibilities of a city that I love and to which I owe the world”, says the director.
Fill de Caín, which didn’t make to the Goya Awards due to bureaucratic issues but which has been selected by the EU as one of the best movies in 2013 that will represent Europe on international cinema festivals, has been qualified as a “Mediterranean thriller” and shows Tarragona’s potential as a film set. Monllaó has financed the film thanks to monetary contributions by local institutions. Nonetheless, he claims he was not aiming for the city to become any sort of display window: “My purpose was to tell a story the best I could. Tarragona sells by itself”.
The film, awarded in Malaga and Tudela film festivals, will resume its tour and will virtually take Tarragona to Poland, France and Australia. It has a range of real lights, faces and locations which, according to Monllaó, is suitable for all genres: “Tarragona is the perfect scenery for a romantic plot. It would actually inspire Ridley Scott for a futuristic film too, a sort of post apocalyptic dystopia”. Can you imagine a Blade Runner sequel set in Southern Europe’s most important chemistry industrial site?
*We would like to thank the manager of the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona (MNAT), Francesc Tarrats Bou, due to his permission that allowed us to take this report’s cover photograph inside the building.