Production on AMC-Movistar Plus high-end original “La Fortuna,” starring “Supernova’s” Stanley Tucci, wrapped Tuesday in Spain, ending principal photography on one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most ambitious upcoming drama series.
Scheduled to bow this fall, “La Fortuna” also marks the first TV show from Oscar winner Amenábar, who directed “The Others” and “The Sea Inside.”
Both that ambition and authorship shone through on Monday’s last full day of shooting, which took place in Pasajes de San Pedro, a Bay of Biscay fishing village and shipyard on the northern Spanish coast, a half-hour drive from France.
Produced by Movistar Plus, AMC Studios and MOD Pictures, with AMC bowing the series in the U.S., Canada and Latin America and Beta Film selling the rest of international, the six-hour adventure thriller casts Tucci as Frank Wild, a modern-day, business-driven treasure hunter.
Wild retrieves the biggest sunken booty in history from the wreck of “La Fortuna,” a Spanish frigate sunk by four British navy warships off the coast of Portugal in 1804. When he ships the treasure to the U.S. Alex Ventura (Álvaro Mel), a rookie diplomat, is dispatched to retrieve it, launching a legal battle, fought in U.S. courts, to recover the ship’s near 500,000 silver and gold coins.
Straddling the Atlantic and the past and present, “La Fortuna” is the biggest series that Movistar Plus has ever made.
Beginning early August, and shooting in blocks, the 120-plus-day shoot has been entirely lensed during a global pandemic.
“Last June, we took a decision, which was then not obvious, to start all our productions — those shut down by COVID-19 and the new ones as well,” Domingo Corral, Movistar Plus director of original production, told press at an informal conversation on Monday near the set at Pasajes de San Pedro.
Of these new productions, “the most complicated, by a large head, was ‘La Fortuna,’” he added. “We went day to day, but it feels like almost a miracle that we’ve finished.”
One challenge during COVID-19, Corral argued, was to maintain Movistar Plus’ hallmark habit of shooting in situ, on location.
Wherever the action of “La Fortuna” took place, the shoot has followed, including to Madrid, Cadiz, Zaragoza, A Coruña and El Ferrol in Spain.
With the retrieval of the treasure becoming a matter of state, it also shot in Spain’s equivalent of the White House, Madrid’s Palacio de Moncloa, and enrolled the collaboration of the Spanish Navy, Army, Civil Guard and Oceanography Institute to borrow tanks, planes and vessels for scenes set in Spain.
Meanwhile, U.S. court scenes were also shot in Spain. Given travel bans, a second unit was employed in the U.S. to lens establishing shots, said MOD Pictures founder Fernando Bovaira, whose credits include all of Amenábar’s movies from his second, “Open Your Eyes,” as well as Alejandro González Iñarritu’s “Biutiful,” starring Javier Bardem.
Shooting everything that was required for “La Fortuna” meant re-jigging the shoot schedule, but “when we were meant to be shooting, we never stopped,” Bovaira added.
The Pasajes shoot embodied a major ambition for Movistar Plus, and indeed any of Europe’s regional or national SVOD players who seek to survive in a new entertainment business paradigm dominated by U.S. studio streamers: the battle for top creative talent.
To attract it, Europe’s biggest SVOD players, such as Movistar Plus, have to guarantee the resources to allow top writer-directors to make the shows they want to make at the level of budget required and with a reasonable freedom.
“La Fortuna” is a case in point. The show is an adaptation of best-selling 2018 graphic novel “El Tesoro del Cisne Negro.” The comic book was itself inspired by the Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration’s extraction of silver and gold coins from the wreck of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, sunk by the British Navy in 1804, with the loss of 270 lives.
“The process I’ve followed has been exactly the same as on a movie. I’ve shot with the same creative freedom and had everything I needed to tell the story I wanted to tell,” Amenábar said at Pasajes de San Pedro.
The project really centers on the recuperation of the treasure, he noted. But he also wanted to shoot the sinking of “La Fortuna” — the name of the frigate in the film — to create an “emotional bond” with the spectator, revealing its fundamental human drama. “This isn’t only about the lost treasure but the loss of hundreds of lives,” said Amenábar.
A kinetic and immensely organized director, Amenábar is no real fan of VFX, though the historical scenes shot at Pasajes will contain multiple digital touches, he recognized.
Movistar Plus hired two frigates from France and Russia to shoot the recreation, which will provide a total 10 minutes or so of flashbacks. The scene that Amenábar was shooting when press arrived on set on Monday took place inside a cabin. Nevertheless, the production used two light cannons, positioned outside the cabin, to give a Mediterranean strength and warmth to the light seen through the cabin’s portals.
To allow Amenábar to shoot at a speed but with a cinematic sophistication, animatics were created of the historic scenes prior to shooting. These allowed the director and DP Alex Catalán to test camera movements and have all key crew and cast on the same page when it came to filming, said FV supervisor Juanma Nogales.
“Apart from having the resources for a shoot, one key consideration is respect for talent and its vision,” Bovaira argued at Pasajes. “Movistar is very, very respectful towards talent. If we explained well why we wanted to do something, it would back us up and make sure it happened.”