'Game of Thrones' eagerly awaited by jobless Spaniards
Madrid - The sun-drenched historic Andalusian town of Osuna is banking on the swordsmen and dragons of "Game of Thrones" to bring it jobs and tourists.
The Home Box Office Inc. announcement this month that it plans to film part of the fifth series of the American fantasy show in Osuna and Seville has raised hopes that the production will alleviate Andalusia's own drama of economic crisis and joblessness. With the highest unemployment in Spain, at 35 percent, or 1.4 million people, the region is ready for any help it can get, in this case being transformed into the mythical kingdom of Dorne for the popular American TV drama.
"The crisis has ruined business," said Jesus Sanchez, manager of the four-star Hotel Palacio Marques de la Gomera in Osuna, where prices have halved in the last eight years and only a quarter of the rooms are occupied. "We're excited for a boost to tourism and to the economy here."
The optimism of Andalusia's people is well founded. In the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, where three series were filmed starting in 2011, tourism has jumped 24 percent since 2010 as fans of the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens took special Game of Thrones location tours. Each filming season created more than 1,000 jobs and over 10,000 people applied in the casting process for the fifth series, according to the Croatian tourist office.
The show, based on epic novels by U.S. writer George R. R. Martin, has a dedicated fan base. Followers braving the cold of Iceland for a taste of the soldiers' lookout at the Night's Watch pushed visitor numbers up 20 percent last year. In Northern Ireland, the home of King's Road and Winterfell, filming of the fifth series will bring in $34 million, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said in April.
Osuna, a town of 17,900 people, is known for its 16th- century courtyard mansions, steepled churches and monuments inherited from the Dukes of Osuna dating back to 1562. Now, the white hilltop village surrounded by olive groves counts 4,312 people without employment.
"People are worried by the lack of jobs and see this as an opportunity," said Rosario Andujar, mayor of Osuna. "There'll be roles supplying materials, accommodation, transport and as personnel during filming. I'm convinced the town is going to benefit a lot."
Her views are echoed in Seville, a city that already welcomes about 2 million tourists a year inspired by flamenco shows, bull fights and tapas tours.
The filming of Game of Thrones "is going to consolidate jobs in Seville and create an important generation of wealth," according to Juan Ignacio Zoido, the city's mayor.
The city, like much of Spain, has struggled under the weight of the euro region's sovereign debt crisis.
Europe's fourth-largest economy is recovering from a six- year economic slump, having exited the European Union bailout program it was forced into in 2012.
Still, Spain's jobless rate of 25 percent remains the second-highest in the European Union. The government's debt load is approaching 100 percent of gross domestic product and its budget deficit was the EU's fourth-largest in 2013.
Economic numbers like that have driven cities like Seville to seek out new sources of revenue and jobs.
Spain's fourth-biggest city lured HBO by axing fees charged to film in public places such as the Moorish Alcazar, set to feature in the series, Zoido said. The palace, packed with columned courtyards and elaborately tiled halls, attracts more than 3,000 visitors a day, earning Seville 22,000 euros.
HBO approached the Andalusian Film Commission at the start of the year expressing interest in the region for the fifth series, according to Carlos Rosado, president of the Spain Film Commission. Representatives of the New York-based producer behind "Sex and the City" and "True Blood" paid three visits to Andalusia to scout for locations starting in April.
"This is a show with millions of followers so speculation over precise filming locations has been enormous," said Rosado, who expects shooting to take place in October. "I'm afraid for now, fans will have to wait."
A medieval fantasy based in the fictional lands of Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones is a tale of battles and betrayal, injected with a generous helping of sex and bloodshed.
HBO was reported to have granted U.S. President Barack Obama's request for early copies of season four, which attracted 18 million viewers per show.
The program is nominated for 19 Emmy awards, including for best drama, writing and acting. It's the third time the show has been nominated for best drama.
For Andalusia, which is no stranger to film productions, Game of Thrones would be something of a coup.
Seville hosted blockbuster films "Knight and Day" and Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator," while Almeria provided the desert setting for westerns such as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" in the 1960s, earning the label "Mini Hollywood."
Still, Spain is one of the few nations to not offer fixed financial benefits to international film crews. That's set to change with a bill going through parliament to reduce their production costs by about 15 percent, according to Rosado.
Meanwhile, in Seville where horse-drawn carriages wait in the shade of the cathedral to transport tourists around the center, the arrival of a world-popular TV series has created a stir of excitement.
Local actors are hoping demand for extras and bit-parts in the series may restore their fortunes, as higher ticket taxes and falling household incomes drive audiences out of theaters.
Producer Fresco Film Services based in Malaga has received more than 55,000 applications to audition, according to the company's Facebook page.
Fatima Ortega Tena, 30, an actress and dancer from Seville, wants to feature as an extra in the show as she faces a summer without work. Living with her parents, her part-time jobs serving meals at a local school and as a dance teacher are suspended over the summer.
"Opportunities don't arise very often because there's no help, no subsidies," said Ortega Tena, sitting in a dance studio in Seville's Superior School of Dramatic Art from which she graduated six years ago. "I'm so excited Game of Thrones is coming to my town. I don't have anything, so I have nothing to lose by auditioning."
Jesus Gallardo, 26, a fan from Seville who watched the first series in three days and says he'd skip meals for episodes, plans to camp overnight to see his favorite actors.
With assistance from Charles Penty in Madrid
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