Natalie Newell, head of photo and motion at Palma Pictures, on the developments of still, moving image and film-production in Spain
Natalie Newell, Palma Pictures’ new head of photo and motion, reveals what it’s like to work in Spain and why, after 15 years working as a Producer in the advertising industry, transitioning to production services was just the change she needed.
Q > Prior to joining Palma Pictures you’ve worked at Adam&Eve, Fallon & Wieden + Kennedy, What motivated you to make the change from advertising to a service company, and in particular to Palma Pictures?
NN > I’ve been in advertising for around 12 years now so it felt like time for a change and I think it’s been a good one. I was always really into the art-buying side of my role and the production; I love organising and attending shoots, as well as the communication with different people that comes with it.
Maybe it’s the sunshine, but people just seem to be a lot happier and enjoy working more in Spain. I’ve lived in Barcelona before and I’ve always wanted to return, it’s just a lovely place to live and work and you’re so close to the UK that you can come back for long weekends if you need a bit of London Life.
Working on the shoots was probably my favourite part of being a Producer, but because there’s usually a lot of paperwork, forms, and process, I didn’t always get to go on as many shoots as I wanted to. Going from advertising into a service company is my way of taking out the parts that I don’t enjoy as much, and working within the details of what I really want to do.
I’d actually say my role is more creative now. I always enjoyed working with service companies on shoots because they are so willing to work together through any problems and it’s a bit like a family because you spend a whole week working on something together. I get the same sense from Palma Pictures: the crew is a massive family and everyone that I’ve met has said ‘If I can’t do the job, I’ll put you in touch with someone who can do it’, because they all work together so closely.
One of the most important things for me in making the decision to move, was that when I told people I was thinking of going to Palma Pictures they immediately said it was such a great company. No one said anything bad, which I think is rare because usually when you talk about advertising agencies the feedback tends to be a bit more ambivalent! So that was a really positive influence for me.
Q > Your career has seen you move from creative to production and product management, and now into production services. Do you think your varied skillset and experience differentiated you for this new role?
NN > I’ve always preferred to work somewhere where I can utilise all of my skills and get involved in everything, rather than be limited to one specific role. I love being creative and having the organisation that comes with it. I remember being interviewed by a Head of Creative Services at an Advertising Agency and he described me as a ‘funny shaped peg’ because I wasn’t one of those people who fits easily into one category.
Q > In the past few years, we’ve seen advertising campaigns embrace a more cross-platform approach, reinforcing the importance of digital. Are you finding that the nature of your work is changing as a result of this?
NN > Clients now expect more for their money because they want to utilise digital platforms. We’ve noticed a demand for motion cameras now as well as for stills cameras, both of which we offer. We’ve got the TV side of our business, as well as photography and motion, so clients come to us directly and work out whether it’s for TV or motion. There’s quite a thin line between them and most of the time I think it’s down to budget.
Before, we might have just done a photo-shoot, but now we’ll often be asked to put together a ‘making-of’ video, some content for the website, or motion for their banners and MPUs. We’ve just done a motion-piece for Jaguar that didn’t involve any photography, and similarly, we’ve done some all-motion work for Boohoo and a fashion piece for H&M. This in turn, means that directors who usually do photography can see the other side and work on motion too. It’s great for us because it gives us more experience in our department and means we can offer more as a result.
Q > What does Spain offer that makes it such an attractive prospect for film crews?
NN > Well they say Mallorca has 300 days of sunshine, and I’ve been there since January without a single day of bad weather! When some people think of Majorca they just think of the nightlife and tourist traps, but they’d be absolutely amazed at the diversity of the rest of the island.
I’ve been coming to Mallorca for the last twenty years or so because I’ve got family here. I thought I knew it fairly well, but a few weeks ago I was taken around the island by an experienced location scout and I was stunned. We have a presentation full of location photos and whenever we share it with people they just can’t believe it’s Mallorca because it’s so diverse. Just an hour drive from rocky mountains you can find tropical beaches and feel like you are in the Carribean!
Apart from the vast and brilliant locations, Spain also has many places that can double for somewhere else. In Madrid there are streets that can be made to look like Paris, and because there are now a lot more modern buildings, you can also construct an American look. Santa Catalina, in Mallorca for example, has a bit of a Shoreditch feel with its trendy bars and quirky areas which are on the up. I guess it’s a bit like London where things change and start getting nicer. I’ve noticed a lot of places which have the Ibiza style and you can even get beaches and parks that look British.
Q > In the last year, we’ve seen Spain introduce new tax incentives in a bid to become recognised as a competitive shooting location. Can you see this sector in Spain expanding in the next few years?
NN > I think people are already beginning to realise that they don’t necessarily have to go a great distance to create what they’re looking for on that sort of budget. When I worked in advertising, Cape Town or LA would automatically be suggested whenever an idea came up that involved a beach, I think partly because they seem like very glamorous locations. But in reality, you’d fly out on a red eye flight, land, do a recce, shoot long back to back days, only to get back on the plane and go straight into work.
At Palma Pictures, we offer the same service but for a lot less money and you’ll most probably get a better experience. You’d still get the sunshine but you get to do it in a more Spanish, relaxed way, have a proper day’s recce, see the island and travel around. We’re two or three hours from most major European cities so it’s a very accessible location.
Q > Palma Pictures has really expanded its reach since being established in 1993. Do you guys have a hot-spot location that is most in demand?
NN > It really depends on what our client is looking for. A lot of people ask us to cost-up for shooting in Mallorca, Madrid, and Barcelona so that they can decide which option is best for them, based on what locations can be found there, and the price. Some people think that because we’re called Palma Pictures we only operate in Palma, but we’ve had an office in Barcelona for a couple of years now and we are shooting more and more in the Canaries and these Islands give you guaranteed sun between October and February. Our HQ will always be Palma where we have everything under one roof: casting, locations, a warehouse full of equipment and our 1000m2 stage. But we have so many contacts throughout the whole country that we can offer great service anywhere in Spain.
Another great thing about shooting in Palma is our cast buyouts. We offer a unique five-year contract that includes world-wide usage of our models. I’ve never worked anywhere that offers such a massive incentive to use local casting. For example, if you only need models who are going to be in background scenes, it’d be far more cost effective for companies to use us. We could bring the models in for the day, rather than our clients paying to fly them all over and put them up in hotels. Usually, negotiations about usage fees for models end up dragging on because people are trying to save money. So clients start by asking how much it would cost for one year and then 8 months, and on and on until they would eventually just end up paying for six or three months. Palma Pictures’ five-year scheme simplifies this whole process.
Q > Having been awarded certifications for environmental responsibility, it would appear that Palma Pictures is one of the few companies that takes sustainability seriously. Have you noticed a strong sense of corporate social responsibility within the culture?
NN > Absolutely. They’re brilliant with that. On my first day, they brought me one of their special sustainable water bottles which had my name on it so that I could put my water in it rather than using plastic bottles everyday, which I thought was really nice.
We only really use recycled paper that has already been printed on. All of our bins are recyclable, and they do really interesting ‘value days’ for example, last December, the Company organised a day where everyone spent the day helping collect olives from a place in the mountains and made them into olive oil for a local farm. To actually be in a company that does all these things is great.
Q > What are your main aims for photo and motion at Palma Pictures this year?
NN > Mainly, I think we want to continue expanding and improving. I’m building the rest of my team and looking for a new sales person and another in-house producer, so I just need to make sure the right people are working together and then we’ll be a full team.
We’re aiming to beat last year’s targets; I think we had 105 shooting days last year. We want to explore the Nordics and Germany a bit more so we’re looking to build some more clients there, as well as maintaining the relationships we already have.
We’re also trying to update the website to display a show-reel of all the work we’ve done in the past two years. And it would be great to be able to open another service office somewhere in the world.
Another thing I’m excited about is getting more people into our studio. I think it’s the perfect space for our photography clients to come and do their selects at the end of their shoot. I remember, whenever we’d shoot an ad for a product that was going to be distributed internationally, we’d usually have to spend a day back in England shooting its foreign-language variants. I think it’d make the job far more enjoyable if we offered our clients an extra day in Palma to do this in our studio. It’d be sunny outside and the photographers could sit down with us and relax. So I think I’ll try to push that more as a package and get more people over to see the office.
Q > Are there any upcoming projects you’re particularly excited about?
NN > The team shot The Night Manager in Palma and I think we’re going to be shooting Rafa Nadal on the stage soon. We’re also doing the second series of Love Island, so that should be entertaining TV!