Snow, Japanese James Bond and Mountains

1 Feb

Photo Credit: Diari d'Andorra

A couple of weeks ago, Andorrans saw something new on their streets and in their hotels; film crews. In other cities, I’ve seen this many times, the trucks, the equipment, the lights, the crowd of curious bystanders, but this time was slightly different. Described as a Japanese James Bond thriller, a crew set up for a couple of weeks in Andorra to shoot various scenes in two locations. And as usually happens when filming on location, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate.  In an unusually dry week, snow machines were brought in to cover sidewalks and streets. And it worked, the Japanese were very happy with their newly discovered filming location. Locals bent over backwards for them and people waited patiently in their cars while streets were blocked.

So, for many producers, Andorra is new and exotic, the unknown country deep within the Pyrenees. Or, why not the new Switzerland?  As labour costs rise in Europe, shooting with local crews in the Alps is expensive.  Think of Andorra as stunt double for the Alps. Andorra has snow (well almost always…), mountains, chalets, ski resorts, and 300 days of sunshine. What more could you need for your next action adventure, thriller, drama or romantic comedy?

Listen up Andorra – Festival glory could be yours too!

21 Sep

In less than 11 days 300 films were screened, red carpets were trodden, 300,000 tickets were sold and 2000 generous volunteers directed visitors.  I’ve just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

What a whirlwind! I was able to get in to see some fabulous films, among my favourites, Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. The film details the relationship between King George VI and his speech therapist, Australian, Lionel Logue and the unconventional methods he employs to help the King overcome his stammer. What makes festival screenings so fun, is that at the end of the film, Hooper, Firth and Rush spoke to the audience and answered questions. I was even more pleased to see the announcement yesterday in Screen Daily, that this particular film had won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award. Looks like the Weinstein’s have an Oscar contender with this one.

I was also interested in Emilio Estevez’s “The Way” starring his father, Martin Sheen. My interest stems from the fact that the movie was filmed not far from Andorra on the Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James – stretching from France into Spain across the Pyrenees mountains.  Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago. Driven by his profound sadness and desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage leaving his California life behind.

Its unknown whether the movie will ever make it into the North American cinemas. The last I heard, it still has not been picked up for distribution (although it did receive a rare standing ovation in Toronto).   I hope that Spain and potentially Andorran screen the movie, because the film does two things that Andorra should take note of.  First,  it shows that a film based locally can be fabulous if it tells a good story.  Secondly, after seeing the film, I expect the visitors to the Camino de Santiago to increase – as the film does an excellent job of promoting Spain and it’s historical pilgrimage.

Andorra has a rich history and lots of stories to tell. Perhaps there is a screenwriter among us that will find inspiration in Andorra as writer and director Emilio Estevez found in Spain.

Andorra, the country that made Carla Bruni a Princess…

22 Jun

Last week, it was announced that French President, Nicolas Sarkozy would make his first official visit to Andorra July 29. It was not confirmed whether or not his wife, Mrs. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy would also be in attendance.  Interestingly, Sarkozy is the Co-Prince of Andorra, a title he shares with the Bishop of La Seu d’Urgell in Spain.  These two “Princes” allow us to call ourselves a Principality.

Wait a minute…hold on…the French President is also a Prince? Doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole Republic of France thing? Isn’t that a bit, oh I don’t know, unrepublican?  The answer is yes, but Mr. Sarkozy didn’t get much choice, the Principality has existed for centuries (except back then, real French kings were given the title co-Prince of Andorra, until they cut off their heads – then we took a brief hiatus from the whole Principality thing until Napoleon reinstated it).

These days Andorra is a bit like a thorn in Mr. Sarkozy’s side. He campaigned last year at the G20 to clamp down on fiscal paradises demanding more transparency. He campaigned so much that his colleagues felt they should kindly remind him he was the co-Prince of Andorra… then he found himself in a bit of a sticky situation.   So, our relationship with our co-Prince… well…it’s complicated. And like so many royal families, we smile and keep up with appearances.  They’ll be handshakes and smiles all around in July.

But let’s get back to Carla.  Our favorite supermodel, come recording artist, turned France’s First Lady is the Princess of Andorra (if her husband is co-Prince, it only makes sense right?) She’s beautiful and cool, plays the guitar and did I mention she dated Mick Jagger for seven years?  In the US, politicians are often Hollywood stars, so why not here too?  Carla sure could do a whole lot for the brand called Andorra.

We may not be the glitz and glamour that is Monaco, but for many reasons, that’s a good thing.  If Monaco is all about Ferrari’s parked out on the street, than Andorra is more about the Ferrari’s parked in the garage.  It’s all here you just don’t see it.  And with Princess Carla cruising our streets, Andorra might finally climb onto the world stage and get noticed, even if it is with our awkward royal relatives…

Welcome to Medieval Mayberry

10 Jun

On my way to work this morning...

If the iconic town of Mayberry (from the 1960’s TV program The Andy Griffith Show) existed, it would most likely take the form of a small town in Andorra called Ordino.  I’ve had to explain Ordino and Andorra to lots of my friends, and once we get through the currency and language thing, they say… but what’s it really like there?

Well, I tell them, it’s like living in medieval Mayberry.  Most people get it and I don’t have to explain much more.  Seriously, when was the last time you waved to the woman who works at the post office, nodded to the town Priest and shook hands with the Mayor on your way to the office?

Ordino is a charming quaint little village, quite a contrast with the bright lights and bustling capital city of Andorra La Vella.  There is a sense of old fashion values at work here.  Something I haven’t seen in quite a while. If Mayberry has come to stand for idyllic, small town life, then Ordino is a medieval cobblestone version of Mayberry.

Ordino is a place where the policemen know the kids’ names and the butcher remembers that, unlike my husband, I prefer my ham sliced paper-thin.  It’s a place I half expect to see Andy and Barney every time I see the local patrol car.  Here the local police are more concerned with giving people parking tickets than crime. And, just like Barney Fife, the kindly local police officer let me get off with a warning never to park (even for 5 minutes) in front of the town hall.

Old men congregate in the morning on the benches in the town square, while farmers herd their cattle between village barns (often causing a traffic jam on the main thoroughfare.) It’s the kind of place where everyone knows when a stranger comes to town and the streets are rife with gossip.

When was the last time your town had their annual party and all the businesses closed?  And more than that, did you bother to go?  Here, when it’s “Ordino Day” the entire village gathers in the town square to eat, dance and drink as it has done since medieval times – and it’s on these occasions I find myself constantly looking around for the movie cameras, because it’s all just so wholesome and carefree, it can’t be real.  But it is and the people are happy and proud of their mountainous Mayberry.  For me, it’s the perfect place to feel inspired, and creative because everything is a potential movie set, but what’s more, I need to pinch myself because I actually live here.

More amateur photos taken this morning

And another...

Andorrans Oblivious to “Tax Season.” Imagine.

31 May

With tax season almost 2 months behind us now, we’ve finally been able to throw file all that crap away until next year. What a relief it is to delete our accountant’s number from the speed dial. Sadly, we also know tax season will rear it’s ugly head again next April and the stress begins again.  So that’s why I thought I would dedicate this blog to anti-tax season that exists year round in Andorra.  That’s right, we don’t file personal income tax in Andorra.

Take a minute and let it register.

Imagine sailing though the month of April without a looming tax deadline. Yes, it’s true. I’ve seen people literally tear up when I’ve told them that we don’t file taxes.

So beyond the no-tax filing benefit – what else does Andorra offer?

Basically, Andorra is a picturesque Alpine landscape, with more sunny days than cloudy days (ash cloud permitting).  It’s small, but that means it’s easy to get around, you can be on the ski slopes by 9am and back for lunch at home by noon.   I know some folks who actually ski during their lunch hour.  Beyond skiing,  a variety of other sports are on offer including, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, mushroom hunting… well, you get the idea.  If you are like me, tracking and hunting down the perfect pair of shoes also counts as a sport (have you been to Zara on a Saturday?)

The children who grow up in Andorra are the luckiest of all. They generally speak 3 or 4 languages by the age of 5 and their parents have a choice between French, Spanish or Andorran school systems. The Andorran school system is based on the Montessori model, where students learn in different ways and each subject is taught in a different language.  For an old medieval country, their school system is surprisingly progressive.  After school, the kids here have it all from a range of sports, ski clubs, karate, judo, music, art, ballet, theatre…the list goes on (and I’m only talking about Ordino, a town of 3000).

So no taxes, great healthcare, modern school system, international banking…what else? How about – little or no unemployment, no crime, and duty-free alcohol.  Not sure if it’s the fresh air, the spring water or the duty-free alcohol, but Andorra ranks high in life expectancy reports.(https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html) Is life expectancy directly related to filing taxes? Are there fewer heart attacks in Monaco, San Marino and Andorra because  “notice of assessment letters” don’t exist? Does preparing income taxes actually take years off your life?

Now imagine re-locating here for 6 months while you produce a TV series or a film. Umm, doesn’t sound so bad.  And tax credits… we don’t need them, we’re tax-free!

The 3rd European country to start with “A”

26 May

Surely you remember that famous Trivial Pursuit question. Name three European countries that start with the letter “A.”  Most people get Austria right off and then someone shouts Albania, and then everyone stares at the board desperate to remember the third – is Armenia in Europe?

The answer is Andorra.

If this sounds remotely familiar, then keep reading; this is the blog you’ve been looking for since the 80’s.

Here are the basics you need to know about Andorra, which you will rhyme off as you reach for that last plastic wedge– victory is sweet.

Top 5 most frequently asked questions about Andorra

Where is it?

Andorra is located between South of France and Northeastern Spain. It’s 468 km2, consisting mostly of mountainous terrain.  Population is 80,000.

What Language do they speak?

The official language is Catalan although French and Spanish are widely spoken.   English is also used for commercial or financial purposes.

What Currency do you use?

Andorra doesn’t have it’s own currency, so it has adopted the Euro.

How can the country survive without taxes?

It is far beyond the purpose of this blog to explain the economic policies of Andorra but in a nutshell, Andorra has existed on tourism (fabulous ski resorts and duty-free shopping). Apparently 10 million tourists enter Andorra each year.

Now there is VAT set at 4% on all services purchased in the country (restaurants, hotels, lift tickets).  There are some minor residential taxes and all imports are taxed upon entering Andorra.

There is no corporate tax and no income tax.

But do you have Social Security?

Yes. All workers and businesses in Andorra pay into a social system called CASS which provides universal healthcare and pension to all citizens, albeit at a lower rate than our neighboring countries.  The system is world-class. If the hospital in Andorra can’t provide a specific healthcare need, you have direct access to the best hospitals in Toulouse and Barcelona covered under CASS.

There you have the top 5 questions I get asked the most about the 3rd European country to start with the letter”A.”  What questions do you have about Andorra?

Andorra, Film, TV and the Road Ahead…

21 May

The road to new opportunities in film

PY6A5J98V6QM. Thanks for reading our first blog. I’m Laurie Severn and my purpose in writing this blog is to give you more information about Andorra and the possibilities for the media (TV and Film) industry.

I know for a fact lots of people know very little about Andorra. I know this because I too, was once one of them. I’m not originally from Andorra, I’m more of the North American variety which gives me a unique perspective on the two cultures.  I’ve called Andorra my home now for over 6 years and during this time, I’ve built up a wealth of knowledge on the culture, the people, the place, and what business opportunities exist here.  I also have another job, I am responsible for marketing at a company called Ordino Studios (www.ordinostudios.com), the first production centre in Andorra.

I hope that this blog will give you the information you need to evaluate whether Andorra is a place for you to do business. I’m very open to questions and discussion.  Here is the place for you to ask anything about Andorra, or the media business.

Thanks for coming along on our journey as we build the film industry in Andorra.

Photo copyright Susanna Ferran / Imand.

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