Memories of the Alhambra

Studio Dragon / Chorokhaem Media

Broadcasted in December 2018, the South Korean Netflix Original fantasy series called Memories of Alhambra is a truly international co-production. Progressive Productions provided full production services for the train station scenes that were shot in Hungary. During the six days long shoot, we shot more than 70 minutes of footage ready for use. The scenes filmed at Budapest, Mezőtúr and Kisterenye appear again and again throughout the first 11 episodes of the series. Such popular stars appeared in the series like the actor Park Chanyeol and the k-pop star Park Shin Hye, as well as Hyun Bin, who after three years of taking time out, has returned to the world of television series with the Memories of Alhambra. The series was produced by Studio Dragon and Chorokhaem Media and will be premiered on 1st December 2018 via the TVN South Korean television channel, as well as becoming available worldwide on Netflix from that day.

It is a love story spiced up with some fantasy elements, in which Yoo Jin Woo (Hyun Bin)  is an adventurous CEO of an investment company who goes on a business journey to Granada in Spain. Here he stays in the hotel of an ex-guitar player Jung Hee Joo (Park Shin Hye). The two of their lives take some unexpected turns and they both get into some mysterious and magical adventures. Next to all this happening, Alhambra’s thousand years old history gets muddled up with reality, in the form of modern video games.

The series is not just especially interesting due to its story and genre, but also since unlike other South Korean series, a significant part of this was shot in Europe. A large part of the filming happened in Spain, to be precise in Barcelona, Granada and Girona, which are the locations that are authentic to the story. Next to the scenes that they could not shoot in Spain for various reasons were therefore shot in Slovenia and the train station scenes were filmed in Hungary. The locations in these two countries acted as alternatives to the Spanish locations in the storyboard.

Since the shoot could not be realised either at the Granada nor the Barcelona train station, the Korean studio started to search for train stations in other cities. Among many other European train stations, the Hungarian stations proved to be the most suitable, for such reasons as their architecture, their flexibility and infrastructure. Progressive Productions’ team has wide-ranging experience in shooting complex train station action scenes, thanks to producing the American series Covert Affairs, which was an important factor for the producers of Studio Dragon when making the final decision.

When scouting the locations next to flexibility and production friendliness, appearance was one of the most important aspects, since the train stations of Barcelona, Granada and an abandoned Spanish small town had to be staged. Progressive’s Location Department scouted countless train stations in order to find the most fitting ones. Finally, our three main locations were the Keleti station, doubling as Barcelona’s, the Mezőtúr train station acting as the Granada station and the Kisterenye station, which played the role of the small town station.

The Keleti is the country’s largest train station, which due to its eclectic 19th-century style and grandiose size is one of the most popular shooting locations in Budapest. It is so production friendly, that regardless of its large traffic, with top quality organisation, multiple platforms can be closed down and the movement of various trains can be executed as well. Progressive’s team is an old acquaintance at this station since we shot one of the episodes of NBC Universal’s Covert Affairs here and also have closed down the train station for a photo shoot of ours with Nikon. For the Barcelona night scenes of the Memories of Alhambra, we used the three of the four central platforms, closing them down completely from early evening until dawn. Next to the platforms, we also used the infrastructure of the station and its service units too, thereby keeping the entire station awake. For shooting scenes, we opened the ticket offices, the newspaper stands, a buffet and a shop as well, while the restaurant of the station provided craft and dinner for the crew during the entire shooting.

The scenes shot in the Keleti train station kept the entire station awake

Granada’s train station was played by an atmospheric countryside little town’s train station, which is a 2,5 hours car journey away from Budapest and which is unbelievably similar to the original location. Filming in the countryside is most often more costly than shoots in larger cities since they partially require bigger organisation and also they can not offer the infrastructure needed for shooting, which has to be supplied from the city instead. Yet Mezőtúr counts as an exception, since although previously there had never been any film productions in the town, nor at the station, everyone was extremely cooperative with us during our three days of shooting. The fifty extras needed on the location were casted on the spot and we were able to provide the crew’s entire catering service via local companies, enabling significant savings for the budget. Thanks to the excellent organisation of the train station’s staff, the train traffic could commence undisturbed even during filming on two closed platforms.

The Mezőtúr train station (left) looked nearly exactly like Granada’s train station (right)

According to the script of the series, in one of the scenes, Jin Woo accidentally arrives in an abandoned Spanish town’s train station and then tries to get back from there to the Granada station. This small town station was doubled by the Kisterenye train station, which used to be a highly busy point for transporting the materials from neighbouring mines, but since their closure, only one train travels through the city each day. This is why the station did have not an opportunity to build an overhead cable structure, which perfectly fitted MoA’s concept and also it lightened the risk factor and gave us good opportunities to use various technical equipment and production solutions. For example, we were able to use a larger crane and make rain with SFX for the scenes.

The cableless Kisterenye train station was the perfect double for an abandoned Spanish small town’s train station

The countless action scenes in the series were important because we had to find local stunts with sufficient qualities, as well as the most authentic costumes and weapons for them. According to their roles, among the stunts, there were medieval Spanish archers and Arabic soldiers, who were shooting arrows from the top of the Mezőtúr station and acting out choreographed fighting scenes. There were many videogame-like first-person shooter perspective shots in the series, which is why choosing the right authentic weapons (shotguns, swords) was key. The majority of the Slovenian and Hungarian filming ran parallel, so part of the weapons chosen and used in Hungary could be also used in the scenes filmed in Slovenia.

The stunts performed well choreographed fighting movements with authentic weapons

The Memories of Alhambra was a special project for us in multiple aspects since we had already taken part in creating American series (Covert Affairs, Royal Pains), but it was an interesting new experience to see how these Korean film series makers work, who are also highly popular in Europe. We were delighted, that although filming at train stations can come with a lot of restrictions and compromises, we were able to flexibly deal with the demanding needs. We hope to be able to take part in many similar productions in the future.

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