L’Amica Geniale (My Brilliant Friend) is one of the most eagerly awaited dramas of the year. Director Saverio Costanzo tells DQ how he steered the ambitious period drama, based on Elena Ferrante’s novel, for Italian broadcaster Rai and US cable network HBO.
Since the project was first announced in February 2016, anticipation has been building for L’Amica Geniale (My Brilliant Friend). Not only does it mark the continuance of Italian broadcaster Rai’s expansive drama ambitions, it is also a rare example of a foreign-language series commissioned by US cable network HBO. Then there’s the fact it is based on the bestselling novel by Elena Ferrante, the mysterious Italian novelist operating under a pseudonym.
Interestingly, Ferrante has been a key member of the development team behind the series, corresponding with director Saverio Costanzo by email. She is also listed as a writer on the first four episodes, alongside Costanzo, Francesco Piccolo and Laura Paolucci.
Based on the first book in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quadrilogy, the story opens with Elena Greco (aka Lenù) who, after discovering her long-time best friend has disappeared without a trace, starts to write the story of their friendship. From her first meeting with Raffaella Cerullo, known as Lila, at school in 1950, she goes on to cover more than 60 years of their lives, describing Lila as both her best friend and worst enemy.
Set in Naples, the Italian-language series stars Elisa Del Genio and Ludovica Nasti as the young versions of Lenù and Lila, while Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace play teenage the pair in their teens.
My Brilliant Friend is an HBO-Rai Fiction and TimVision series, produced by Wildside and Fandango. The producers are Lorenzo Mieli and Mario Gianani for Wildside and Domenico Procacci for Fandango, in coproduction with Umedia. Fremantle is the distributor.
The series launches on HBO this Sunday and on Italian streamer TimVision on November 27.
Here, Costanzo, director of all eight episodes, tells DQ how the series came together and discusses the challenges of casting more than 150 actors and 5,000 extras and filming across southern Italy on vast sets totalling 215,000 sq ft.
How did you first join the project?
I was contacted by the publishing house because, among other suggestions, Elena Ferrante mentioned my name. I didn’t search out this beautiful story; it was looking for me. I feel very fortunate.
What was the appeal of directing the series?
Ferrante’s story possesses the fundamental features for a film narrated in episodes: great characters who are facing a deep and exciting dramatic reality; plot twists that are never announced, but almost invisible, which film enlarges like a magnifying glass, building the tale of a life piece by piece; and a perfect synthesis of the epic and the tragic.
What are your thoughts on Elena Ferrante’s novel? What were the core elements needed in the series?
The real challenge was to succeed in narrating the epic story of a friendship. Friendship is an exchange of love where the boundaries between rights and duties are much more blurred compared with the love between a couple or the love of one’s children. It’s a free exchange and a much more lively one, where roles are mixed together and overlapping. The friendship between Lila and Lenù is a romantic dance that occasionally takes on the form of a very violent struggle. It’s two bodies chasing each other and overlapping, but stubbornly following the same rhythm, with the shared purpose of becoming complete persons, one by means of the other.
How involved were you in the adaptation process?
I wrote the first three episodes in one go, following the narration of the original text. Then, following a blueprint that the author agreed with and accepted, we wrote the rest of the scripts together with the screenwriters.
What was your experience working with Ferrante and having the original author so involved in the adaptation?
She supported and helped us whenever the turns the screenplays were taking didn’t agree with the book. Every so often, she worked on some original dialogue in an extraordinarily convincing way. She has an impressive talent for cinematic writing, a sense of scene that is not self-evident for someone writing literature.
What is your directing style? How did you bring that to this production?
Provided that my approach [as a director] remains the same, I adapt my style each time to the story of the film I am making, to the needs of the story I am telling. In the case of My Brilliant Friend, I was thinking of a classical story where the camera would be almost invisible. The director’s ego, or the director’s character, should never make an appearance in the scene, but rather should let the narration of the story be as fluid as possible. This act of mimesis was the most difficult to achieve.
How did you use the book to inform your direction?
I let myself be inspired by the literary weight of the original text. I concentrated on setting up the scenes, on the nuances of the acting and on the picture, so that every shot could include the same tension and fullness that makes the pages of the book come alive.
How did you work with the cast, both before and during production? What kind of performances did you look for?
I’m always looking for authenticity, depth and gravitas. The greatest risk was to become generic and focused on motives. We engaged in a long period of rehearsals with the little girls in order to give them a strong awareness of the story and characters. We tried and retried until, once they arrived on the set, they could enjoy the adventure of the story with a strong awareness of who Lila and Elena are. We managed to do an even more specific job with the teenage girls. For six months, they were working every day in a workshop where all of the cast rehearsed the scenes. In this way, they learned to use their voices, bodies and emotions, while at the same time we built a strong and consistent working team. I’m very proud of all of them.
Tell us about casting the lead actors.
We held open casting sessions; thousands of children came. We tried out more than 9,000 people to find the four protagonists. We were helped by the city of Naples, which is like an open-air theatre: everyone is capable of playing a part there, everyone is a great actor. But we were lucky to have such developed characters that were well described by the author. For this reason, once we found ourselves in front of the protagonists, we understood immediately that they were the ones for us. When what you’re looking for is clear to you, it’s much easier to find it.
What kind of Naples is presented in the series? Where did you film and how did you use real locations and studio sets?
Most of the locations were reconstructed in the studio. It was impossible to film in Naples at the real sites, because the city has changed too much since the 1950s. We reconstructed the neighbourhood 20km away from Naples, basing it on a community in the outskirts that the author started from in order to imagine her neighbourhood. We never tried to be only literal, though. We started out from a real piece of data and adapted it to our dramatic needs. Reconstruction added great value: in cinema, a cardboard wall is often more real than a cement one – an imagined city, rather than a real one.
How did you balance working for Rai, TimVision and HBO? Did they have specific demands or needs for their audiences?
Miraculously, all the networks involved in the production had a strong artistic vision. Nowadays, television series are showing they can elevate their discourse to the same level as film. To give you an example, in our first meeting with the team from HBO, the very first question that they asked me was whether the series would be performed in Neapolitan dialect. I said yes, but I asked why on Earth this was so important to them, since their audience would have to read the subtitles anyway, and they answered that it was because they wanted an authentic piece of work. From that point on, it was a wonderfully shared job with the same artistic purpose.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, either in development or production?
When you’re directing a series, it takes many weeks of work. In the case of My Brilliant Friend, there were 29 of them, and the hardest part was staying concentrated and focused for that long. Furthermore, our backdrop had to seem ‘lived in’ each time, and even a simple dialogue scene with two people involved at least 200 extras. Keeping the magnitude and the ambition of the project under control was important.
How does the series stand out against the huge number of series being made around the world?
I wouldn’t know. I tried to maintain a classic linear form of narration. Maybe My Brilliant Friend is simpler than other series that try out more original forms of narration, but maybe it’s exactly this timeless aspect that makes it distinct and, hopefully, attractive.
What are your plans for making a second season based on the next Ferrante novel?
If I don’t get fired, I’ll be happy to finish the entire tetralogy.
The cast and crew of Medici: Lorenzo the Magnificent reunited in Florence for the launch of this luxurious historical drama. DQ travelled to Italy to hear more about the series.
In the heart of the historic city of Florence, tourists and sightseers fill the walkways and pavements along Via Camillo Cavour, a bustling street that begins next to the Piazza San Marco and the grand church that overlooks the square.
There is particular excitement outside Cinema La Compagnia, where a black minibus has just pulled up. As the doors open, screams can be heard and flashbulbs pop as the stars of Medici: Lorenzo the Magnificent climb out and make their way into the venue for the official launch of the series.
Produced by Lux Vide in partnership with Italian broadcaster Rai, Big Light Productions and Altice Group, this is the second instalment in the Medici television series, following 2016’s Medici: Masters of Florence.
That first season ended with the birth of Lorenzo and now 20 years later, in 1469, the young man played by Daniel Sharman (Fear the Walking Dead) is obliged to take charge of the family’s powerful banking empire. Under his leadership, his family’s power in Florence increases while his enlightened views lead him to support artists such as Botticelli and Poliziano – putting him at odds with hated rivals the Pazzi family and even Pope Sixtus IV. Season two climaxes with the famous Pazzi conspiracy, in which Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano are the targets of an assassination attempt.
The series is directed by Jon Cassar (24) and Jan Maria Michelini, based on scripts by Frank Spotnitz, Alex von Tunzelmann, James Dormer, Mark Denton, Jonny Stockwood, Francesco Arlanch, Lulu Raczka and John Fay. Spotnitz and Lux Vide’s Luca Bernabei are the producers.
Filming took place in 30 locations across Tuscany, Lazio and Lombardy, including Volterra, the cathedral and the Palazzo Contucci in Montepulciano, and the cathedral and the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza. The costumes were once again designed by Alessandro Lai, who has created vibrant outfits that matched those of the Renaissance but did not restrict the performances of the actors wearing them. Around 5,000 items were made especially for the drama, with designers including Antonio Riva, Fendi, Rubelli and Tirelli also providing dresses, materials and clothing.
Along with the upcoming HBO coproduction My Brilliant Friend and other projects, Medici is at the heart of Rai’s focus on high-end English-language dramas that tell Italian stories for a worldwide audience.
With a third season of Medici already in production, focusing on the second half of Lorenzo’s life, Rai Fiction director Eleonora Andreatta says her intention is to showcase Italian history and culture on a global scale, with Medici imagined in the same way as a great historical novel.
“In the Medici production we see the best of what an international perspective can offer with unique Italian talents,” Andreatta says. “The Magnificent is Lorenzo, a young man who makes a great cultural and political revolution in his time, and that is the very embodiment of the Renaissance. Our narrative challenge was to tell this story through contemporary audience sensibility.
“This series is part of the mission of Rai as a big European public broadcasting service, a project of strong Italian identity and, at the same time, international. Frank, with Lux Vide, gave a fundamental contribution in creating a project in which each artistic choice – from the director to the cast, from the editing to the soundtrack – is of an international standing.”
For his part, former The X-Files showrunner Spotnitz says he’s “so proud of it. I would put it up against anything being made anywhere in the world. This is a story about the Renaissance but it’s being made for a modern audience. So one of our first challenges was to ask ourselves why a modern audience cares about a story about 15th century bankers.”
The story of Lorenzo reveals a young man born in privilege who determines that, given the advantages with which he was raised, he can make a better world, Spotnitz explains. “So he’s enormously intelligent, enormously capable and very idealistic. It’s the young generation seeking to change the established order, which is not easy.”
Standing in Lorenzo’s way is Jacopo Pazzi, played by Sean Bean, who represents the established order – one that is determined to crush Lorenzo’s idealism. “That was a story we felt had resonance for a modern audience,” Spotnitz continues. “You can look at the story of Lorenzo as we’ve told it in two chapters: this first season is the first chapter, ending in the Pazzi conspiracy, which is a searing defeat for Lorenzo; then the second season is about how Lorenzo recovers and goes on now that his idealism has been destroyed. So we felt it’s a very moving and meaningful story about the 15th century but also about today.”
The cast also includes Bradley James as Lorenzo’s playboy brother Giuliano, Julian Sands and Sarah Parish as their parents Piero and Lucrezia, Synnøve Karslen as Lorenzo’s wife Clarice Orsini and Matilda Lutz as Simonetta Vespucci, a married woman who begins a passionate affair with Giuliano.
“It wasn’t hard to be a mother to these two beautiful boys,” says Parish of working with Sharman and James. “It was a real honour to play Lucrezia because really, from my point of view, she was a feminist in a way – one of the first feminists in Renaissance times. She wrote poetry and plays, she was an amazing artist. To have all those talents in that day and age was quite incredible for a woman, so it was a real honour to play the part.”
The female characters play a hugely important role in the series, which shows the power they wield through their relationships with the male characters.
Karslen notes that Clarice comes into Lorenzo’s life and becomes the matriarch of the family, with Lucrezia still a driving force behind the scenes. “Jon said to me when we first started, ‘These men would be nothing without the women they have.’ Lucrezia is the brains behind so much of it, but the person who can act on it is Lorenzo,” she says. “That’s not just because he’s a man but because Lorenzo was extremely capable and talented. That’s what this series does really well. It brings the importance of these women and those relationships to the front of the show.”
Before shooting began last year, Sharman had asked the producers if he could arrive two weeks early. He used the time to lose himself in Tuscany, exploring the places where the real Lorenzo lived and worked.
“It’s something I wanted to do because the work that everybody has put in on this is incredibly detailed. It’s actually a pleasure to come to work because the actors you get to act with on this, the production, the costumes, the level of detail that’s gone into it is truly astounding. You want to do justice to this piece,” Sharman says. “But at some point you have to throw that all away and find the very human element in it that I can relate to, which is that this is a person who’s been groomed for power, who isn’t sure if he’s even good enough, who isn’t sure if he understands enough, which I relate to very much in terms of growing up as an actor. You’re always concerned with whether you’re good enough or whether something works.
“So, weirdly, the character and you kind of align in saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this character or this person justice,’ just as Lorenzo doesn’t know if he can take on something as daunting as lifting Florence out of an extremely difficult situation. Then you just rely on people around you – the amazing directors we have had, the actors you get to work with – and it’s really your job to let it go and let your vulnerabilities show.”
Streaming platform Rai Play launched the series on October 16, with its debut on Rai Uno set for October 23. Netflix is expected to roll out the series in English-speaking territories in early January. Distributor Beta Film also screened the first episode to international buyers this week at Mipcom in Cannes.
Meanwhile, the success of Medici season one, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden, has also seen Rai partner with Lux Vide to produce more series about the Renaissance.
Following the official launch, the cast and crew gathered further along Via Camillo Camour at Palazzo Medici Riccardo, an ornate 15th century palace designed for the Medici family. On the first floor, overlooking a grand courtyard, costumes from the series are displayed in rooms covered with numerous works of art.
It’s here that British actor Bean, who won a Bafta earlier this year for his role in BBC drama Broken, says it was “refreshing” to appear in the historical drama, noting his own interest in the Renaissance period. “It wasn’t like working in that sense because it was actually a hugely enjoyable experience,” he says. “I didn’t really know a lot [about the Medicis]. I did read quite a lot about the family ties and lineage but, after that, it’s a matter of getting on set and saying the lines.”
Rather than playing real-life characters in a docudrama or biopic, Bean says he was given room to invent the character of Jacopo, admitting he had a lot of fun playing someone who was amused by creating chaos and then exploiting it for his own opportunism.
“It’s like Lord of the Rings,” recalls the actor, who played Boromir in Peter Jackson’s big-screen trilogy. “There was hardly any character description in Lord of the Rings, least of all Boromir. It just said he wears this crimson top and a blue thing and I thought, ‘Fuck, is that it?’ You do as much as you want really for this and it’s exciting. If it’s a drudge, it’s pointless. It’s like when you’re at school doing history; it was a drudge because you couldn’t picture anything and it didn’t make much sense. Something like this brings the characters to life.”
Jacopo relishes his position as a bad guy, Bean adds. “But first and foremost he’s pragmatic, realistic. He’s very black and white but, on his journey to achieve power, there’s a lot of fun and games to be had on the way.”
DQ heads to the legendary Cinecittà Studios in Rome to see filming for Middle Ages drama The Name of the Rose, based on Umberto Eco’s bestselling novel.
Inside the broad stone walls of the monastery, the air is thick with fog. Monks wearing brown habits and sporting tonsure haircuts walk briskly across the snow-covered courtyard to avoid the path of five oncoming papal guards, dressed in chain mail and dazzling yellow tunics.
Around the perimeter are various buildings and outhouses – a blood-stained butchery, a glassmaker’s shop, a small graveyard and a balneae filled with barrel-shaped bathtubs.
Rising above them, however, are the intricately detailed entrances to the church, which faces the monastery’s imposing wooden entrance gate, and an octagon-shaped tower that will eventually rise eight stories into the air with the help of the numerous green screens that have been lifted into place around the backlot of Rome’s legendary Cinecittà Studios.
It’s here that filming is underway for The Name of the Rose, an English-language adaptation of Italian writer Umberto Eco’s bestselling novel. Some 38 years after the book’s publication – and 32 years since a film adaptation starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater – Italian producers 11 Marzo Film and Palomar have partnered with Tele Munchën Group and broadcaster Rai for an eight-hour event series starring John Turturro (The Night Of), Damian Hardung (Red Band Society) and Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding). It is due to debut next spring.
Set in Italy in 1327, the story follows Franciscan monk William of Baskerville (Turturro) and his apprentice Adso of Melk (Hardung) as they arrive at a secluded monastery in the Alps, where they witness a series of murders. While Baskerville and Adso are investigating and searching for the killer, the Pope orders merciless inquisitor Bernard Gui (Everett) to destroy the Order of St Francis – with Baskerville on his list.
The ensemble cast also includes Michael Emerson, Sebastian Koch, James Cosmo, Richard Sammel, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Greta Scarano, Stefano Fresi, Tcheky Karyo and Piotr Adamczyk.
Across a 20-week shooting schedule that began in January and was delayed by severe snowstorms at the beginning of March, the €26m (US$32m) production will film in Rome for the interior of the church and the cloisters, as well as scenes set in forests, woodland and fields. The Abruzzo region to the east of the capital will be used to create the mountainous backdrop of the monastery’s isolated location, while Perugia, further north, will double for scenes set in Florence.
It’s here at Cinecittà, though, that the bulk of production is taking place, both on the backlot and in a number of its cavernous, terracotta-coloured sound stages that have been used to recreate the look and feel of life in the Middle Ages to hugely impressive effect.
The production team have built a refectory, chapter hall and a working paper mill that, in the story, supplies monks with the paper they need to write the books that fill the labyrinthine library, which is spread across dozens of rooms on the highest six floors of the monastery’s tower.
Calling action is director Giacomo Battiato, who also co-wrote the series alongside Andrea Porporati and Nigel Williams. “It’s a huge production and I said no 10 times, and then I said yes finally,” he admits. “The challenge is enormous but, at the same time, to have eight hours to tell those 600 pages of the novel is great because there are a lot of elements that are fantastic and can be exploited in a long space.”
Battiato polished scripts first written by Porporati and then Williams, and says he was drawn to the numerous elements that make up Eco’s story and go far beyond the novel’s thriller premise. In particular, he points to the father-son relationship between William and Adso, which has been fleshed out to greater effect than in the novel or the 1986 film. The same goes for Adso’s relationship with a peasant girl (played by Antonia Nina Fotaras), a secret love story that leads him to question whether to follow his faith or his heart. Then there is the religious element, with the Franciscan monks’ life of poverty set in contrast with the wealth of the Papacy.
In bringing the story to the screen, however, Battiato is also placing great emphasis on the visuals in an attempt to add light and colour to the Middle Ages – a period generally recognised for being dark and dull – not least in the costumes and the stunning frescos reproduced on the walls of a dining room and inside the bedrooms and chambers of the monks and the Pope. “The 14th century is a century of revolution in philosophy, art and science, so it’s a moment of great transformation,” the director says. “If you look at the paintings of Giotto, they are full of colours. So I decided wherever I could to put strong colours.”
Authenticity is a key word on the set of The Name of the Rose, with production and costume design paramount. “We try to put as much money as we can on the screen instead of around the screen,” notes Davide Nardini, Palomar’s head of international affairs for TV and films. “We went through a long and detailed process of research trying to see everything from the costume and set design. Then it’s the same casting the actors. We have to keep the spirit of the book. We could have made something stereotypical but we wanted to make something that looks and feels very authentic.”
It’s the same with the language. While filming in English is no longer necessary to ensure international sales, the common language at a monastery in the 14th century would have been Latin. “So now [for the series] it’s English. It makes sense,” Nardini says. “Everyone speaks English with an accent. We didn’t want it to feel too old in any way; we looked to have a bit more modern dialogue but keeping the original style and tone. No one speaks fluent English except the English. It gives a nice flair to the origins of the characters.”
Il Nome della Rosa, as it is known in Italian, boasts a creative team that includes DOP John Conroy, executive producer Patrizia Massa and costume designer Maurizio Millenotti.
The walls inside production designer Francesco Frigeri’s office are covered with stunning design sketches that show the monastery atop a snow-covered mountain, completely cut off from the world. The tower is immediately eye-catching. Around 300 people have been employed across the design elements of the series, with four construction managers overseeing the set builds alone. A further 180 people have been on set each day.
“The idea was to start from the tower of Babel but, because Babel is round, we added the octagonal structure, as that’s what is in the book,” Frigeri explains over diagrams that show the beehive structure of each of the library’s maze-like floors. “The first thing I started to design was the tower, which is a symbol of the series.”
Herbert Kloiber, MD of Tele München Group (TMG), which is distributing of The Name of the Rose through its sales arm TM International, says his company became a partner on the series due to the scale and ambition of the project. “Eco is a saint in Italy so for Rai it’s a huge property,” he says. “Eco died two years ago but he was very much behind this project. He felt the book would be done more justice in an eight-part series than in a two-hour movie.”
In fact, 11 Marzo president Matteo Levi says the most significant challenge came in convincing Eco to sell the rights to his book. “I think a decisive element was the proposal to work on a series with strong editorial control in Italian hands and [for Eco] to know that even if shooting was in English, all the filming would be in Italy.”
A long-time passion project for Levi, the series represents the chance to adapt one of the books and authors he describes as “among the most important of the 20th century.” He believes the story is still incredibly contemporary, “from a library that contains all the knowledge of humanity [referring to the internet] to the topic of the conflict between a ‘rich’ church and a church closer to the poor. Immigration is also very significant in the story, represented by the poor fleeing persecution and gathering outside the abbey for protection.”
Palomar president Carlo Degli Esposti picks up: “With this being a multi-layered series, we believe different audiences will find diverse elements of interest. We have an engaging and suspenseful crime and an intelligent theological discussion that mirrors current topics like freedom of speech and religion. All this, with a cast of such great quality, will seduce the audience into a world that is complex and engaging at the same time.”
Kloiber describes a two-year chase to sell the series, the footnote to a long development process spearheaded by 11 Marzo. Once on board, however, TMG was happy to sit back and let the other partners drive the project forward, not wanting to muddy the creative waters.
“We always go into these things without pre-selling [to other broadcasters] because, if we like a project and believe in it, we’re just going for it,” he explains. “That eliminates a lot of editorial problems. Those elements often delay things a lot, so that hasn’t happened in this case. We’re not trying to maximise coproduction schemes in terms of trying to get money here and there from different places. Shooting is completely in Italy but we’re not doing a coproduction that is trying to exploit tax schemes from various countries to make this happen.”
Rai is building a slate of international-facing dramas that appeal to audiences both at home and abroad, with fellow period Medici: Masters of Florence, which launched in 2016, having sold to broadcasters around the world.
“Italy has a cultural heritage made up of centuries of history and experiences of universal value,” says Rai Fiction director Eleonora Andreatta. “Rai’s fiction has shown it can be an open window to the world, capable of transforming the heritage of our culture and our literature into stories of great modernity that are also able to speak to a global audience.
“The Name of the Rose is an excellent example of how a rich culture and accessible language can form a fascinating synthesis in literature. The novel has a wealth of layers that, through its genre and powerful story full of suspense and mystery, manages to talk about today and highly relevant themes like tolerance, the universal value of culture and the acceptance of others.”
Palomar CEO Nicola Serra concludes: “This series uniquely combines genre and universal topics, romance and logic, and period and current topics, something the audience has never seen on screen before. The intelligence of the piece, the quality of the set, the complexity of the characters and the quality of the director and actors will deliver something truly unique, entertaining and astonishingly unexpected at the same time.”
Set in Sicily in the 1970s, Maltese tells the story of one man’s fight against the Mafia.
Dario Maltese (Kim Rossi Stuart) is a talented detective battling to stay moral in an immoral world. But when he returns to his hometown to attend a friend’s wedding, he is suddenly and violently sucked back into the world he fled 20 years before.
This time, however, he must stay to uncover the truth – but what starts out as a simple murder investigation quickly escalates, uncovering more disappearances, further murders and ultimately exposing a network of corruption and lawlessness.
In this DQTV video, Italian actor Stuart talks about why he chose to take on the role and how this 1970s set series speaks to modern-day audiences.
Meanwhile, Walter Iuzzolino, the curator of Walter Presents, reveals why he fell in love with Maltese and the elements that elevate it above other series to ensure it would become the first Italian drama to air on the streaming platform.
Iuzzolino also compares Maltese to two other shows – Spain’s Locked Up and Germany’s Deutschland 83 – that went on to become flagship series for their respective countries.
Maltese is produced by Palomar for Italian broadcaster Rai and distributed by ZDF Enterprises. It launches in the UK Channel 4 on February 4, with the entire series immediately available to view on Walter Presents.
Lorenzo the Magnificent takes centre stage in the second chapter of Renaissance drama Medici: Masters of Florence. As filming continues apace in Tuscany, DQ speaks to the star and producers of the Rai series, which has built a worldwide audience on Netflix.
The life of Lorenzo de Medici is widely associated with the golden age of the Renaissance. Politician, diplomat, magnate, he was also a patron of scholars, artists and poets. Who better, then, than Lorenzo the Magnificent, as he was known, to be at the centre of the next season of Medici: Masters of Florence.
The series – Medici: Masters of Florence – The Magnificent to give it its full title – begins in Florence in 1469, when an attempt on Piero de Medici’s life forces his son, Lorenzo, to assume leadership of the family-run bank.
Once in power, young Lorenzo resolves to do things differently. With his brother Giuliano and young artist Sandro Botticelli at his side he abandons the cynical politics of the past to usher in a new era of creative and political revolution. This sparks conflict with the head of Florence’s other powerful banking family, Jacopo Pazzi, leading to one of the most notorious political intrigues in history: the infamous Pazzi conspiracy.
The Magnificent follows the first chapter of the anthology series, which focused on Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo (played by Richard Madden) and great grandfather Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman).
“Lorenzo the Magnificent is considered the greatest Medici of all,” says executive producer Frank Spotnitz of the Italian banking family and political dynasty. “He’s a remarkable guy who changed the course of history. It just so happens he was also the victim of one of the greatest conspiracies of all time. The drama is just irresistible. Assassins set upon Lorenzo and his brother in church during mass – you don’t have to make it up, you just have to try to do it justice. It’s an incredibly obvious, juicy target for a series. Why hasn’t anybody done this before?”
Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions coproduces the English-language series for Italian broadcaster Rai with Lux Vide, whose CEO, Luca Bernabei, also an executive producer, is quick to point out the differences between the first Medici series and this forthcoming show.
“This is a completely different; it’s not even season one and season two,” he asserts. “Every actor changes because we’re now in the middle of the Renaissance, so there’s more colour, more light, the costumes have more colour. And because we were surprised by the presence of a young audience who watched the first season, we are looking to this audience even more on this season because this story is really about a young group of people getting the power from the old nobles.”
To build on the young following of the show, the Medici producers also sought a young actor to play the role of Lorenzo, who was just 16 when he entered political life and assumed power four years later on his father’s death, in 1469. He went on to rule Florence until he died in 1492.
They found Lorenzo in the shape of London-born actor Daniel Sharman, who has played roles in Teen Wolf, The Originals and, most notably, Fear the Walking Dead. His co-stars include Bradley James, Sean Bean and Sarah Parish.
“It’s quite nice to have a basis for a show like a period of time that was obviously fascinating,” Sharman says. “The obvious way would be to do this story first, but it’s quite nice that there’s this precursor season because there’s a foundation there for what happens this season. This world is just incredibly dramatic and we’re dealing with the beginning of the Renaissance.
“You have geniuses being born within 30 or 40 years of each other, where all these influences were within this tiny geographical point. This series is dealing with that moment, that incredible alchemy. I didn’t have to be pitched it, I just had to research that time and my job was just to do it justice. You get out of the way of making it more dramatic than it already is.”
Sharman researched the period before the scripts — a move that he says paid off, because otherwise, “I never would have believed it was true,” he says. “Then I went down the rabbit hole of wanting to know everything about this family and about everything that influenced it and what it influenced.
“You get Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo Di Vinci – these are heavyweights of the world, and it’s all in the script because it’s a truly glorious time. I was working in Mexico at the time [he got the role] and was listening to a lot of audiobooks and reading and then I was in Africa reading this biography of Lorenzo. I’ll never forget being in the back of a truck in Uganda just becoming overwhelmed by this amazing period.”
Fans of Walking Dead spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, however, should be aware there won’t be too many similarities between Lorenzo and Troy Otto, the character Sharman plays in the AMC zombie drama.
“I don’t think I could imagine a more different part if I’d tried,” he adds. “An American prepper on the border with Mexico to Lorenzo the Magnificent was definitely a big jump, but that’s the joy in what you do. It’s a different rhythm, a different posture. That’s the lovely part about inhabiting someone else.”
From the outset, Spotnitz and Bernabei agreed that if they were going to do The Magnificent, it had to be better than the first Medici season, which drew record ratings in Italy as 7.5 million viewers watched the first episode in October last year.
“We wrote and wrote and wrote – it was quite a process,” says the former X-Files showrunner. “It took longer than we thought it would take because we’ve already done a Medici series, but this is completely different. The characters are different, the ideas were different and we under-estimated how hard it was going to be to get to the bottom of that. But to our credit, we didn’t give up until we thought we actually had it.”
Bernabei also teases a more action-packed series, with directors Jon Cassar (24, The Kennedys: After Camelot) and Jan Michelini (Don Matteo) behind the camera.
“The way he shoots, whether with a steadicam or a handicam, it’s fast,” he says of Cassar. “But he always pays attention to the heart of the scene. The actors are always moving on the sets and he’s always moving the camera, so actor and camera are always moving together.
“The first season was a bit more stagey. It is completely different visually. It appears the same but the way we are lighting it is very different. It’s going to be interesting. It’s still Medici but completely different. In the first season, there was less light, so you couldn’t see the backgrounds. But we have been studying a lot to achieve it. Even the costumes are much more modern.”
Sharman agrees that there’s a modernity and freshness to this period drama that will make it stand out from its stuffier peers.
“It’s all very well being historical accurate but if that’s all you are, then you’re missing something when these were times when people were pushing the boundaries of art and fashion,” the actor explains. “So in order to do that, you have to make costumes that suggest a period but have a modern influence, because then it feels energetic and new.
“Sometimes when you do a period piece you are almost a museum piece – you’re recreating a perfect sense of what it was back then. That misses the point, and if you’re doing something in the Renaissance, it has to have an energy and artistic flair people haven’t seen before.”
Filming is currently continuing across Tuscany, with the crew returning to locations such as Pienza and Montepulciano and adding new backdrops such as Mantua. Bernabei has been particularly instrumental in securing access to the real locations to ensure this second chapter, distributed by Beta Film, is as authentic as possible.
“It’s something we’re really taking care of,” he notes, adding that he didn’t want the scenes to be recreated on a studio backlot. “We have a special deal with the Italian ministry of culture because they consider these locations national property. Because our series is conveying images of Italy, they’ve given us the opportunity to film in places they wouldn’t normally allow. We have to be really careful not to use certain lights, but it was more difficult using film because you need more light. Now, with digital, you can almost use natural light. It’s less complicated.”
Medici: Masters of Florence – The Magnificent is due to air on Rai next year, with Netflix also carrying the series around the world. A third season is already in the works, adds Spotnitz, who teases: “The saga continues.”
Italian drama Maltese follows Commissario Maltese as he seeks the truth in a world full of corruption – only to put his life at risk when a murder investigation leads him to uncover a network of criminals and assassins working alongside powerful and untouchable citizens, including government officials.
German actor Rike Schmid co-stars as a newspaper photographer who also endangers herself with her attempts to make the Mafia visible through her work.
In this DQ interview, she reveals more about her character and discusses the challenges of learning Italian for the role and how that affected her approach to acting.
Maltese is produced by Palomar for Italian broadcaster Rai and distributed by ZDF Enterprises.
There were 11,000 delegates at MipTV this week, 3,900 of whom were content buyers. And top of their shopping list was drama, with a wide array of titles being picked up by free-to-air, pay TV and SVoD channels and platforms.
MipTV doesn’t see much activity from the major US studios, which prefer to focus on the LA Screenings next month. So this meant the attention was more on European and Asian drama, with a few US cable titles also attracting attention.
A big winner at the market, for example, was ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which sold its period drama Victoria into the Nordic region, the Netherlands and Canada. There was also interest in BBC Worldwide’s Anglo-French fashion drama The Collection, which sold to SVT Sweden and DR Denmark.
As the above titles indicate, British dramas tend to secure an initial wave of sales in Scandinavia and other English-speaking markets before picking up deals in other territories. This point was underlined by deals done on Capital. Distributed by FremantleMedia International, the adaptation of John Lanchester’s novel has been sold into the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
If there was a clear trend in terms of sales, it was the continued importance of SVoD platforms, which seem to be doing almost as many drama deals as traditional networks.
Hulu picked up eOne’s The Book of Negroes, while All3Media International sold Irish drama Red Rock to Amazon Prime Video in the US. Channel 4’s international drama strand Walter Presents, meanwhile, acquired two series from Keshet International – Baker & The Beauty and Milk & Honey – plus Spanish drama Locked Up.
Perhaps the most high-profile SVoD deal of them all saw Netflix acquire Marcella from Cineflix Rights. Created by The Bridge writer Hans Rosenfeldt and produced by Buccaneer Media for ITV in the UK, Marcella delves into the psychology of a troubled female detective investigating a serial killer. Larry Tanz, VP of global television at Netflix, said: “We got involved with the series early on in the process to gain the opportunity to bring Hans’s great storytelling to our members around the world.”
Other dramas that secured good deals at the market include the Content Television-distributed Line of Duty, which sold to DirecTV Latin America, BBC Worldwide Benelux and Hulu in the US, which picked up VoD rights.
There was also an interesting deal that saw Zodiak Rights’ Versailles picked up by US pay TV channel Ovation. Ovation isn’t really known as a drama buyer, so it’s another good indication of the demand for event dramas.
One company that has got more interesting to the international market in recent years is Italian public broadcaster Rai, which until recently was only really interested in commissioning mainstream scripted shows for primetime slots on flagship channel Rai 1. But there has a been a definite shift as a result of the wider changes taking place in the international drama market.
On the one hand, the company is now producing edgier, younger-targeted drama for Rai 3, with the result that it is attracting more attention from international buyers. An example at the market was Close Murders, which was on the verge of being picked up by Franco-German network Arte at Mip.
On the other, Rai has started getting interested in supporting English-language event dramas. At the market, for example, it was one of the backers of Wild Bunch TV’s epic new period drama Medici: Masters of Florence, which has now been greenlit for a second season.
One new development at the market was the launch of the Mip Drama Screenings, a showcase for 12 new drama titles that was held on April 3 in the JW Marriott Hotel. The event, heavily skewed towards European content (but with a Chilean and an Israeli-originated show involved) was well received by buyers and put the spotlight on some interesting series.
Writer/producer Frank Spotnitz, whose Medici was among the shows screened, called the screenings “an excellent platform. We had the undivided attention of 400 buyers who were able to watch extended excerpts and trailers in a nice theatre, with proper sound and picture quality. When you are running around at a hectic TV market like MipTV, a focused and quiet environment is valuable for both the filmmakers and the broadcasters. I hope the screenings expand in the future.”
At the end of the screenings, one show is given an award called the Coup De Coeur for being the best of the bunch according to the buyers. This year it was Belgium’s Public Enemy, which is distributed by Zodiak Rights.
It’s too early to know how Public Enemy’s success at the screenings will impact on its sales – but it certainly should help. Sarah Wright, director of acquisitions at Sky and one of the executives on the advisory board that selected the show, said: “We chose Public Enemy because we felt it was brave, it was strong, it was fresh, it had twists and turns. It feels like something that will travel.”
Last week, we name-checked a few scripted format deals. By the end of MipTV a couple more had bubbled to the surface. Onza Entertainment sold the format for Spanish drama The Department of Time to China’s Guan Yue International, while Russia’s NTV commissioned a local version of Nordic Noir hit The Bridge.
In a related development, Lionsgate licensed its new show Feed the Beast (starring David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess) to AMC’s UK pay TV channel. This show, about two friends who launch a restaurant, is based on a Danish scripted format.
This market was very much billed as being about Germany – this year’s Country of Honour. But it was noticeable that France was actually among the most high profile in terms of deal-making. StudioCanal, for example, used the market to announce that it was acquiring stakes in a number of international production companies, including Spanish powerhouse Bambu, producer of hit shows like Velvet, Gran Hotel and the first Spanish-language series ordered by Netflix. The firm’s sister company Canal+, meanwhile, launched Studio+, which is billed as the first global premium series offer for mobile devices.
The new company will produce exclusive premium drama series for smartphones, tablets and a dedicated app. Each series will consist of 10 10-minute episodes, with an average budget of €1m (US$1.14m). Studio+ president Manuel Alduy said the service will launch in September in France with 25 complete original series, before opening in Europe, Russia and Latin America in partnership with major local telecoms. Early series include drama Amnesia starring Caroline Proust, action series Brutal and Urban Jungle and thrillers Kill Skills and Madame Hollywood. Sixty more shows are currently in development.
Explaining the thinking behind the series, Dominique Delport, president of Vivendi Content (Canal+’s parent company), said 60% of smartphone users watch shortform video. He said the directing talent for the new series comes from advertising and music, sectors that have experience of reaching Studio+’s target audience of 15- to 35-year-olds.
A large proportion of the international TV industry is attending the MipTV market in Cannes this week, buying and selling shows or doing scripted format deals. So it seems appropriate that the week’s top story should concern Fox US drama House, which has proved popular with broadcasters around the world over the years.
Usually sold in its completed form, this week has seen Fox license the Sherlock-esque medical drama to Non-Stop Production, which is remaking it for in Russia.
Anton Zlatopolskiy, first deputy director of the channel’s parent, Russia TV and Radio, said: “We considered the pros and cons before obtaining the format of such a famous series. It is quite a challenge to create our own version. Neither well-known producers or actors nor a big budget can guarantee success when it comes to a local version. But there are a couple of secret ingredients that make a series outstanding and we know how to make them work.”
Sticking with scripted formats, the drama department of Italian public broadcaster Rai, Rai Fiction, has ordered a second season of its remake of NBCUniversal International’s Parenthood. The 26×60’ second run, produced by Cattleya, will air on Rai Uno later in 2016. The US original ran for six seasons on NBC between 2010 to 2015, so there is scope for Rai’s version to run and run.
Another high-profile scripted format deal this week involves Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV, which has greenlit an adaptation of acclaimed Turkish drama The End. The Dutch version of the show is being produced by Netherlands-based Column Film. Column producer Chantal van der Horst said: “The End has a solid base for adaptation. The cleverness of the scripts and the universal appeal of the storyline makes the series suitable for audiences across the world, including in Western Europe.”
The show was sold into the Netherlands by Scandinavia-based distributor Eccho Rights, which has previously licensed the format to several markets including the US, Russia and France. Commenting on the deal, Nicola Söderlund, managing partner at Eccho Rights, said: “Turkish drama continues to break boundaries and it’s great that a West European version will be hitting screens later on this year. (The show’s producer) Ay Yapim has created a gripping plot that translates well across cultures, which is reflected in the number and range of licences on The End.”
Other interesting greenlights this week include news that Amazon has ordered a third season of Red Arrow’s crime series Bosch. Based on the novels by Michael Connelly, Bosch stars Titus Welliver as streetwise LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Commenting on the renewal, Morgan Wandell, head of drama series at Amazon Studios, said: “Our customers can’t get enough of Harry Bosch. The entire cast and crew have done a fantastic job with season two and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for next season.”
Another big story out of the US is HBO’s decision to order a TV adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling debut novel Sharp Objects. The eight-episode series will star Amy Adams as a newspaper journalist trying to sort out her life following years of self-harm that landed her in a psychiatric hospital. However, her plan for a new life is derailed when she returns to her hometown and gets caught up in investigating the mysterious murder of two young girls.
The pilot for the TV adaptation is being written by Marti Noxon, who will also be showrunner. Noxon, the co-creator of Lifetime’s critically acclaimed drama UnREAL, will then share writing responsibilities on the series with Flynn, who previously adapted her own novel Gone Girl as a feature film. Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild) will direct.
Meanwhile, the SVoD giants are continuing their aggressive expansion around the world, part of which involves commissioning original local-language series. This week, it’s Netflix’s turn to grab the headlines – with its first original series from Spain.
Set in the 1920s, the show will look at the lives of four women who work as switchboard operators for the state-owned phone company’s central headquarters in Madrid. The series comes from the same stable that created international Spanish-language hits Velvet and Gran Hotel. This includes Roman Campos and Teresa Fernandez-Valdes from Bambú Producciones, director Carlos Sedes and writer Gema Neira, who often works with Campos.
Commenting on the commission, Erik Barmack, VP of international original series at Netflix, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Bambú Producciones, director Carlos Sedes and co-creator Gema Neira on our first original series filmed in Spain. We’re huge fans of their work on Gran Hotel and Velvet – epic romances that have been embraced by our members around the world. We’re certain our members will love this unique and engaging drama from some of the best storytellers in Spain.”
We’ve talked a lot in previous columns about the trend towards movie adaptations, book adaptations and reboots in US drama – all of which are about providing in-built awareness in new projects. But there’s another trend that is creeping into the business – namely the spin-off. We’ve seen examples in cable with Better Call Saul (from Breaking Bad) and Fear The Walking Dead (from The Walking Dead). And Disney-ABC has created numerous movies and TV series rooted in its Marvel universe. NBC is the latest to get in on the act. First came Chicago Justice, a spin-off from Chicago PD, and now NBC has announced plans for a spin-off from The Blacklist. There aren’t many details as yet but it’s an interesting new development that promises to further narrow the number of slots available to original ideas.
Finally, Turkey was country of honour at Mipcom 2015, an event that focused heavily the country’s prolific drama output, and the country doesn’t seem to have lost any momentum coming into MipTV 2016.
Aside from The End deal referred to above, The Fox Turkey drama That Is My Life has also been selling well – with ANTV (Hong Kong), Kanal 5 (Bulgaria), Telemundo (Hispanic US), Moby Group (Middle East), Puls TV (Poland), Kanal D (Romania) and MTG (Russia) all acquiring the Pastel Film-produced show.
Another Fox show, The Intersection, also has a high profile at the market as part of the Endemol Shine International catalogue. Coinciding with ESI’s marketing activity in Cannes, Fox also announced a second season for the series.
Led by gritty series like the Mafia-focused hit Gomorrah, Italian drama is enjoying new levels of global interest. DQ finds out why.
The world has been watching great Italian movies for more than half a century. Following The Bicycle Thieves in 1948, films like La Strada, La Dolce Vita, 8½, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Cinema Paradiso, Il Postino, Life Is Beautiful, Gomorrah, The Great Beauty and Human Capital are past and present proof that superlative screen craft is a cherished component of Italian culture.
But until recently Italy’s TV business hadn’t achieved anything like the same profile beyond its borders. “The main free-to-air broadcasters, Rai and Mediaset, have a history of participating in continental European coproductions,” says Beta Film senior VP for international sales and acquisitions Oliver Bachert, “and there was the stand-out success of La Piovra (The Octopus), which sold around the world, but historically Italy has mostly focused on local productions that don’t attract much attention internationally.”
The roots of this insularity probably lie in a backlash against imported content that occurred in the 1980s. It took Italian TV producers until the 1990s to perfect their response, but when they did, they began to achieve real success with domestically produced soaps (such as A Place in the Sun and A Doctor in the Family) and police thrillers. Locally know as ‘giallo,’ the police titles included popular shows such as Marshal Rocca, Inspector de Luca and Inspector Montelbano. While they achieved some sales internationally, they didn’t spark the interest associated with, for example, the recent wave of Nordic Noir exports.
The catalyst for change has been the arrival in the market of pay TV platform Sky Italia, says Bachert, “which started commissioning dramas that are more in line with international trends. First came Romanzo Criminale from 2008 to 2010, and then Gomorrah, which we distribute.”
According to Bachert, Gomorrah, which was produced by Italian indie Cattleya, “took Italian drama to a new level.” The story of organised crime in Naples, told across 12 episodes, “won numerous awards and sold to 113 countries. It now has a second season coming up and has encouraged the international market to look more closely at Italian drama.”
Proof that Gomorrah was not a one-hit wonder came with the launch of 1992 in March of this year. Another Sky-backed project, the 10-episode series revolves around six people whose lives become intertwined with the political and social earthquake that swept away Italy’s post-war establishment.
Echoing its approach with English-language drama Fortitude, Sky was sufficiently excited by 1992 that it aired it across the UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria, in addition to Italy – a total market of 20 million homes. That, says Bachert, came in addition to sales in France (Orange), Spain (Canal+), Scandinavia (HBO Nordic) and Benelux (HBO Europe). Now there is talk of a follow-up series entitled 1993.
1992 was produced by one of Italy’s leading indie producers, Wildside. Explaining how the company came about, co-founder Lorenzo Mieli says: “It was founded in Rome in 2009 as a merger between Mario Gianani and Saverio Costanzo’s Offside and Wilder, plus Fausto Brizzi and Marco Martani who joined the team at the moment of the company’s creation. Wilder was a company founded by me and some partners in 2001. Basically that was the place where everything started – we used to produce scripted and unscripted for Italian pay broadcasters.”
From Wilder’s perspective, the big step-change actually predated Sky Italia’s investments, though it was the same corporate family that was behind its expansion: “Wilder experienced dramatic growth with Boris, which was the first scripted show ever made by Fox International Channels in Italy. It was a huge success that was crucial to boosting the business.”
Boris was a comedy series that ran for three seasons in 2007, 2008 and 2010 (totalling 42 episodes). Towards the end of the show’s run, FIC commissioned Wilder to make another series, a six-hour serial killer thriller called The Monster of Florence. Both series were broadcast by FIC on the Sky Italia platform, effectively priming Wilder for the next phase of its development following the merger with Offside.
Today, says Mieli, “Wildside’s pipeline is a combination of Offside’s traditional expertise in feature films and Wilder’s TV background. At the moment, our catalogue spans from art-house movies and commercial/blockbuster comedies to scripted shows for both pay and free TV channels. Our main job is to deliver high-quality products, with a focus on talent-driven projects that have a strong international appeal. To do this, we work to build solid relationships with top Italian directors and writers, which is also a way to attract international talent.”
Like Bachart, Mieli gives a nod in the direction of Gomorrah, which he says “did a priceless job for the Italian production community. It demonstrated that an Italian way to make quality shows exists. Maybe a component of exoticism is helping Italian shows travel so much. But we do believe now that the global audience is ready for something different from US storytelling.”
According to Mieli, coproduction is currently Wildside’s key modus operandi: “Considering the work we’ve been doing in the last two years and what we’re currently developing now, it’s pretty clear that our product is closer to the anthological and talent-driven model.”
The best current example of this is The Young Pope, an ambitious English-language production that Wildside is making for Sky, HBO and Canal+. “The Young Pope is the most representative example of our strategy… a high-profile coproduction with a pure Italian creative core. And we are developing three scripted projects for the international market with a similar model. But we haven’t forgotten the Italian scenario – two shows for Rai and one for Sky are in production and couple of features are in pre-production.”
Starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton in her most high-profile TV production to date, The Young Pope was one of the year’s surprise scripted announcements. Mieli explains its appeal: “The story sounded amazing from the very first moment. The idea of a controversial pope born in the US and surrounded by daily life in Vatican City had evident ground-breaking potential. Plus Paolo Sorrentino’s writing was a stunning piece of literature from the very early stages of development.”
Mieli is convinced The Young Pope can have the kind of impact already made by shows like Gomorrah and 1992, and not just because it has HBO, Sky and Canal+ behind it. “The Young Pope’s distribution will be managed by FremantleMedia International and we’ve no doubt it will travel a lot. We have a great story, an award-winning creator, an all-star cast and a very fascinating, highly recognisable arena in the Vatican.”
As it happens, the Wildside story became even more interesting during production – when FremantleMedia decided to acquire a 62.5% stake in the firm. Commenting on the deal at the time, FremantleMedia CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz said: “This is a key strategic acquisition as we continue to strengthen our primetime scripted presence. Wildside is fast becoming one of Europe’s most sought-after drama producers and will complement our existing businesses in the US, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Australia and the UK. The team has an impressive track record of attracting world-class creative talent and delivering award-winning drama, so I’m really excited that they are joining our family of production companies.”
Being in the Fremantle family may also give Wildside an opportunity to take scripted formats into Italy. There have been signs in recent times that this side of the business, traditionally underdeveloped, is starting to pick up.
Wildside, for example, made Israeli format In Treatment for the Italian market, while Spanish period drama Velvet and French supernatural thriller Les Revenants (The Returned) have also been adapted. Utilising FM’s international expertise should allow Wildside to push this door open further.
Wildside, of course, is not the only Italian indie providing a bridge to and from the international market. Cattleya, which counts DeAgostini and United Pictures International among its shareholders, recently announced plans for season two of Gomorrah. It also has a deal with Canal+ to create an English-language series called ZeroZeroZero.
ZeroZeroZero is based on a book by Roberto Saviano, who also wrote the book on which both the film and TV versions of Gomorrah are based. The director is Stefano Sollima, whose credits include Romanzo Criminale and Gomorrah – all of which guarantees a solid international showing for ZeroZeroZero.
Fabrice de La Patellière, director of French drama and coproductions for Canal+, says: “We are delighted to be involved in initiating this international project driven by Roberto Saviano’s talent and commitment. This story, with the work of the scriptwriters Stefano Bises and Leonardo Fasoli and director Stefano Sollima, offers an uncompromising, in-depth look into the world of cocaine trafficking and the complexities of the system. This invaluable partnership with Cattleya offers the opportunity of a unique series for our subscribers.”
Cattelya is also exploring the scripted format business. It is remaking NBC’s Parenthood for Rai Uno, the first ever US scripted format to be picked up by the channel. At the same time, it has signed a deal with Atlantique Productions to turn two Italian properties into English-language TV series. The first will be a re-imagining of the cult western Django, which has its roots in the spaghetti Western tradition. The second is Dario Argento’s classic Italian horror film Suspiria, which will be reinvented as period horror series set in London and Rome between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Cattleya president Riccardo Tozzi says: “Cattleya’s role on these series marks a further step in our plan to produce high-end English-language series. And, of course, we are extremely proud to be working with Dario Argento, a leading figure for an entire generation of filmmakers.”
It’s no real surprise that Sky’s international axis has provided the platform for Italian producers to reposition themselves on the global stage. But it’s notable that Mediaset and Rai are also exploring what might be possible beyond their borders.
Mediaset started to show some interest in the English-language drama market when it came in as a coproducer on , a Left Bank Pictures adaptation of Michael Dibdin’s detective novels that also had BBC, WGBH Boston and ZDF as coproducers.
That was very much an ad-hoc experiment. But last year Mediaset started to talk up the possibility of making international drama in a more systematic and strategic way. The first fruit of this came earlier this year when it joined forces with France-based Federation Entertainment to coproduce Lucky Luciano, a 12-hour miniseries about mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
With Alessandro Camon on board as writer, Lucky Luciano will follow the life of the man considered to be the father of modern organised crime in the United States. “This is an extraordinary project based on the life of one of the most compelling figures in crime,” says Federation Entertainment’s Pascal Breton, who is producing the series alongside Stephane Sperry. “Lucky Luciano remains a mystery in many key facets of his life, especially in his relationship with the FBI. We intend to explore these mysteries and offer the most definitive work on his life that’s ever been produced.”
Mediaset’s perspective on the project comes from content MD Alessandro Salem, who says: “We’ve been looking for a long time for the right coproducer that shares our fascination towards the human complexity of such a criminal icon as Lucky Luciano. We’re thrilled to have found an outstanding partner for this miniseries event in Federation.”
Mediaset doesn’t intend Lucky Luciano to be a one-off. While it has yet to formally flesh out its strategy, the company says it is “devoted to pursuing international production as a new vector of development for high-profile, ambitious original scripted content together with world-renowned partners.”
For public broadcaster Rai, the challenge is how to engage with the international market while staying focused on the needs of the domestic market. Mattia Oddone, head of cinema and TV international sales at commercial arm Rai Com, says his parent company’s domestic channels are currently doing very well: “Drama works wonderfully on Rai, making Rai 1 and Rai 2 the leading channels in Italy. The key slots are on Sunday and Monday nights, primetime for miniseries and longer series.”
Rai produces around 400 hours of original drama per year with a budget of around €200m (US$223m). In terms of Rai dramas that cross over into the international markets, Oddone says: “Genre series account for most of our sales. One of our most marketable products this year has been new seasons of Il Giovane Montalbano (The Young Montalbano – a spin-off of the original Montalbano series), based on the popular protagonist of Andrea Camilleri’s acclaimed Sicilian crime novels.”
The Young Montalbano is one series that has ridden the wave of interest in non-English language drama, says Oddone, “selling to the US, the UK, France and Benelux.” More generally, “Latin America and Spanish-language rights for the US market are very important to us, as is Central and Eastern Europe. Crime series like the second season of Sfida Al Cielo – La Narcotici 2 (Anti Drug Squad 2) and La Catturandi (Palermo Police Squad, pictured top) have been in high demand there. Biopics on internationally recognisable figures such as Oriana, a dramatisation of the life of storied Italian journalist and campaigner Oriana Fallaci, have also performed very well.”
Oddone acknowledges there has been a change in the way TV drama is produced in Italy. But he also stresses that Italian success has so far been rooted in subject matter that is closely associated with the market. “Rather than making Italian content more international, we have seen Italian themes become more accessible for international audiences. Topics like the family and the Mafia are very much connected with Italy and the possibility to develop such stories has allowed Italian producers to tell them with more intelligence and subtlety.”
Given Rai’s role at the heart of the Italian cultural landscape, Oddone says there is no reason why Rai Com cannot also play its part in the growing international market for Italian drama. And there have been separate reports that the broadcaster is looking at a project about the Medicis and one based on Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. But Oddone also reiterates the point about not losing sight of the needs of the domestic audience. Rai is less likely, for example, to follow some of its Italian peers into English-language drama. “We are about to enter drama coproduction and we are seeking new projects. But it is a delicate matter and it also has to engage the interest of our channels, with which we are now working very closely.”
It’s worth noting that Italian scripted content has also started making ground in markets like China and Turkey, primarily as formats. But if there is one other big story worth following, it’s the arrival of Netflix in Italy this October. The subscription VoD platform’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos was in the country recently trying to win over the Italian industry with promises of investment in Italian-originated content that can travel.
Speaking at the Ischia Global Film and Music Festival, he said: “We think we can bring a large global audience to a local Italian show and that we will be able to invest at a higher level than an Italian producer would invest in a series or a film from Italy.”
Echoing the company’s approach in France, where it greenlit a major local series called Marseilles, Sarandos said Netflix is planning a major commission that will “represent probably 15% to 20% of our spending on Italian programming.”
With Netflix spending an estimated US$5bn a year globally on content, the company’s entry into the Italian market should provide a welcome boost to the country’s producers at this pivotal moment.
Mediaset feeling lucky
Mediaset’s Alessandro Salem and Federation Entertainment founder Pascal Breton discuss their new coproduction Lucky Luciano and outline how Italian drama is taking on the international market.
Alessandro Salem: “What is happening right now is the spotlight is again on the power of Italian stories and the success they are achieving worldwide. In Italy and abroad the national frame isn’t always appropriate to nourish the creative process and to grant the financing of ambitious projects, so international development is more and more crucial.
“Rather than cinema or television, today we should speak of talents who explore storytelling and, depending on the specific nature of the project, later take on a TV or cinema direction.
Pascal Breton: “We’ve witnessed a ‘Scandinavian wave’ these past few years, and I think we’re now seeing a French wave with series like The Returned and The Bureau, as well as Versailles and Marseille within the next year, along with a wave of highly talented directors, writers and producers. The meeting of TV producers with top talent from French and Italian cinema is bringing a new creative force into a field that’s been dominated by Anglo-Saxon series.”
Salem: “Lucky Luciano is a TV series with international DNA: Italian roots, American trunk and international branches. It is about one of the most famous, and yet less known, criminal icons of the 20th Century, Charles Salvatore Lucania, also known as ‘Lucky.’ The series discloses what’s behind the story of the kid from Sicilian sulfur mines who will organise the American mob as an actual corporation, and will leave a lasting mark on the story of our countries through the controversial collaboration with the American and Italian authorities.
“The locations, the renowned character, the popularity of the Italian organised crime stories in the TV and movie iconography, have made it natural for us to launch the project on an international scale, and have led us to look for partners who share our ambitious and transnational vision.”
Breton: “Lucky Luciano is a perfect example of a story originating in Europe that has had a deep impact on the history of the US, and the story’s potential is endless. We were looking for an opportunity to coproduce with Mediaset, and we couldn’t have found a better subject.
Salem: “Mediaset has ambitions to become a major player in the international drama market. Within the next three years the goal is to have a constant pipeline of international dramas. To this aim, on one side, Taodue – our in-house production company – is focusing its talent towards international production with several projects greenlit. On the other side, we are confident we can count on our distribution strength through our presence in Italy and Spain.
“We are aware that English is nowadays a sort of precondition for international drama – indeed, Lucky Luciano will be shot in English. An exception can be Spanish, when the story justifies it, because of the extent of Spanish-speaking markets. That’s the case of Taodue’s upcoming movie Call Me Francesco.”
After a strong showing at the Emmys, Amazon is in buoyant mood. It’s now hoping to keep up the momentum with six new drama and comedy pilots that will launch on Amazon Video later this year in the US, UK, Germany and Austria. As with previous pilots, Amazon will use audience feedback to decide whether to take any of the new scripted shows to series.
The pilots include Good Girls Revolt, a story set in 1969 that follows a group of young women seeking to be treated fairly and ultimately sparking changes that upend marriages, careers, love and friendships. Created and written by Dana Calvo, the show is based on landmark sexual discrimination cases chronicled in a book by Lynn Povich. Amazon is coproducing with Tristar TV.
Another female-protagonist drama is Z, a bio-series about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Written by Dawn Prestwich (The Killing), Z will star Christina Ricci as the beautiful and talented southern belle who became the original flapper and icon of the flamboyant Jazz Age in the 1920s. The story will follow Zelda’s social successes and her descent into mental illness.
Amazon will also reinforce the recent revival of the western genre with Edge, based on George G. Gilman’s best-selling book series of the same name. Set in 1868, the story centres on Josiah ‘Edge’ Hedges – a Union officer turned cowboy who prowls the post-Civil War American West doling out his own savage brand of justice. Edge was developed by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) and Fred Dekker (Tales from the Crypt, Star Trek: Enterprise). The pair also wrote the screenplay.
The other three Amazon pilots are Highston, One Mississippi and Patriot, a political thriller about an intelligence officer assigned with preventing Iran from going nuclear. Patriot is written and directed by Steven Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Weather Man), who executive produces alongside Gil Bellows, Glen Ficarra, Charlie Gogolak and John Requa.
Amazon Studios VP Roy Price said: “Our latest pilot season brings together diverse shows that we think customers will really enjoy. We have something for everyone in this season and I am excited to see which shows spark conversation among our customers and what they want to be made into series.”
Amazon’s continued drive into scripted TV was further reinforced this week with the acquisition of exclusive rights to USA Network’s critically acclaimed drama Mr Robot. The first series (10 episodes) of the show will be available to Amazon subscribers in the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan from spring 2016.
Meanwhile, reports have been bubbling under for a couple of weeks that Netflix might be about to commission Charlie Brooker to make some new episodes of his dystopian anthology series Black Mirror. This story has now been confirmed, with Netflix greenlighting 12 episodes. Brooker described the SVoD giant as “the most fitting platform imaginable” for the series, which until now has been produced for Channel 4 in the UK. Explaining the appeal, he said: “Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, while maintaining that Black Mirror feel.”
Netflix will premiere the show exclusively worldwide, except in the UK and Ireland where plans are still being determined. This hesitation over the UK is unlike Netflix, but is probably due to Channel 4’s involvement in the franchise to date. Possibly, Netflix and Brooker are looking for a way to include C4 in the deal so that it can benefit from the expansion of a show it helped to build.
Netflix VP of original content Cindy Holland said: “Charlie has created a one-of-a-kind series with an uncanny voice and prescient, darkly comedic vision. We’re tremendously proud to bring Black Mirror to our members as a Netflix original series.”
In terms of other renewals, there is good news for Mistresses, which has been awarded a fourth season by ABC. Another female ensemble series, Lifetime’s Devious Maids, is also returning for a fourth season next year. Announcing the recommission, Liz Gateley, EVP of programming for Lifetime, said: “Devious Maids is a steady hit that continues to deliver for us. It has found a loyal audience that is socially engaged with the show. The entire writing and production team worked hard to up the storytelling this year and the cast delivered great performances, so the show just gets better and better.”
Inspired by the hit telenovela, Ellas son… la alegría del hogar, Devious Maids is produced by ABC Studios. Last season it drove Lifetime to rank as the number-two cable network with scripted programming in the Monday 21.00-22.00 slot among women aged 25-54 and 18-49, while its August 24 season finale reached season highs among total viewers, adults aged 25-54 and women aged 25-54.
This week also saw an announcement by Italian public broadcaster Rai that it has commissioned an eight-part drama. Medici: Masters of Florence will chronicle the rise of the Medici family, with Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) playing Cosimo de’ Medici and Hoffman portraying family patriarch Giovanni de’ Medici.
The series, which will be produced by Lux Vide and Frank Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions, has been created by Spotnitz and Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), with Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (The Pillars of the Earth) directing. Germany’s Wild Bunch TV is a co-financier and will oversee international sales, starting at Mipcom next month.
Spotnitz, a US writer who has carved out a strong niche for himself writing European coproductions in English, called the tale of the Medicis a “powerful story that resonates even now.”
Medici: Masters of Florence is a major step forward for Rai at a time when Italian producers and broadcasters are starting to have a much bigger impact on the international drama market. RAI Fiction director Tinny Andreatta said the show “has great international appeal and we hope it will open up a new era of creative coproductions.”
Finally, Televisa USA, a subsidiary of Mexican media giant Televisa responsible for English-language programming, and Lantica Media have announced they are developing a new version of Gran Hotel, based on hit Spanish series from Bambu Producciones. The show will be shot at Lantica’s Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios and is based on an original script by Stephen Kronish (24, Kennedys).
The new version of the format, which is distributed internationally by Beta Film, will be set in 1950s Cuba. “It was a time when mobsters, politicians and celebrities flocked to Havana, the world’s most exotic and permissive playground,” said Chris Philip, head of production and distribution for Televisa USA. “Setting Gran Hotel in a sexy, sinful atmosphere offers up a rich fusion of glamour and intrigue deeply rooted in an exceptional murder-mystery format with a proven global footprint.
Antonio Gennari, CEO of Lantica Media, added: “Since the introduction of (a new) film law and incentives, the Dominican Republic has seen substantial growth in film and TV production. The country offers mesmerising scenery and world-class production capabilities that will serve as the ideal backdrop for Havana’s Gran Hotel.” As part of the announcement, Gennari said Lantica and Televisa USA were also planning other projects.
The original Gran Hotel aired for three seasons on Antena 3 in Spain. During its first season, it reached an 18.5% share of viewers in Spain and was also sold to broadcasters in France, the UK and Russia, as well as being reversioned in Italy.
Beta Film SVP Christian Gockel said: “Gran Hotel is one of Beta’s biggest sales hits and franchises of recent years, as proven currently on Rai’s primetime. As coproducers of the Italian adaptation, we are thrilled to see Gran Hotel opening its doors in Cuba’s 1950s.”