On an unusually warm winter morning here at the corner between Prince Street and Mercer Street, in the heart of Manhattan. Giuseppe Basso, CEO of Cinecittà Studios, is waiting for us on a staircase, in the feeble sunshine, as portrayed in the picture. “It always feels like we’ve been here before” he says “we’ve seen dozens of movies shot in these neighborhoods, but to actually be here, on Christmas and with this gorgeous sun… it’s amazing!” So our conversation starts, in New York, at the end of a wonderful year for Cinecittà Studios and for Italian cinema.
Giuseppe, first off the great success at MoMA of the Italian cinema events promoted by Rai Cinema. Do you see this as the beginning of an important change?
A few days ago I saw some very old interviews of the protagonists of cinema from the 50’s, in which Italian cinema was said to be in a major crisis, just as 20 years prior they’d heard about Italian cinema being in a major crisis. I think that Antonio Monda, during the interview at the Italian cultural institute of New York, hit the spot; we went from producing over 250 movies a year in the 50’s and 60’s, to less than 100 movies, many of which aren’t distributed. Back in the days, spaghetti westerns were popular, filmed in English, distributing up to 3,000 copies, which at the time meant 50% of the screens.
We’ve allowed that industry and art to no longer be an industry. In the 70’s it was destroyed, regressing to a smaller scale. From the late 80’s Italian cinema has become more introvert, legible mainly by Italians, except for a few rare masterpieces.
For Italian cinema to be reborn, we need to open up the movie theaters, bring people back, starting from schools. We need to teach students about the beauty and charm of going to see films at the cinema, despite the convenience of watching them on their tablets. In the past two years we’ve been daring more and more on an international scale, but that’s just a part of what needs to happen.
Why is it so hard to distribute a movie?
Because with merely 3,000 movie theaters throughout Italy it is nearly impossible to distribute an independent movie. It’s not financially feasible. We’ve heard about the struggles Valerio Mastandrea had to face to raise the funds for the production of “Non essere cattivo”. Just imagine going through the process for each single independent movie, especially with the majors taking over the market. It’s not the right path or the honorable one. There were twice the amount of movie theaters at the end of the 60’s, that is 6,000 screens, with a lot more diversity that made going to the cinema an event. Movies would be out for months back then.
How is cinema being reopened?
With incentives and funds for digitization of theaters, to start with. The regulations are being enforced, but there are still too few people going to the cinema.
Do you think the arrival of Netflix in Italy will provide more workplaces for our industry and for Cinecittà Studios?
Netflix can for sure start co-productions in Italy, as I believe they mean to, bringing quite a bit of excitement right as the international Tax credit has been extended to TV productions and with reduced budget limits to favor web series productions. Cinecittà reflects our cinema industry, so when the industry is in full activity, the Studios host big productions. When the industry languishes, the Studios do too, considering their 78 year-story and the size which necessarily requires funds from big productions for their many costs of staff, rent and maintenance. After all, Cinecittà was created for industrial production, not independent film making.
2015 was a great year for Cinecittà, so can we expect more American productions this year?
Absolutely, even though we’re at the negotiations still, with no sure deal yet. We’re starting the year with the confidence that we’ve come a long way from the pre-tax credit era and we’ve proved Rome’s ability to host big international productions successfully, up to and beyond all expectations, in situations like James Bond’s car races throughout the city. We are also expecting a big production from the Diabolik series, with Dante Ferretti’s set design. All that aims to also encourage tourism, because cinema must promote the Country and provide work for thousands of people.
What is the communication work behind the negotiates with big American productions to get them to come to Italy?
Mostly, we explain to them about the benefits of the new tax credit laws, plus the regional incentives from Lazio, Puglia, Trentino and so on. 20% of the time is spent talking about our services and promoting our Country to our clients. Promoting our system means attracting big productions to Cinecittà, the only one that can offer great services here. Our communication style has changed, too, with a less formal, more ironic approach, aimed to attract Americans’ curiosity. At MoMA I was talking with a 23-year-old American producer who was telling me she’d studied Italian and lived in Florence for a few years, which made it difficult for her to find inspiration once back in New York. One may say we’d happily switch, but that shows how relative it all is and what a great inspiration our Country is, so we shouldn’t struggle too much! (laughing)
Who is the main European competitor for the Studios between Pinewood and Nu Boyana?
We really don’t feel threatened by Nu Boyana, my approach is to not compete with Eastern European countries, where the employees are underpaid. Our main competitor is the English Pinewood, and when we asked the institutions to change the law on tax credit we wanted to align with the English way, though the Italian tax credit exceeds the English one because the government is not required to give back the funds, but the money is held by the producer who pays the net, without cash out flow.
Besides, when an American actor comes to work in Italy for 6 to 8 months, at the end of the day I’m sure they’ll enjoy strolling down the streets of Rome or Florence, rather than the freezing cold streets of England or Sofia! (laughing). We pride ourselves of our honesty towards our clients, too.
How do you see Italian cinema in the next 5 years?
I can see a big increase of industrial TV production on an international level, and the reopening of many new cinemas, at least about 30%, reaching more than 4.000 new theaters. There will be also the passing of the law (The System Law) which will positively revolutionize the system of communication to get young people back in movie theaters again and, at the same time, it will give support the production Companies.
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