Italy’s iconic Cinecittà studios turn 85 this year and they’ve never looked so young.
The famed facilities, which in their heyday in Hollywood on the Tiber hosted sword-and-sandal epics such as William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” and later hosted Federico Fellini, are undergoing a major overhaul that now sees the biggest European LED wall located on the grounds near Fellini’s huge Studio 5.
Known as Cinecittà’s T18 Virtual Production Stage, the 412-square-meter (4,434-square-foot) semi-circular screen comprised of hundreds of high-definition screens that serve as an interactive backdrop for actors on a smart stage , is one of more than a dozen state-of-the-art sound stages being built there thanks to a multi-million euro cash injection provided by the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund.
The revamp is led by Nicola Maccanico, director general of Italy’s Istituto Luce-Cinecittà, the state film entity that operates the expanding Cinecittà studios in Rome. He has ambitions for Cinecittà to become the premier studio in continental Europe, plans which involve doubling the size of the studio’s backlot.
In June, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi jointly visited the Cinecittà grounds and held a press conference at Studio 5, where Fellini shot almost all of his films, to announce a investment of 300 million euros (353 million dollars). to “adequately respond to the growing international demand for studio space”, as Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini put it.
Cut less than a year later and Cinecittà, following MGM’s ‘House of Gucci’, Sky’s skein of ancient Rome ‘Domina’ and Showtime series ‘Ripley’, hosts several more international projects from Netflix, Amazon, Comcast-owned Sky and also several US studios booked for long-term filming. Full occupancy has already been achieved at the installation of Rome.
“Our mandate is to meet the needs of contemporary production and no longer be a place that can attract [productions] for its history, but rather for its current value”, says Maccanico, who arrived on board in April 2021. He notes that the LED wall and the fact that we can now film in virtual reality with the best technological standards at Cinecittà “has a symbolic meaning. This underscores just how perfectly on point Cinecittà is. “It’s actually ahead of the curve in terms of soundstages,” he notes.
Maccanico overhauled many of Cinecittà’s 19 existing sound stages and built five new stages on the current Cinecittà grounds, as well as an indoor water reservoir. He also crafted a five-year relaunch and financial plan through 2026 under which the studios are on track to start turning a profit in 2023.
A key aspect of the relaunch implemented by Maccanico – which emphasizes that the studios are full-service facilities, with digital editing suites, sound mixing and 35mm and 16mm film processing studios – is to attract large production companies and broadcasters or streamers to Cinecittà with long-term service contracts.
This is exactly what happened in February when Fremantle and Cinecittà signed a five-year pact involving the continued rental of six sound stages and the long-term use of Cinecittà’s services, including costume installations and of accessories.
“To fill the studios, you need a mix of long-term deals and one-time sales,” says Maccanico, for whom closing the Fremantle deal proves that, even before the studios overhaul is complete, ” what we already have here today can play a central role within the global production ecosystem.
For Fremantle, the deal will allow them to plan several productions at Cinecittà, including the anti-war feature ‘Sans sang’, which Angelina Jolie, who adapted the screenplay of Alessandro Baricco’s bestselling novel, will direct this summer in Italy. Fremantle’s long-term planning means it will be able to manage budgets with less risk and more profitability.
The company’s choice of Cine-città also reflects the fact that the German giant has strong roots in Italy, where it produces TV series and films through Wildside and the Apartment, the outfits behind the TV series “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Young Pope.
In broader terms, the game changer for Italy is its tax refund, which during the pandemic has been increased from 30% to 40% up to 75% of production expenditure incurred locally and is maintained at this level. . It allows producers to recoup money during production, month to month, and reduce costs as they go.
Producer of the “House of Gucci” line, Marco Valerio Pugini, says Italy’s generous, hassle-free production incentive is helping attract more filmmakers from the United States and beyond, and that the redesign and Cinecittà’s competitive rates become the key to keeping them in the country for longer periods. . Pugini proudly points out that “Gucci” was filmed entirely in Italy in locations including Rome, Milan and Lake Como, although Rome, which also represented New York, was the film’s main production site.
“Italy has always been attractive, but what’s happening now is that scripts are being written for stories that are meant to be shot entirely here,” says Italian executive producer Enzo Sisti, who assured “Ripley,” the Cinecittà Studios-based Showtime series adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novels by Steven Zaillian, who is also directing.
In its drive to give Cinecittà a greater competitive advantage over other leading European facilities such as Studio Babelsberg in Germany, Origo Studios in Hungary and Nu Boyana in Bulgaria, Maccanico signed an agreement last December with Italian state bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti to acquire a plot of land adjacent to Cinecittà that will give the studios the space needed to roughly triple the backlot and build eight additional sound stages by 2026.
Looking ahead, Cinecittà is now set to acquire over 70 acres of land which, once the new sound stages are built, will provide film and television productions with over 30 acres of additional outdoor backlot to shoot on. And adjustments are underway to also become a carbon neutral studio.
“Cinecittà is rapidly gaining lost ground,” says Maccanico, noting that the studios can already “serve the needs of all the same customers that are served by other studios in mainland Europe.”
“We have already become competitive. Now we have to grow. »