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Italy Says ‘Benvenuto’

A new financial incentive and a vast and versatile canvas make Italy an ideal destination for filmmakers 

Italy, a classic Mediterranean landscape, has served as a backdrop for films across the globe for a long time. Italy is famous for its rich history, diverse cultures and cuisine, as well as for its beautiful coast and mountains. Among its cities, Milan, Rome and Venice are the most popular destinations for filmmakers.

Blockbuster Bollywood films like Rockstar, Bachna Ae Haseeno and Housefull were shot in Italy. Even upcoming South Indian films like Saaho and Prabhas20 (working title) have used Italy as a backdrop. Upcoming Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Roam Rome Mein is centred in this land of art and culture. Apart from these, major portions of the recent release The Fakir Of Venice starring Farhan Akhtar was also shot in Venice.

Ivano Fucci, Founder / Producer of ODU Movies that works extensively with Indian filmmakers shooting their films in Italy and other European countries, talks to Bhavi Gathani and Titas Chowdhury about Italy being an ideal filming destination.

What makes Italy a suitable destination for Indian filmmakers?

Italy as a country is geographically smaller than the southern Indian state of Kerala but it offers the widest range of visuals like snow-capped mountains, round hills, stunning beaches, active volcanoes, small towns and modern cities. Every time you come to Italy, you can shoot a different film with a completely different scenario. Nature has been kind to Italy; history has increased the country’s stature: from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, from Leonardo, Michelangelo, Galileo to Enzo Ferrari, Gucci and Valentino Rossi – we have it all! The Germans, the Vikings, Arabs, Spanish, French, Austrians and the Italians – many cultures have left their stamp on Italy and our ancestors have embraced them all, making the country rich for centuries to come.

What prompted the filmmakers of Roam Rome Mein, Saaho and Prabhas20 to choose Italy as their films’ location?

They are two completely different kinds of stories: Roam Rome Mein has its heart in Rome. Italy was in the script and we just had to make it possible in the budget given to us. Saaho and Prabhas20 both star Prabhas. While shooting the latter, we got the opportunity to have Saaho’s action director Kenny Bates (Transformers, Pearl Harbour) shooting in Italy as well (with Six Underground) and we made a two-week shooting schedule in Rome, building the biggest blue screen ever made in Italy.

A common reason that pulled the filmmakers to Italy and to us was undoubtedly the new tax credit, a 30-per cent rebate scheme that is working perfectly. Another important reason was the wonderful support we have got from the Consulate General of Italy in Mumbai, that actively supports the power of audiovisuals from West and South India and has eased the process for getting visas.

How easy or difficult is it to get the permit for Indian filmmakers to shoot there?

We believe planning is the best way to get anything you wish. We love working with people who make films as the ‘Seventh Art’; and nobody will ever stop art from being made in our country!

What locations were used to shoot Roam Rome Mein and Saaho?

Roam Rome Mein has been shot extensively in Rome, the capital of Italy. We explored so much that you will see the good and the bad side of the city, giving depth to a tourist spot which is usually explored lightly by travellers. Saaho was also shot in Rome, at the Cinecittà World Studios and at the Fiera di Roma Hangars: huge places, kind people, great professionals, accessibility, and the whole crew was local so there was no need of hotels or dinners for the Italians. Prabhas20 is still under wraps and we cannot disclose the exact locations: they are super romantic though, being a period movie.

Did you get local crew for any of the films? How easy or difficult was it?

During Roam Rome Mein, the crew was 60 per cent Italian and 40 per cent Indian. During Saaho we had a wonderful mix: 60 per cent Italian, 30 per cent Indian, 10 per cent American/Czech. During Prabhas20, we were 50 per cent Italian and 50 per cent Indian. It wasn’t difficult, it was exciting to put together working cultures and get the best out of both. We all learned and that’s our biggest profit: the more we meet, the more we know and the faster we go.

How many people were there in each unit?

Roam Rome Mein: 60 pp crew (35 Italians + 25 Indians) + 10 Secondary / Tert Cast + 100 Extras

Saaho: 110 pp crew (60 Italians + 35 Indians + 15 Americans/Other Nationalities) + 5 Sec / Tert Cast + 60 Extras

Prabhas20: 250pp crew (125 Indians + 125 Italians) + 20 Sec / Tert Cast + 400 Extras in total

Roam Rome Mein also has an Italian cast. What was the casting process over there?

Yes, the actress is Valentina Corti, who will be paired with Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in certain scenes. The script required a strong Italian cast presence and we have chosen the best team of casting agents in Italy to make sure Tannishtha (Chatterjee) and her team could get all the possible options at the budgeted cost. It was a task that ended beautifully, creating a wonderful Indo-Italian combination on screen.

One film was Hindi and the other was Telugu with the Italian crew. Were there any language barriers?

English makes life easy and all the cultures involved only enrich the moments. Sometimes both need patience, at other times, it is comical to communicate in Hindi and Italian. We create some fun memories during filming but communication was not a problem as Italians and Indians are similar.

What financial incentives were provided by the government to shoot these films in Italy? What were the qualifying criteria?

Tax credit rebate: 30 per cent

VAT refund: average 70 per cent of the whole paid VAT

There is a cultural test to pass, but it’s very easy to do it. There is no minimum expenditure required.

Do the incentives differ with every province?

There is a national incentive, valid also if the shoot happens in other EU countries (up to 30 per cent of the total foreign shoot). Every region (we have 20 regions in Italy) has a film commission and each one has its own incentive scheme. The most popular are Apulia (South-East), Alto-Adige (South Tyrol, North-East), Lazio (Rome Region) and Veneto (Venice Region).

How cost-effective is it to shoot a film in Italy compared to other countries?

I would position Italy at the same level as Spain, one step cheaper than France, two times cheaper than the UK/Scandinavia, and once or twice more expensive than East Europe. The good thing about Italy is its size and the variety the country offers in visuals, naturally and culturally. It helps you contain the costs. Wherever you place the camera, it looks beautiful.

Did you hire any equipment from the locals? If so, is hiring local equipment more convenient or importing it?

Yes, we hire everything from the biggest film equipment rental company of Europe, based in Milan and Rome. We can literally get anything we need at the same price we would get equipment in India (considering the 30 per cent rebate and VAT refund). If the Indian production house owns the camera, we strongly suggest carrying it along: you just need to make an ATA-Carnet at FICCI and the job is done. Hiring equipment locally is not always the best choice. It depends on the kind of shoot and the number of days the equipment is required. We would accordingly suggest the best solution for our clients.

How convenient was the accommodation, food and logistics for the crew members?

In Rome, everything was extremely convenient. For Prabhas20, we toured a bit and so it was a hectic shoot. But when you can mix a hot and spicy Hyderabadi biryani with fresh curd, you kind of forget everything! In fact, our own Indian chefs are surely one of ODU’s plus points. We set up the kitchen in the hotel itself and we serve breakfast and lunch on the set, and then dinner at the hotel. Food is a major source of happiness, especially while working abroad.

Why, according to you, there are so few Indian films shot in Italy?

Because Italy hasn’t yet been highlighted or captured very well as a prominent part in Indian scripts. I mean, like how certain popular films have made a European destination an integral part of their story line. Hopefully with the release of Roam Rome Mein and Prabhas20, people will see Italy as part of the narrative, as a character within the film’s story, and it will stay in their memory after the film.

In fact, Rome is the best place to invert the trend; everything is available, it is cost-effective and there are many professionals and talents. Los Angeles with Hollywood, Rome with Cinecittà and Mumbai with Bollywood are the three world spots where films have been made for a century now. There is surely a common language that is spoken by filmmakers when entering these three cities. I think that’s our biggest strength.

How are you planning to market Italy as a filming destination among Indian filmmakers?

I think showing our work to Indian filmmakers will be the best marketing tool for ODU Movies. Our next step is to become co-producers of an Indian film, with a bit of an Italian touch, showing our talents and professionals.

You have spent some time in India and are well versed with Indian content. What role do you play in helping filmmakers choose locations to shoot their films in Italy?

My 12 years of experiences in India are a big help for me to understand the filmmakers’ needs very well and come up with unexpected ideas that will work very interestingly and with value for money. I owe everything to your beautiful land and I would always return the same respect and hospitality I have myself experienced through my Indian friends. I guess that’s enough to start a relationship that has a common goal, the making of a beautiful story for the audiences to watch.

Prabhas, Saaho, Actor

Italy has beautiful locations and we have shot here before, and I think it is always a wonderful experience shooting in Italy. I was fascinated by the scenic beauty and the awesome food there. 

Communication wasn’t really an issue because I felt most of the natives are comfortable and happy speaking in English to tourists who can’t speak Italian, their native language.

 

Mr Pramod Uppalapati, Partner of UV Creations, Producer of Saaho and Prabhas20

The Italians are some of the most friendly and cooperative people in terms of getting permissions for a shoot. They took measures to help us complete our shooting process without any hiccups in the schedule.

Approximately 70 members were hired to be part of the local crew. They were very professional and a joy to work with. They understood what was expected from them and ensured that they gave a 100-per cent effort to deliver it. I would like to thank them for their cooperation and effort, which helped us in the successful completion of the shoot.

 

Tannishtha Chatterjee, Director, Roam Rome Mein

I have always been fascinated by the art and architecture of Rome. But why I chose Rome as a backdrop is very integral to my story. Valentina’s (Corti) character is a painter in the film and some of the most famous Italian women Renaissance painters came from Rome. The contribution that Italian feminists had to the world of women artistes is immense. So, as my first film, I wanted to celebrate their contribution to the world of art. 

I was lucky to have a great teacher when I studied at the National School of Drama. Nibhaji used to teach us Aesthetics and we studied Greek and Roman art as subjects. That was my inspiration. And then, of course, when I travelled to Rome, I did more research on Artemisia Gentileschi, whose art I am fascinated with. 

I think Italy and India have many things in common. On one hand, both countries have a very strong, ancient culture and history. On the other hand, they have family structures that are quite similar; families which can be an anchor but sometimes oppressive as well. It’s this commonality that I have tried to explore through my film.

There were many Italians in my crew. We have seven Italian actors in major roles. Our costume designer and casting director were Italian. Our production designer, line producers, all our production assistants, light assistants, sound assistants and local junior artistes were Italian.

 

Ravi Walia, Rising Star Entertainment, Producer of Roam Rome Mein

We were working very closely with the Italian tourism board - ENIT - and with ODU Movies, which helped us get permissions swiftly. We were in a rush when we approached them. They were able to secure permissions and help us have a hassle-free shoot for us in Rome. 

The Italian crew size was about 20-30 people. We used some key technicians, casting, creative and production team members from Rome.  

Like in any country, Italy has its specific norms and work culture. Even though the schedule started with some friction in the working style of Indian and Italian team members, everyone quickly adapted. We were fortunate to have worked with the right local partners who understood our requirements and were able to deliver those successfully. Of course, each project demands different things but in case of Roam Rome Mein, we achieved what we were looking for, sometimes even more.

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