Rome tends to conjure images of the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps or St. Peter’s Square — each one the epitome of the Eternal City, captured in seemingly countless movies.
But while Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Eckberg’s fountain frolicking in “La Dolce Vita” may be unforgettable, location scouts in the Italo capital are trained to see beyond such standard backdrops.
“The beautiful thing about Rome is that each corner you turn you find yourself in a different era: You have 2,000 years of history to work with,” says locations manager Erik Paoletti.
History, however, can pose its complications when you need to shoot something similar to what’s common in most Western capitals.
For the heist scene in Steven Soderberg’s “Ocean’s Twelve,” Paoletti was given a tall order: “Finding a museum that was just a museum.” A building that could be captured singularly in a wide shot, whereas in Rome most museums are ancient palazzi transformed into museums and attached to other buildings.
He selected the British Academy, a freestanding 20th-century neoclassical structure designed by Edwin Lutyens. Besides fitting the bill visually, the somewhat secluded Brit building proved a smart choice when 4,000 Romans gathered on the premises to catch a glimpse of George Clooney and Brad Pitt without disrupting traffic.
The monumental Piazza Navona with its three 16th-century fountains is the city’s most used location, for which a staggering 106 shooting permits were issued last year.
But Paoletti and other local location scouts don’t want ancient ambiance to be considered Rome’s only resource.
“Just like contemporary settings are found in Paris, they are available here, too,” he says, citing Vincent Cassel in “Ocean’s” working out in the rooftop pool of Rome’s ultra modern Radisson SAS hotel.
Other Hollywood pics in past years have lensed in Rome’s less standardized spots.
Julie Taymor’s “Titus” made ample use of the multiarched marble Fascist-era Palazzo della Civilta di Lavoro (aka the “Square Colosseum”) — where Nike has also shot a soccer-gear ad.
In Neil LaBute’s “Nurse Betty,” Renee Zellweger ends up sipping cappuccino in the arty Trastevere neighborhood. In “Gangs of New York,” the Villa Borghese Gardens act as Central Park.
These kinds of places, of course, are nothing new to local helmers who weave the contempo side of the city into their pics.
In Nanni Moretti’s “Dear Diary,” the native Roman helmer zipped around on his Vespa philosophizing about his hometown.
But for Moretti’s recently released anti-Berlusconi “The Cayman” — in which a glum B-movie producer named Bruno tries to make a pic about the Italo mogul-turned-politico while going through a marriage breakup, he “needed somewhere that would underline the protagonist’s lonely life,” says Gianfranco Barbagallo, line producer for Moretti’s Sacher Film shingle.
They turned to Istituto CineTV Roberto Rossellini film school in Rome’s Ponte Marconi neighborhood, which served as Bruno’s office, studio and sleeping space.
Shooting in Rome these days has become a lot easier. Red tape for permits now is “minimal,” per Marco Valerio Pugini, head of Italo line producers association APE.
What’s lacking, though, unlike most other European locales, are subsidies.
Industryites like Pugini and Rome Film Commission coordinator Jacques Lipkau-Goyard are pinning their hopes that plans under way to unify all film commishes in the region will pave the way for long-awaited regional incentives.