Featured Player: Aurelio De Laurentiis

Producer defies Italian indie odds

In a land where financing a movie out of your own pocket is unheard of, producer Aurelio De Laurentiis sticks out like Mount Vesuvius, the active volcano overlooking his native Naples.

A nephew of Hollywood-based movie mogul Dino De Laurentiis, he is an equally flamboyant figure with a natural-born mix of pop pulse radar, dealmaking savvy and willingness to take risks that goes with being film-industry royalty.

“In Italy, when you talk about independent producers, what you are actually talking about are dependant producers: They all depend on financing, either from RAI or Medusa,” he points out.

True to his claim of being the only real Italo indie, De Laurentiis says he instead shepherds pics according to the following philosophy: “The only thing that should really support a project is a deep confidence that audiences are going to like it.”

The downside is that his Christmas franchise — 24 titles to date, including smash hits “Christmas on the Nile,” “Christmas in India” and most recently “Christmas in New York” — has not made him popular with crix.

But bad reviews don’t seem to bother De Laurentiis.

“If I just made movies I want to watch, you can be sure I would be broke,” he quips.

That said, his Filmauro shingle doesn’t just churn out crass Christmas comedies.

In 2005, De Laurentiis scored with “What Will Become of Us?,” a zippy youth romancer about three high-schoolers stumbling around the Greek island of Santorini. It starred Silvio Muccino (helmer Gabriele Muccino’s brother) and was a forerunner of the teen pic wave that ignited the Italo B.O. earlier this year.

“Love Manual 2,” a saucier cross-generational romancer, and the second installment in what has become a franchise, pulled in a staggering $25 million this winter and even earned some critical praise to boot.

Let’s not forget that Filmauro was the Italo distributor of “Crash” and more recently uncle Dino’s “Hannibal Rising,” though when it comes to Hollywood projects, the nephew doesn’t yet have the Midas touch. His most recent L.A. venture was sinking some $40 million of his own coin into “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” in 2004.

But then again movies aren’t everything for De Laurentiis.

These days he’s totally taken by Napoli Soccer, the football club that had fallen from grace after being catapulted into the limelight by Diego Maradona in the 1980s.

After buying Napoli two years ago, De Laurentiis is now close to bringing it back into Italy’s top Serie A league.

Ask him if he’d rather win an Oscar or the Serie A title, and, after some hesitation, he answers: “The title.”

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