Andrea Scrosati is chief of content for Sky Italy, part of Fox-controlled pan-European pay-TV operation Sky which has more than 25 million subscribers. They are the driving force behind Paolo Sorrentino’s now-in-production TV series “The Young Pope,” which takes Italian TV production to the next level. Jointly co-produced by Sky, HBO and France’s Canal Plus, and executive produced by Italy’s Wildside, with Gaul’s Haut et Court TV and Spain’s MEDIAPRO, “Pope” stars Jude Law in the title role as a young conservative American pontiff and Diane Keaton as a nun. Sorrentino has said it’s about ”the clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness, so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them.”
Variety: There are lots of changes going on in the Italian TV landscape these days. “The Young Pope” is Italian TV on a scale that I’ve never seen before. I’m struck by not just the scale, but its potential originality. We’ve seen plenty of different types of Italian mob shows, and the Pope/Vatican may not be such an original subject matter for TV. But the approach that transpires seems very fresh.
Well, I can’t spoil the fun. But I can tell you that this will be a completely original way of representing the world of the Vatican and the more generally faith; nothing like you’ve ever seen on TV before. From an industry standpoint it’s one of the biggest investments – probably the biggest ever – for an Italian-originated TV show. And the great thing is that more than 75 percent of the budget comes from outside Italy.
Italy is starting to be a pretty hot territory in terms of international TV production, isn’t it?
Yes, a few years ago everything coming from the Nordics was cool; now there is a lot of attention for Italian dramas, and a lot of potential. More generally, there is a growing view across the market that shows don’t necessarily need to be originated in the U.S. to have international potential, and that series originated locally in Europe and across the world can aspire to sell worldwide, I am a big believer of this, and I found it interesting that recently also Ted Sarandos of Netflix was making exactly this same point.
The difference between you guys and Netflix is you are almost pan-European; they are almost global. That said, Sky’s “Gomorrah” got distributed in more than 120 territories. How many territories has “Pope” been sold to?
Between the territories covered by the coproducers and presales we already are over 50 countries. I believe that the “The Young Pope” is a perfect example of the ambition and the role that Sky will play in original productions. It is also perfect to describe what we are doing at Sky; shows and ideas originated and led by a local team that get the support of the broader company continuing to be creatively managed by the originating team. It’s very efficient way to proceed. This is also possible because the creative talent and the quality of delivery that European production entities – indies and bigger firms – is getting better and better every day.
So you think we are going to see less Hollywood shows on Sky and elsewhere on the planet?
U.S. shows are very relevant for television worldwide and obviously very important for Sky, so not only we will continue working very closely with our studios partners but we are also developing a group-wide approach to acquiring key content led by Gary Davey [Executive Vice President Programming at Sky in the UK] to make these relations even stronger. At the same time our ambition is to be the main European player in original production, we are convinced that these two objectives not only live perfectly together but are complementary.
What is Sky’s current original production output?
Across the group we have thirty-five original productions in the pipeline over the next three years. Some are priority projects for the whole group, and others only target the local markets. There are some editorial differences, for example the UK portfolio of channels led by Stuart Murphy includes – next to SkyAtlantic – also scripted production for the more family oriented Sky1, while the Italian Sky1 doesn’t have scripted shows, but the coordination is growing and I am sure this will bring big positive changes in the market.
Getting back to Italy, I think what’s important here is that, as the market changes, there is no longer a need to think local anymore, and this is true for broadcasters and also for Italian producers.
The big difference is that if you picture Italy just ten to fifteen years ago you had great talent – think of a director as Gabriele Muccino – but they had to work with a U.S studio, because Italy lacked the production capability. That’s what was really missing. The difference today is you have a new generation of producers that can deliver quality in line with the international market. An interesting thing about “The Young Pope” is that none of our international partners – and they put a lot of money into it – said ‘we need to have an American or English production company on the production side because we can’t have an entirely Italian-produced show with this kind of budget.’ Nobody even suggested it. Ten years ago that would have been the single element for which we would have not closed the production. Today this is true for Wildside; it’s true for Cattleya; it’s true for Palomar, and for several other Italian production companies.
Ok. So what’s in your Italian pipeline?
We are finishing the shooting of “Gomorra 2” and in the writing stage on “Gomorra 3.” There are new stories, new characters, new settings. “Gomorra 2” takes place a lot outside Italy, and this changes the structure of the show making it even more international. Another example is “ZeroZeroZero,” which chronicles the global cocaine trade. We are doing it together with Studio Canal, also based on a Roberto Saviano book. Majority of the story takes place outside Italy. It will be shot in English, with an international cast. It’s an interesting case of how you can take a local idea and escalate it from day one. We are also working on another Vatican-related concept, about the Vatican’s secret confessional tribunal, based on Donato Carrisi’s thriller “Il Tribunale delle anime.” It’s a dark, dark world, somewhat similar to David Fincher’s “Seven.” Once again it takes place in Rome, but it’s a truly international story. And we have identified finally the right script for “Diabolik,” which depicts a pulpy 1960’s-era thief.