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Ferretti: Reaching from Fellini to Scorsese

Production designer leaves mark on biz

As far back as production designer Dante Ferretti can remember, he was transfixed by movies.

“I loved seeing films and I knew I wanted to be part of them,” says Ferretti. “But it was when I learned what a production designer was that I knew what I wanted to do for my whole life.”

That moment came when the two-time Oscar winner (for “The Aviator” and “Sweeney Todd”) was in his early teens. He studied fine arts in Rome and worked uncredited on a couple of films in his late teens. His first credited job was as a set decorator on Lucio Fulcio’s “Gli imbroglioni” in 1963 when he was just 19.

Ferretti cut his teeth as a fully fledged production designer on director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Medea” in 1969 — the first of many films the pair did together.

The designer met Martin Scorsese after working with Federico Fellini on “City of Women” in 1980. Scorsese, a passionate fan of Fellini’s work, visited the Italian director and quickly became a fan of Ferretti’s work, too.

Though Scorsese was impressed by Ferretti and wanted to hire him for his projects, several years passed before the two got together because the timing just didn’t pan out.

“He called me several times and I very much wanted to work with him but I was already working on ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ so I couldn’t,” says Ferretti.

That was 1988. It wasn’t until 1993 that the pair were able to link up on “The Age of Innocence.”

Ferretti’s work on “Shutter Island” — which is in this year’s awards-season conversation — was his seventh collaboration with Scorsese.

The designer believes that finding an abandoned mental hospital where many key scenes could take place was essential to creating the look and feel for the thriller. The coloring and texture of the place gave the film the look that Scorsese wanted.

“Martin Scorsese is a genius to me … when you work with him you are working with a master director,” says Ferretti. “He brings out the best in everyone that they can bring to a film.”

Currently at work in London on Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret” and set to work on the helmer’s “Sinatra” biopic, Ferretti is quick to credit his long career to his collaborators.

“I have worked with so many great directors — Fellini, Scorsese — in my life,” says Ferretti. “And really that has been so lucky for me to meet them and for them to like my work and hire me.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: Art Direction, Costumer & Sound
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