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MipTV: Frank Spotnitz Talks ‘Medici: Masters of Florence’ With Dustin Hoffman, Richard Madden (EXCLUSIVE)

CANNES — Starring Dustin Hoffman as Giovanni de Medici and Richard Madden as his son, Cosimo, co-created by Frank Spotnitz (“The X-Files,” “The Man in the High Castle”) and Nicholas Meyer (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”) and lead produced by Italy’s Lux Vide “Medici” is sold worldwide by Wild Bunch’s newly-created television divison, Wild Bunch TV. Indeed, a “passion project” for Wild Bunch, “Medici: Masters of Florence” is the first international long-running TV brand it is bringing to the market, Wild Bunch’s Diana Bartha said at the MipDrama Screenings.

It also proved one of their highlights. That was not perhaps so difficult. The series, which will air on RAI last quarter, and has already been renewed for a second season, is shot in the very same places the Medicis knew and frequented near six centuries ago: Costumes, decor, the embroidered cloth on which Cosimo and Contessina de Medici pledge their marriage troth is exquisite; locations – Florence’s Dome, for instance, are stunning. “This is the story of a family which created the future for others,” said Lux Vide CEO Luca Bernabei at Cannes by giving birth to the middle class”.

“We wanted to involve in this project the top creative Italian talent in order to create a world as truthful as possible to the golden age of the Renaissance,” he added.

Presented via a promo and three scenes excerpts, “Medici: Masters of Florence” also attempts more: To chart the depth of the Medici’s revolution, how in many ways they launched the modern age. Variety talked to Frank Spotnitz at MipTV as he presented a series which lifts the lid on the Renaissance, its glory, revolution, and compromises.

I sense that the “Medici: Masters of Florence” is already designed as a story which runs for more than one season, the first focusing on a crucial five years over 1429-34 when a still young Cosimo de Medici succeeds his murdered father as head of the Medici bank and battles to preserve his family’s power in Florence. You still have the rest of Cosimo’s long life and Lorenzo de Medici, his grandson, to go….

When you look at the story of the Medici family, it is incredibly rich and you have many, many chapters of the story that you could choose to tell. Our first challenge in approaching this story was which chapter to tell, and we landed on Cosimo ascending to leadership of the family upon the death of his father, Giovanni. We begin “Medici: Masters of Florence” with the early years of Cosimo’s leadership of the bank, which were critical not just to Florence, but to the Western world because so many ideas about art and commerce were cemented when he took over for his father. The series shows his deep love and respect for art, as was evidenced in his search for a solution to finishing the dome of the Cathedral. He was ultimately able to find an artist with an architectural mind, Brunelleschi, who was able to solve a puzzle that had confounded the Florentines for generations.

To frame the first season, we ask a historical ‘what if’: ‘What if Cosimo’s father Giovanni was murdered?’ The truth is, we don’t know how Giovanni died, or at least it’s not in any historical records I could find. It’s entirely possible he was murdered as we know there were attempts on his life. By asserting that he was murdered, it creates a murder mystery for us, and a pretty nifty way of framing all of the antagonists for the Medici family as suspects in Giovanni’s death.  It creates a natural interest in the story whether or not you are inherently curious about the Medici family — it becomes a family drama about a son who wants to know who killed his father.  That’s the focus of the first season.

For future seasons, we do not feel obligated to move in a straight line. We feel that we could skip to the next best juiciest chapter in the Medici saga as the show continues. There are many chapters of their story that are very interesting, so we have a rich choice of options.
Mexico’s Guillermo Arriaga once said that when you write a movie you think of one word or a phrase that embodies the essence of the movie and try to stick to it and be faithful to it. What could that word or short phrase be for “Medici: Masters of Florence.”

If I had to pick one word, perseverance comes to mind very quickly, as the Medici family is faced with many challenges from society, rivals and the existing power structure. One of the themes for Cosimo is “doing bad in order to do good” and he struggles with this notion and what is the moral cost to doing the right thing. While he is looking out for his family, he also continues to be concerned about the people of Florence and clearly wants to do things to help them. A lot of the characters sacrifice in order to do good.
One of the great debating points of history was what caused the Renaissance, as well as when it began. Answers run from the Bubonic plague to the Fall of Constantinople. What answer(s) does “Medici: Masters of Florence” suggest?

In our story the embers of the Renaissance are already glowing by the time Cosimo comes of age. You already have the ancient ruins of Rome being excavated and artists like Donatello traveling from Florence to Rome to study the wisdom of the ancients. We do not assert that Cosimo is single-handedly responsible for the Renaissance, but he is one of the people who recognizes that lost wisdom, and he wants to restore and learn from it. He does that by embracing artists who were considered radical at that time.  Being in charge of the bank, he commissions great works, including the finishing of the Duomo in Florence.
The story of the Renaissance really is only beginning in Season 1 of the series, and it comes into full flower two generations later with Lorenzo the Magnificent because he championed the works of great artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo and DaVinci.
“Medici: Masters of Florence” is an Italian-U.K. co-production – given your Big Light production house is London-based – with U.S. creators and writers which comes at a time when most people agree that the real battle for great series n the U.S. and Europe will be fought over great writing talent. How did you and Nicholas Meyer collaborate on the creation and then writing of “Medici: Masters of Florence”?

Nicholas Meyer came over to London and Italy so we were able to collaborate first in person and then long-distance after he returned to Los Angeles. One of the unique aspects of my company Big Light Productions is that it’s British but uses the best practices of American television writing. That is to say that a writer/producer leads the creative elements of the show and the writers’ room.
In the case of “Medici,” in addition to Nicholas Meyer we had a half-dozen extremely talented British writers who collaborated on the rest of the series over a period of several months, which resulted in the kind of detailed and carefully thought out storytelling that the best American series have to offer.
And in what ways is writing series for European companies different, if at all from writing for U.S. broadcasters?

Everything about the way television is organized in Europe is different from the way it is organized in America. Every country has a different culture and if you’re going to be in this business you have to have humility and listen to the concerns and sensitivities of your broadcast partners. The most successful relationships I’ve had in Europe have been with partners who understand the role of the writer/producer and empower them to do their best work. I consider “Medici” to be one of my happiest experiences since moving to Europe six years ago.
”Medici: Masters of Florence” will, I suspect, inevitably set out to capture the glory of and extraordinary revolution marked in financing, the arts and science by the Renaissance. How has the series set out to capture this?

Season 1 is really about Cosimo’s journey. In our story we emphasize his love of art and how he used his power and influence as head of the Medici bank to foster the revolutionary art that led to the Renaissance. Season 1 is really the beginning of the revolution and it’s only in future seasons of the series that we would see that revolution truly come to pass.

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