×

‘Piranhas’ Director Claudio Giovannesi on Training Street Teens to Play Gangsters

Claudio Giovannesi’s third feature “Piranhas,” which screens in Berlin’s competition, depicts Neapolitan teen gangsters drawing from a novel by star author Roberto Saviano whose mob exposé “Gomorrah” spawned a pluriprized movie and a game-changing TV series. Giovannesi spoke to Variety about the challenge of adapting Saviano given what came before and how he trained his non-professional cast.

How did you go about striking a different tone in adapting Saviano? 

Garrone’s “Gomorrah” movie is genial and groundbreaking. And I shot two episodes of the “Gomorrah” TV series. I did not want to replicate either of those works. My approach was to distance myself from the TV series and say: ‘I don’t want to make a genre film.’ The starting point with the producer and the screenwriter [Maurizio Braucci] was: we are not doing “Gomorrah” with kids. We are going to work on the emotional aspect; on the characters’ feelings and their fragility. The film asks the question: what happens to the emotional life of adolescents when they embark on a criminal journey?

The visuals are powerful. Can you talk to me about working with cinematographer Daniele Ciprì?

The kids’ faces had to be at the center of the frame. We placed the camera at their same height. The movie is their point of view, without casting judgement. The other thing is we decided to work with color; to depict innocence through their adolescent facial expressions against the backdrop of Naples’ ancient quarters with their colorful vitality. These were the choices that guided the mise en scène.

How did you find the amazing kids?

We did a six-month casting search and literally saw 4,000 kids. We were seeking 3 things. 1) Innocence, rather than criminal iconography. 2) They had to have experience of the world we were representing. 3) An innate acting talent. They had to be able to express their emotional side. We searched for them in the areas where the film is set. They did not come to us. 

And how did you train them?

We did three-month workshops focussed on getting them in touch with their emotional memory and not on striking bad boy poses. We also shot the film in sequence…which helped them get into character. None of the kids read the book, or even the script in its entirety. We told them the story and gave them their lines day-by-day.

How much did you draw from Saviano’s book?

We drew from it but kept the film’s focus on the dynamics of how kids enter the criminal system in Naples.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content