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After ‘My Brilliant Friend,’ Italy’s Wildside Ramps Up High-End Production (EXCLUSIVE)

After scoring a coup with the TV adaptation of “My Brilliant Friend,” and with projects such as Paolo Sorrentino’s “The New Pope” and Oscar-nominated director Pawel Pawlikowski’s next film in the pipeline, Italy’s Wildside is in a pretty brilliant spot.

Ten years after being co-founded by producers Mario Gianani and Lorenzo Mieli, the shingle is expanding its international footprint and is on its way toward becoming, as Mieli puts it, “a home for big auteurs, both directors and writers…who can generate stories that can travel.” This can also mean mainstream-minded talents, he said.

That game plan includes Wildside’s first English-language series, about the life of film and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn, and other high-end projects in various stages. Among these is an “ambitious” new film by U.S.-trained Italian director Emanuele Crialese, who broke out with “Respiro” and helmed an episode of the recent Getty kidnap series “Trust.” No other details are available on this project which has not been previously announced.

There’s also the Italian series “Anna,” set in a post-apocalyptic Sicily, from writer-turned-showrunner Niccolò Ammaniti (“The Miracle”). Ammaniti is now casting in Sicily for this show based on his novel about a 13-year-old Sicilian girl contending with a virus that has killed off all adults.

And most controversially, perhaps, Wildside is adapting for television Antonio Scurati’s novel “M,” a bestseller about the rise of Benito Mussolini that has sparked debate about the Fascist dictator’s legacy in Italy and abroad.

The eight-episode adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” was helmed entirely by Saverio Costanzo, who is also a partner in Wildside. Costanzo who broke out with “Private” and directed Adam Driver-starrer “Hungry Hearts,” was previously known mainly on the festival circuit. The Ferrante adaptation marks a high point for the company because just a few years ago it would have been “unthinkable,” says Mieli, for a series “by an auteur, with no stars, and in Neapolitan dialect with subtitles” to play concurrently on HBO and Italian pubcaster RAI, where it scored a whopping 30% primetime share.

Wildside’s rapport with HBO started with Sorrentino’s “The Young Pope,” which Wildside brought to them as a fully developed project with Jude Law already attached to star. The U.S. success of that show “changed everything” for the company, which “decided to really push into high-end series for the international market,” said Gianani.

He said that because “Italy is coming from a 20-year gap,” in terms of its standing in the global film and TV arena, Wildside is also looking outside the country for screenwriters and directors such as Pawlikowski, though not in the U.S.

“Lorenzo and Mario are both deeply intelligent and funny,” Francesca Orsi, HBO’s co-head of drama, said in an email. She added that the whole creative team at Wildside “have a depth, wit and emotional elegance to them, without being pretentious” and that “this is the spirit that drives their creative decisions and  informs the ideas they bring to us.”

Fremantle acquired Wildside in 2015, right before “The Young Pope” started shooting. “We really needed an industrial partner to support the development of our bigger projects,” Mieli said. Wildside’s modus operandi is to always finance development themselves before shopping a project to broadcasters.

Since 2015, Wildside’s revenues have grown from €12 million ($13.7 million) to about €67 million ($76.6 million) in 2018, while profits during the same period rose from less than $1 million to more than $10 million last year.

Besides “My Brilliant Friend” and “The New Pope,” Wildside’s recent productions also include some strictly local product such as comedy “Attenti al Gorilla,” now playing in Italian cinemas, and “Romolo + Giuly” a Romeo and Juliet spoof series aired by Sky Italia and set amid Italy’s contemporary north-south conflict.

Wildside projects in the pipeline (some previously announced):

“Limonov”: Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida,” “Cold War”) will next direct this adaptation of French author Emmanuel Carrere’s novelized biography of radical Russian poet and political dissident Eduard Limonov.

“Anna”: Niccolò Ammaniti, whose “The Miracle” launched positively in France this January after bowing last year on Sky in Italy, is now casting in Sicily for this show based on his novel about a 13-year-old Sicilian girl contending with a virus that has killed off all adults. It has elements of “The Walking Dead” and “Hunger Games.”

“M”: Italian author Antonio Scurati’s controversial bestseller about Benito Mussolini and the birth of Fascism is being developed into a high-end skein to be helmed by a top director. The book, translated in 70 countries, has provoked debate about Mussolini’s legacy. “We think it’s something that can be controversial but very interesting,” said Mieli, adding that they do not want to “be revisionists and provoke and say that he was a great man.”

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