In early March, one day before cameras were set to roll in Milan on upcoming Netflix Italian original “Zero,” about the lives of black Italian youths, producer Nicola De Angelis and the streaming giant decided to halt production on the show due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Italy was not yet on lockdown, but De Angelis and Netflix Director of International Originals Felipe Tewes agreed that going ahead would have been complicated “and posed a serious health threat to the cast and crew,” whom, De Angelis points out, Netflix is now trying to support economically during the interlude until shooting restarts.
“Zero” actors, several of whom are non-professionals, are meanwhile being coached remotely, as scripts get polished in hopes that shooting can take place sometime this summer.
Italy is the hardest hit country in Europe, with 25,549 deaths to date, and 189,973 confirmed cases. Its death toll is second only to the U.S., which has recorded 44,014 deaths to date.
When the crisis hit Italy, before the rest of Europe, “it was really important to us to continue with our strategy of having great content on our service, and specifically having great Italian content,” says Tewes. He notes that Netflix had been “ramping up” in Italy and that has not stopped.
Netflix’s various Italian production partners all had projects in different stages. So “we took a pretty tailored approach,” says Tewes. While season one of “Zero” was close to shooting, season three of crimer “Suburra,” Netflix’s first Italian original produced by ITV-owned Cattleya, was days away from wrapping.
Meanwhile, season three of “Baby,” the Netflix show on teen prostitution in Rome produced by De Angelis’ Fabula Pictures, had already wrapped before lockdown and was scheduled to go into post. It’s now going through that process following rigorous security protocols.
Another Netflix Italy original, “Curon,” a supernatural drama set in a Northern Italian village submerged by water was in the middle of post when the crisis hit. The virus forced Alessandro Mascheroni, line producer for Milan’s Indiana Production, to radically re-think the workflow so it could largely be done remotely. “Netflix reacted very rapidly to the situation,” Mascheroni says, specifying he “immediately” got “moral and economic support,” as well as guidance. When it came to on-the-ground details, he pretty much received carte blanche.
“Fedelta,” a relationship-focused drama series based on a bestseller by Italian author Marco Missiroli, was in early development following a deal between Netflix and producer Angelo Barbagallo, who says the streamer has “given us security” following the pandemic. Barbagallo, whose Bibi Film has recruited a writing team comprising rising star writer-director Elisa Amoruso (“Chiara Ferragni Unposted”) and Alessandro Fabbri (“The Trial”) and Laura Colella, also praises Netflix for being close to the entire Italian production community through a €1 million ($1.08 million) hardship fund recently launched in tandem with Italy’s film commissions.
“Netflix reached out to us because we really have the pulse of various productions of all sizes — from big players to ultra-indies — across the country,” says Cristina Priarone, head of the Italian Film Commissions umbrella group.
According to Tewes, the rationale behind the hardship fund being channelled through Italy’s film commissions was a desire to ensure its support received “the most breadth and reach,” on projects that aren’t only limited to Netflix.
The upshot of Netflix’s relief effort is they have a robust Italian pipeline continuing to percolate despite the pandemic.
In addition, the previously announced opening of a Netflix office in Rome, which remains on track though the date is up in the air, will “take on a whole new depth of importance,” says Tewes.
Looking forward, Netflix will drop its latest Italian original, Cattleya’s teen romancer “Summertime” (pictured), on April 29, followed by planned 2020 launches for “Baby 3,” “Curon” and likely “Suburra 3.”