Since Cinecittà Studios was founded in 1937, the sprawling facilities have driven the golden age of Cinema Italiano.
The famed city of cinema has also, albeit intermittently, been a magnet for international productions and endured wild fluctuations in the country’s political climate, before recently reemerging as a new frontier for the country’s film and TV industry.
Located in the heart of the Mediterranean basin, a short ride from the center of Rome and its airports, Italy’s top production hub has to date, hosted more than 3,000 films that have earned 53 Oscars.
During the period following World War II, the studios forged close ties to Hollywood, which helped the Italian industry gain its international standing.
The myriad Italian pics made at the studios range from Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (1960) and “8½” (1963) to Nanni Moretti’s “Sogni D’Oro” (1981), Sergio Leone’s epic “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean” (1998) Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” (2008) and, more recently, his TV series “The New Pope” in 2019.
Moretti is currently back on the Cinecittà lot shooting his period piece “Il Sol Dell’Avvenire,” set in Rome from the 1950s to the 1970s.
U.S. blockbusters shot at Cinecittà during the postwar period notably include William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” (1959), which employed 15,000 extras, Robert Wise’s “Helen of Troy” (1956), “Cleopatra” (1963) and Carol Reed’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (1965).
Standout Hollywood pics made at Cinecittà since then include Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic,” Ron Howard’s “Angels and Demons” and, more recently, Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes” and Michael Bay’s “6 Underground,” both for Netflix, and Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” for MGM.
Stan McCoy, chief of the Motion Picture Assn. for Europe, noted at the Venice Film Festival last year that, “as far back as 1914, American producers were coming to Italy to make silent films, so there is a great tradition.”
Pivoting to the present, McCoy said, “The exciting thing about the €300 million [$321 million] investment that is being made in Cinecittà is they now have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of technology, which is absolutely critical in making the best international content.”
Cinecittà chief Nicola Maccanico, in his push for the studios to become the top one-stop shop for productions in Europe, is basically focusing on two main aspects. One is new facilities with state-of-the-art green screen, VR motion capture and LED wall stages, and also high-end post and dubbing services, as well as an indoor water tank. The other is backlot space, which is expected to soon double.
“For modern studios to have a great availability of backlot is a great magnet because productions these days often need to do virtual reality shoots in a soundstage, but then they also need to build exterior sets,” Maccanico says.
He points out that the studios’ production-skills training program is now adding high-tech training for VR alongside traditional training for crews, craftsmen and costume makers and call this “our responsibility toward the Italian industry and its global role.”
Cinecittà’s other big selling point is Italy’s tax incentives, which have been upped to 40% of eligible production costs.
And then there is what you might call the Italian X-factor.
Triple Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti — who has worked with Fellini and, more recently become Martin Scorsese’s regular collaborator — fondly recounts how the clincher in getting the director to shoot “Gangs of New York” at Cinecittà was the food.
“I took him to lunch at La Cascina, a restaurant near the studios,” he says. “Marty initially wanted to shoot the film in Romania. But after that lunch he changed his mind.”