(THR) In its heyday, Cinecitta was the land of Federico Fellini, who shot all of his films in its studios and claimed he was never more at home than in Studio 5. Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Hayward, Robert Taylor and Kirk Douglas shot popular sword-and-sandal films in the studios. Women like Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg and Monica Vitti rose to fame through their work at Cinecitta.
Despite a few big films over the years, including Gangs of New York, The Life Aquatic, Ocean’s Twelve and last year’s Everest, Cinecitta is still mostly associated with its glory days of the 1950s and 1960s and has had trouble rebuilding its brand.
As the euro climbed, business fled. A previous dollar exchange rate at 1.43 meant U.S. productions were instantly spending 40 percent more on the continent. In 2012, Cinecitta’s reputation was greatly hurt by local trade unions striking. Aiming to draw media attention, they claimed the studios were closing to turn into resorts.
But things are turning around. Now, the euro to dollar ratio is nearing 1:1, and many experts expect it to fall even more. And after much industry lobbying, facing tough competition from the U.S. and the U.K., Italy instated a tax credit for film productions in 2010. The industry then lobbied to remove the credit’s cap, and last July, Italy lifted its tax credit limit from €5 million per movie to €10 million per company per year.
“Among the most important international brands we have, the first is Ferrari. The second is Cinecitta,” said CEO Giuseppe Basso, who is ready for a new era in Cinecitta’s history.
While Cinecitta is not short on local productions, with a full 20 soundstages, he says it is made for Hollywood. Basso is embarking on a tour of Los Angeles this week to meet with various executives to sell the studios’ services and explain the Italian tax credit.
While Basso sees U.K. offerings as his biggest competitor, he claims the Italian tax credits are easier to administrate and the cash benefits are immediate. Italy also offers lower rates for manpower, construction builds and space rentals than many of its European counterparts. And it’s usually not difficult to draw A-list talent to a long shoot in Rome.
Currently in preproduction at the studios is Paramount’s Zoolander 2. Ben Stiller visited the studios last June and took a tour with his daughter. “I think he always had a desire to shoot in Rome,” said Basso. “People are influenced by all of the directors who have shot here before. It’s an inspiring place. ”
Zoolander 2 will shoot in five soundstages over five months beginning in May. Despite a few city shoots, it is expected to be shot almost entirely within Cinecitta Studios.
Also currently at the studios is the new Ben-Hur remake, starring Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman. Basso sees the film as a turning point in Cinecitta’s comeback. It is shot 100 percent in Italy, mostly in Cinecitta, as well as on location in Madera, Castel Romano and Ostia.
Ben-Hur producers were always intent on shooting where the original film was shot. But with the new tax credits, they’ll also save about €14 million, as opposed to €5 million if they had shot last year.
Contrary to media reports, Ben-Hur’s producers claim they never asked to shoot the infamous chariot scene at Circus Maximus. They’re currently building the chariot set on the backlot of theCinecitta World theme park. The film will have more visual effects than its 1959 predecessor, building only a section of the racetrack. The rest will be mirrored with CGI. The set is expected to remain at Cinecitta World as part of MGM’s and Paramount’s deal, and may be open to visitors or other productions in the future.
Next year Sky’s live-action comic book series Diabolik will shoot at the studios, with Cinecitta regular, Oscar- winner Dante Ferretti already signed up for production design. (THR)