Hollywood goes to the Sassi
- Ben Hur's remake entirely shot in Italy
“Tell me about the status of tax credits in Italy”: executive producer Enzo Sisti, going through his e-mails while on the telephone for an interview with Cinema & Video International, comments: “this is a recurring question from US producers and gives you an idea of the importance of the existence of this type of incentive”.
Sisti has a lot of work on at the moment and it is taking him time and again to Matera: last fall the producer was in the city of “stones” or “Sassi” for Christ the Lord, a movie about the childhood of Christ directed by Cyrus Novrasteh and produced by Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Tracy K. Price and Mark Radcliffe.
He will be returning to Matera, where he had already worked on the executive production of Mel Gibson’s The Passion, on February 2nd to shoot Ben Hur (the remake of the famous 1959 movie directed by William Wiler, starring Charlton Heston), a Hollywood blockbuster produced by Metro Goldwin Mayer, directed by Timur Bekmambetov with Morgan Freeman in the lead role.
“We will be filming in Matera for five weeks”, confirms Sisti, who is also the executive producer of this movie, “we will do the outdoor scenes for Ben Hur’s palace as well as some other scenes that we will be using visual effects to connect to the scenes we shoot in Rome”.
Rome means Cinecittà which, along with Cinecittà World, will welcome the rest (just over half) of the movie. Because the 100 million dollar budget Ben Hur will be filmed entirely in Italy, spending around two thirds of its budget in our country: nothing like this has happened since the times of Gangs of New York.
“It was made possible,” continues Sisti who, following the pessimism of recent years, is starting to see things in a rosy light again, “thanks to the full collaboration of Luigi Abete who made land available in Cinecittà World (the former De Laurentiis studios) for reconstructing the track for the chariot race, the historic Studios of Cinecittà, the Lazio Region and the Roma-Lazio Film Commission and, naturally the city of Matera and the Basilicata Region, its Film Commission and the APT (The Basilicata Tourist Board).
However, the deciding factor was the measure presented last year by Minister Franceschini which boosted our tax incentives, doubling the tax credit limit for the executive production companies working on foreign films in Italy from 5 to 10 million Euros.
In fact 10 million is the amount for which the producers of Ben Hur have requested a tax credit. “Tax credits are the key and the best advertisement for us around the world”. Sisti has no doubts: “Without the tax credit, the production would only have filmed in Matera for a few weeks, instead of the ones scheduled”. This opinion is supported by the growing number of Hollywood productions that have started coming to Italy since last year: apart from the movies already mentioned we can add Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Spectre (the new 007 film) and Zoolander 2. It is estimated that they will bring around 150 million Euros of investment to Italy.
But it is not just a question of money. Enzo Sisti returns to a subject very close to his heart: “The crisis we have experienced in recent years has led to a decline in the craftsmen that have always made us the envy of the world movie industry and that only big productions can recreate.
I am talking about the grips, electricians, carpenters, costume designers, makeup artists, dressmakers”. Ben Hur is a paradigmatic case, the artistic cast is all–American, but the technical crew, around 300 professionals, is 90% Italian. Now the conditions are right for reconstructing this framework of excellence. “We are working towards getting some trainees from the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia involved as well as from some of the best Italian film schools”. Does this mean that we are starting out again?
Waiting for 2019/Christ returns to Matera
Christ has returned to Matera announced an article in Le Monde, published a few weeks ago. He has returned via the movies, fifty years after Pasolini’s The Gospel according to Matthew and 10 years after The Passion by Mel Gibson. He returned with Christ the Lord last year and, in February, will return with Ben Hur, when a crew of 350 people will occupy Matera for five weeks. “The city is ready”, Paride Leporace, the director of the Lucana Film Commission assures us.
And it is also ready for the media fair which will culminate in 2019, the year in which the city becomes the European Capital of Culture. In the nearer future, the production of Ben Hur will involve an expenditure of around 3.5 million Euros. “It will raise the region’s GDP by a few points”, ventures Leporace who, after having taken part in the location hunting, has concluded the selection for the casting of the two thousand or so extras.
And, with a certain amount of pride, he tells Cinema & Video International that he involved some voluntary associations to help him find the many colored extras the movie requires. An excellent example of integration with the territory. Leporace is also looking into initiatives which could create opportunities for encounter between the artists in the film and the people of Matera, as well as looking further to the future in the hope that the sets can be preserved for a museum project. But, for the moment, the priority is that the logistical machine continues to move ahead smoothly.
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