'Jersey Shore' in Italy: Outtakes From THR's July Cover Story

 Ian Spanier/MTV

What’s it take to shoot a reality show in Italy?

Try flying over a staff of more than 150, dealing with the Italian president’s sudden decision to close down the city center where you’re filming — and finding yourself locked in a train with a bunch of hardened criminals.

Those are some of the things Jersey Shore executive producer SallyAnn Salsano had to deal with in Florence, the location for season 4, which kicks off tonight.

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The train was the worst — though luckily for Salsano, castmates Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Nicole “Snooki” Palozzi were nowhere around at the time, when Salsano and her key crew were scouting locations early this year.

“It was late,” recalls Amy Griggs, executive in charge of production for Salsano’s 495 Prods. “We were schlepping our bags. We were half-asleep, we were so exhausted and someone had recommended the bullet train from Rome to Florence — and we got on the wrong train, full of criminals, chained up with cops.”

Thank God they remained chained up, a fate some viewers might wish for the cast.

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Coping with criminals may have been easy compared to the other challenges, like choosing which city to shoot in. After toying with filming in Rome (too expensive), Milan (too modern) and Riccone (too dull), the producers settled on Florence, where they shot on a set built in a former bank — with lights and cameras like a movie studio.
Why the bank? Because the producers needed a building that could contain a crew of 165 (including some 150 Americans and locals), along with the cast and offices.

They also had to obtain permits — not just for the building itself but for every club, tanning salon and gym the cast might want to visit.

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Every time you see Jersey’s cast hit a disco or pizza joint, the place has been scouted in advance, so the crew knows where to set up. Owners have also been paid for shooting permits. There’s a whole book available to all the cast members showing just which joints they can hit and which ones they can’t.

In the “no” category: some of Florence’s choicest museums, which either didn’t want the Jersey cast or proved too expensive for shooting.

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Finding the right location and getting it set up delayed the start of shooting, which meant the cast had to be flown out later than expected and almost meant the show wouldn’t have been able to air August 4. (If you wonder why you don’t see the cast on the plane in tonight’s episode, it’s because the change of dates meant a change of airline, and no time to lock up permits to shoot on it.)

The problem finding a locale meant equipment had to be air freighted — some 20 tons’ worth — because there wasn’t enough time to ship it by sea.
All this delayed the start of production from the third week of April to early May, and then production was further delayed when president Silvio Berlusconi chose to visit Florence, shutting down the city center altogether.

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Expenses involved in the shoot were mindboggling, from $220,000 just for shipping the gear, to $500,000 for the 27 security personnel and police. The food budget alone was $250,000; air flights came to $275,000; and hiring a helicopter for a single shot cost $20,000.

And not even money could solve everything.

“It’s a very slow process here,” Griggs notes.

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