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The American concept of the showrunner is a relatively new one in Italy. But a new generation of young writers, Ludovica Rampoldi, 36, Stefano Sardo, 43, and Alessandro Fabbri, 36, are hoping to change that. The trio are behind the widely acclaimed new political series 1992, which premieres Tuesday to over 20 million subscribers across Sky TV’s five networks.
The trio, in addition to writing credits, were also granted “created by” credits, almost unheard of in Italy. As creative producers, they saw the series through from creation to completion. Bolstered by Sky Italia’s new production initiatives, the group is intent on putting Italian television back in the international spotlight. Rampoldi was also a writer on the popular Sky Italia series Gomorrah, which is already under way with season two.
The team behind 1992 represents Italy’s new creative class. Directed by a talented young voice, Giuseppe Gagliardi, 1992 is a look at Italy’s infamous political upheaval, which ended in the “clean hands” operation that brought the fall of the first republic. In its place came businessmen and media moguls to run the country. Starring Stefano Accorsi, Guido Caprino, Domenico Diele, Miriam Leone, Tea Falco and Alessandro Roja, 1992 follows six ordinary people’s lives to tell the complicated political history in a setup as engaging as Game of Thrones with a ruthlessness straight from House of Cards.
The period comes to life in vivid detail, through the lens of Italy’s new go-to cinematographer Michele Paradisi, and sets made with nostalgic precision by Francesca Di Mottola and costumes by Roberto Chiocchi. Editor Francesca Calvelli pulls the narratives together.
Rampoldi, Sardo and Fabbri are currently at work on 1993, the ideal being to create a trilogy for the series. Given Italy’s current political climate, interest for the series abroad is high, and has already been sold by Beta Film in Scandinavia to HBO Nordic, Benelux to Telenet and Lumiere, and in Spain to Canal Plus. An announcement for North American rights is expected shortly.
THR spoke with the next generation of showrunners about how they’re changing the course of Italian television, one series at a time.
THR: How did you see your role on 1992 as showrunners?
Sardo: As you know, in Italy we are not used to having showrunners for TV series, which we think is one of the main reasons to explain why for a few years Italian series haven’t been so satisfying in terms of critics and sales abroad. When you have a showrunner you can have a unique vision brought from the very beginning to the end of the creative process. This is the way the industry has found to create original products, which are felt by the audience as something personal and deep.
In Italy there’s not this way of work and so it was hard to push to get this project to be organized like this. This was a completely original idea, original because we invented the story, but also original in terms of an unusual concept for the Italian industry.
Together with the producers, we chose the directors, the cast. We participated in all the shootings and the post-production process. But we didn’t have the final cut and we didn’t have the allocation of budget, which is the main difference from a real showrunner.
Rampoldi: So we say we are “show-walkers.” We know it’s the first step.
Fabbri: We’re on the road to become runners.
Were you influenced by any American showrunners?
Rampoldi: We’re very fond of Mad Men and were also inspired by Boss, a very Shakespearean political drama that came before House of Cards.
Stefano Accorsi also plays a kind of Don Draper character with a dark secret.
Rampoldi: Yes, do you remember there was an episode in which Don Draper has to sell a particular product, Richard Nixon? So when I saw that episode I felt that in this particular scene there is the key to understand 20 years of Italian politics. Because, of course, our politics were unique, intertwined with advertising and TV.
Fabbri: They were businessmen, but they understood that that structure which was spread all around the country could turn into a political party.
Rampoldi: They were sellers and they sold a dream.
Sardo: Door by door.
Fabbri: And television by television. Which means door by door, exactly.
Sardo: So we have to think how this started, when this started. And we try also to make people abroad understand a little bit more of what a mess Italy is today.
A lot of these stories could indeed take place today.
Fabbri: We have created kind of universal stories, you know, led by the main characters. But we also wanted to reach a nostalgia effect. The newspapers every day help us to say that this particular story is very real because Italy always has this problem. The fight between law and politics is one of the main unsolved things of our country.
Rampoldi: Yeah in Europe we were the most corrupted country last year. To build a meter of tube you have to pay four times more. In the character of Luca Pastore, the cop who is HIV positive, we wanted to build a powerful metaphor of what corruption is for our country, a disease that can be fought, but cannot be cured.
What was most challenging about writing the series?
Fabbri: Everything. Deciding which things not to put in. You can imagine one thousand things every month of that year and then you have to choose the more thematic events for the characters.
Rampoldi: And when we were writing, we realized that we had a multi-strand series but without an arena. It’s a very hard thing to have. Grey’s Anatomy has the hospital and Mad Man has the advertising agency. Our arena is Italian politics.
Sardo: Structurally speaking it’s a little bit like Game of Thrones. Because people are fighting for the powers but each of them have a different storyline, a different arena. Our struggle was also to keep it sexy. To keep it not just dark and noire but sexy, to feel that power and sex are on the same table, in Italy specifically.
Fabbri: Because ’92 was a year of new life there was this strong feeling in Italy that everything can happen now. So that’s the bright side of every character: new hope.
Do you hope this will pave the way for more showrunners in Italy?
Sardo: Something really must change in the heart of the industry. We also hope that maybe new players will come here like the Amazon or Netflix. If they come, willing to produce, and they use their methods that they use in the U.S. then everything will change very quickly. And then it would be very interesting. We know we have very talented writers but we’re kind of suffocated right now.
We have to see what happens. These 20 years that we’ve lived in Italy, we lived it under a very dark cloud in terms of freedom. In terms of editorial freedom, there was no competition because the national TV was directed by people chosen by Berlusconi and private TV was owned by Berlusconi. And Sky was really new at the time. They were producing a small amount of things, so basically if you wanted to do something different you couldn’t go to anybody to propose that. So if the player comes with the will of being original and controversial, then everything will change quickly.
Rampoldi: Yeah and the success of Gomorrah put a spotlight on Italian fiction. It was sold in over a hundred countries, for the first time in Italy. We can achieve quality and we can make series like the American ones.
Sardo: Strangely enough, people abroad are always kind of interested in Italy because we’re kind of like a brand, you know. We’ve got mafia, we’ve got corruption, we’ve got food, we’ve got sexiness. It’s not like being even German, it’s not so interesting, in terms of brand. We’re one of the few countries which everybody knows something, has an opinion about Italy. It’s not like Poland. They don’t really have a specific opinion about Poland. It’s not the Polish people’s fault. It’s just how it is. So we have to be capable to create narration about this country and create a new sensation.
But really we need to have competition. We have to create a freedom and we have to follow the vision of somebody to the very end of the process. So we should reach a point in which we have a final cut, and we should choose actors, and we choose everything. We really hope that this little achievement that we have here could be helpful to someone else and change the landscape.
So you’re writing now the next part of the trilogy? What can we expect in 1993 and 1994?
Fabbri: Those three years are the transition between the first and the second republic so it’s very particular period of time.
Sardo: And then the different arenas converge because Berlusconi and many politicos start to go up against each other.
Rampoldi: It’s like King’s Landing but they go to the parliament.
Sardo: Yeah exactly. Finally the dragons get to town.
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