Rome Revamps ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’ to Recover Lost Stars
A half century ago, when Audrey Hepburn raced through “Roman Holiday” on a Vespa scooter, the Italian capital’s Cinecitta Studios were known as “Hollywood on the Tiber.”
These days, much of the magic and business is gone as filmmakers head for lower-cost locales such as Budapest and Bucharest. To get back on track, Cinecitta aims to spend 675 million euros ($934 million) on a new hotel and amusement park to make the studios more competitive. Unions oppose the plans.
“I’d love to just make movies, but that’s not happening; there’s less work everywhere,” said Lamberto Mancini, Cinecitta’s general manager. “We need to broaden our scope.”
Producers and directors say filming in eastern Europe costs 15 percent to 25 percent less than at Cinecitta. Last year, Italian filmmakers spent 71 percent of their total budgets abroad, according to the Italian actors’ union, costing Italy some 38 million euros in lost salaries, fees and tax revenue.
“The professional level at Cinecitta is very high, but sadly so are the costs,” said director Isotta Toso, who shot small parts of her debut film “Clash of Civilizations for an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio” at Cinecitta.
In the 1950s and 60s, Italy was the place with competitive prices as American directors flocked to Cinecitta. Hollywood stars inspired director Federico Fellini’s 1960 film “La Dolce Vita,” which depicted Rome’s new café society and was shot in Cinecitta’s Studio 5, one of the largest sound stages in Europe.
The studios are “where American and Italian cinema met, creating a kind of magic,” said Riccardo Tozzi, producer of the 1999 film “Tea With Mussolini” and the 2002 film “Ripley’s Game” with John Malkovich. “It’s our heritage and should be preserved.”
Over the past half century, production at the studios has fallen by about two-thirds to around 90 movies and TV shows in the past two years, Mancini said. Italy’s version of “Big Brother” reality show is currently made there and Cinecitta was home to the BBC and HBO series Rome” from 2004 to 2007.
“We used to work on one movie after another and couldn’t wait to end a production to get at least a few weeks of rest, now the pauses last months, for some even years,” said set designer Vincenzo De Camillis, who worked with Oscar-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore.
Today, Cinecitta employs some 250 people, and about 5,000 more find occasional work on productions there, half the level of employment in the 1960s, the unions say.
To recapture some of the magic, Mancini is spending 175 million euros on offices, equipment, post-production facilities, a hotel, restaurant and spa. In 2014, a 500 million-euro theme park called Cinecitta World is set to open on land the studio owns south of the capital. The project includes roller-coasters and rides based on Fellini films and classics like Ben-Hur.
Unions for actors and crew don’t like the idea. They say it won’t boost employment in the industry and would rather see investments in technology and better filmmaking facilities.
“I don’t see how a hotel and an amusement park will bring more jobs,” said Umberto Carretti, head of Italy’s film crew union. “It sounds like a lot of real estate speculation.”
Unions point to the 1982 sale of studio land that was supposed to be home to an auditorium and multimedia center and ended up as a shopping mall called Cinecitta 2.
“They’d be better off developing cinema-related activities,” said Mario Breglia, chairman of real-estate research firm Scenari Immobiliari. “The land is not hugely valuable for housing, I’d avoid playing the amateur developer.”
Cinecitta has seen hard times before. Founded by Benito Mussolini in 1937, the area was bombed during World War II and then used to house refugees after the war. Following economic hardship and fires that destroyed sets in the 1980s, the state- owned enterprise nearly collapsed. In 1997 a group of Italian companies bought it for $35 million and the focus gradually shifted to TV shows and commercials alongside films.
One of the last large productions made there was Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” in 2002. Today, the brownstones and storefronts of the 19th-century Manhattan set, which rise out of the windswept lot like a ghost town, are reused for smaller productions.
To contact the reporters on this story: Alessandra Migliaccio in Rome at email@example.com;