How Italy Drew ‘White Lotus’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ to Its Shores

As high-profile international productions continue to flock to Italy, its film commissions have joined forces, leaving producers’ old divide-and-conquer playbook in the dust.

“We believe that the success of one member is the success of all members,” says Cristina Priarone, president of the Italian Film Commissions Assn. The organization was created — alongside the Italy for Movies web site, with a searchable database — to help potential collaborators easily access information about available regional funds, and other advantages offered by different regions.

“This network has increased Italy’s talent to attract productions, welcome them at the highest level and easily move their sets from one region to another,” adds Toscana Film Commission’s Stefania Ippoliti.

In a country with a famously strong regional identity, such cooperation encourages foreign teams — already lured by Italy’s 40% tax rebates — to venture outside of their comfort zones when looking for locations.

As proven by the likes of the second season of HBO’s smash “The White Lotus,” Sicily is still a popular destination, “and not just for stories related to the old Mafia stereotype,” notes local film commission chief Nicola Tarantino — recent shoots include “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

Other films shot in Italy include Rob Marshall’s “The Little Mermaid,” which recently took advantage of Sardinia’s picturesque shores, and Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming series “Disclaimer” with Cate Blanchett and Kevin Kline.

Still, previously “undiscovered” locations from Campania to Basilicata and Piedmont, says Priarone, are also making their moves.

“As a former capital of Italy, Turin and all the Piedmont region have an outstanding collection of palaces, villas and gardens that are open for shoots. It’s also one of the few places in Italy where it’s possible to find an entire crew without having to bring in outside help,” says Paolo Manera, director of Torino Piemonte Film Commission. “Fast X” is one recent productions that ventured there.

Antonio Parente, the head of the Apulia Film Commission, says: “According to the stereotype that has been perpetrated for years, it was difficult to shoot in Italy due to the absence of infrastructure, complicated bureaucracy and poor services. In recent years, also thanks to the joint efforts of film commissions and other institutional bodies such as the Italian Ministry of Culture, important results have been achieved in changing this prejudice.”

The commissions are also focused on introducing greater uniformity between the regional funding schemes, he says.

The recent revamp of Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, following a €300 million ($331 million) investment — engineered by CEO Nicola Maccanico — hasn’t gone unnoticed by the industry, with the legendary spot welcoming “Conclave” with Ralph Fiennes, “Those About to Die,” directed by Roland Emmerich and Netflix’s “The Decameron.”

Alice Rohrwacher’s latest, Cannes-bound “La Chimera,” also partly shot in the region.

“These kinds of productions give our country a promotional boost, but our objective is to make sure this wave continues. And lasts! We are working hard, but it’s important to work harder, even when they are not here,” adds Priarone, also a general manager at Roma Lazio Film Commission.

Filmmakers are also noticing the country’s chameleon-like qualities.

“What Italy can offer has no limits: history and modernity, uncontaminated places and urban centers, mountainous landscapes and splendid beaches,” Parente says. “Our region [Puglia] is a good example of this flexibility. In fact, the amount of audiovisual works filmed in our region, but set in another place or at another time, increases every year.”

Since 2020, the main tool to support productions shooting in the region, the Apulia Film Fund, has awarded €17 million ($18 million) to 74 productions.

“Co-productions between European countries are encouraged, as they obtain a higher score in the evaluation process. For non-European producers there is a requirement to sign up with a European production partner in order to apply,” he says.

Praising Puglia’s “richness of colors” and mentioning Michael Winterbottom’s “Promised Land,” set during the lead-up to the 1948 partition of Palestine, Parente also names Western “That Dirty Black Bag” and big-scale environmental thriller “The Swarm” as productions shooting in the region.

“It was amazing to realize that Italy could double for so many different countries. In ‘The Swarm,’ Veneto stood for Vancouver Island, Puglia for France and the Shetland Islands, Rome for South Africa,” the show’s executive producer Ute Leonhardt says.

But there are still hurdles to overcome, with Manera observing that while local industry tries to keep up with the growing demand at such a fast pace, more time and resources will be needed to create solid tools serving to properly communicate and share information about the upcoming projects.

“We are working on creating more collaboration between government entities such as the Ministry of Culture, film commissions and local authorities, which would be beneficial for all productions. The good news is that it has already started,” Leonhardt says.

Another needed change? A simplification of the rules. “That legendary Italian bureaucracy is getting easier, but it’s still necessary to work on it. Our advice for filmmakers and productions is: Never do it by yourself,” urges Ippoliti.

Jacob Jarek, producer at Denmark’s Profile Pictures, notes about his experience on Christian Tafdrup’s psychological horror “Speak No Evil,” “The collaboration [with Italy] was relatively easy. However, we were promised support that ultimately didn’t come through. There should probably be more transparency and accountability on that front.”

Making sure that international productions can also boost local creativity is another goal for the future, especially new talent, as younger filmmakers, producers and distributors embrace opportunities that can start in Italy and stretch way beyond its borders.

“There has been a growth of international productions in Italy. However, we are aware that in the audiovisual market, as in all markets, there is a natural tendency to always look for … the new trendy location,” Parente says. “In response to such a trend, in addition to preserving the uniqueness of our country, our long-term strategy can only be to continue investing in what we consider our biggest assets, such as our authors and our stories.”

At the same time, Italy must constantly improve the quality of its services and infrastructure.

“Only by following these two parallel paths can we envision a sustainable future for our audiovisual system,” Parente says.

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