A young director falls in love with a movie by the author of The Great Beauty. A few months later, almost by accident, he find himself working with him and learning from him important lessons of cinema and humanity. (Leggi in Italiano)
“Andrea, I thought about it and had this idea: you should make the professor appear on a swaying swing, the ropes all covered in colorful flowers. Mounted over the student’s bed. In a voice over, have her conjugate a verb in Greek, just before her stretched-out legs come into the frame,” he told me, pleased as a little kid, “you’ll see how much better it works. The rest is fine as it is.”
But that happened the year after. First we have to take a step back.
It was hot, too hot for mid-May. I was running a little late and the badge I was wearing on a cord around my neck bounced against my chest, twisting around itself as I rushed to get to that out-of-the-way little room together with two friends, classmates of mine at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, National School of Film in Rome. It was 2004, we were in Cannes and they were about to re-show a film that, two hours later, I would add to my list of the most important films of my life. Not only for its objective qualities and merits, which brought it incredibly close to my own personal concept of Cinema based on a perfectly balanced mix of form and content, but also because it later turned out to be a sign, an exciting antecedent of what was to come.
The movie was Le conseguenze dell'amore (aka The consequences of love). The filmmaker, Paolo Sorrentino.
A little less than a year later as I was studying at the Centro Sperimentale, a workshop on the 'sequence shot' was held as part of the directing and screenwriting classes. This workshop required each student to write and make a mini short to be shot without any cutting away or editing. Every year the school brought in a professional of Italian cinema to hold these workshops for the second-year students. That year, the guest teacher was … Paolo Sorrentino! In a wonderful coincidence, I was about to have the opportunity to work side-by-side for an entire quarter with the director whose most recent film had so impressed me the year before at Cannes. Seized by unstoppable and perfectly reasonable euphoria, a few short days after Paolo presented the guidelines for the workshop, I was already there handing in my script…completely finished. Long before the actual deadline. The script was inspired by a theatrical piece from a very well-known Italian artist, Giorgio Gaber, in which a series of eccentric characters traipse through a teenage boy’s nighttime fantasies. With the addition of the famous swing, my short was ready to shoot and I had come into perfect harmony with Sorrentino.
You’re ‘the new guy’ and you have to prove your worth
Paolo was set to start shooting on L'amico di famiglia (aka The family friend) in mid-September, so at that point in April he was in pre-production. When he told me he had already talked with the dean of the school about me participating in his project as second assistant director, it blew my mind. And, and you can well imagine, I had already said yes before he had even finished making the invitation. Even Nicola Giuliano, Sorrentino’s long-time producer and professor of Production at the Centro Sperimentale, championed my involvement in the movie. I was to finish shooting my short on September 20th and then immediately dash to Nicola and Paolo’s set in a town not far from Rome. I couldn’t wait.
In those weeks of shooting, I was able to gain a first-hand view of how genius (and, at the same time, meticulous and careful) a director can be. Of how amazing Paolo Sorrentino is, and how impressive and demanding a cinematographic set can be. I learned so much from that experience. Truffaut used to say that the director is the person everyone is always asking questions of; the one who must necessarily hold everything together. Watching Paolo work, I understood that the insights of the French master were no exaggeration. Watching Paolo work confirmed for me the elements that are truly fundamental for anyone who wants to do this job: you must have clear ideas, determination and a confident attitude. Paolo certainly has all that. Meticulousness, strictness, a certain measure of ‘authority’ (careful, though, that it doesn’t turn into authoritarianism!) – I think these are essential on any set. That’s the only way to guide the ship as it cuts through rather stormy seas. Paolo once said that Cinema is the only world in which you can enact a necessary dictatorship without feeling guilty about it. If you read this sentence superficially, it may seem like a pointless exaggeration. But in reality it isn’t exaggerated at all: you are the captain and, even though the film is a huge group effort, at the end of the day it is you the director who is responsible for it. It’s not easy to stay focused but you have to do it anyway.
I observed Paolo a great deal in terms of this, I made a careful study of the behavior of someone who must be decisive but at the same time cannot afford to be despotic. It’s for this reason that I consider myself so lucky to have had the chance to get to know not only Sorrentino’s artistic worth, but his personal value as well. I remember that, shortly before beginning the shooting, he told me: “Andrea, it’s not going to be easy, you’ll be coming into a group that’s already up and running. You’re the new element and you have to show them your worth. Never give up. Never.” Even though I actually got along with the whole troupe right from the beginning, I really appreciated this nearly familial warmth on his part: I understood that the person at my side was not just a ‘boss’ but also a big brother. A brother who had already gone through what I was about to experience for the first time and wanted to warn me in some way by giving me the right motivations and incentives to keep going. This advice didn’t only apply to his film, it applied from his film…onward.
It was an exhausting adventure because no matter how relative a degree of direct responsibility you have your first time on a set, your role as assistant is still somehow part of a larger collectivity that cannot afford to make mistakes. Especially when the director demands full control over every single aspect without neglecting even the smallest detail.
Wait, I have a couple of things to tell you
Two years later, I was called in to work on another of his films. Pre-production had already begun on a film that was much 'bigger', more expensive, ambitious and complicated that his previous projects: Il Divo (aka The Celebrity), the story of one of the most controversial and fascinating figures in the history of the Italian Republic, Giulio Andreotti. It was a gesture of respect, a considerable sign of trust. I accepted with pleasure, even knowing that it would be a much bigger commitment than L'amico di famiglia. During this project, something else happened that I saw as extraordinary, another example of what I was saying before about Sorrentino’s personal value. We were in the middle of rushing around preparing and every department – as usual – had its own tough nuts to crack. Shooting was scheduled to start in a few days. I remember one especially busy evening, Paolo was in a meeting with the department heads when he caught sight of me around the slightly open door; I had just finished filing the cards for the small roles, extras and people to be brought in along with all the other tasks that were part of my job and was about to go home. He interrupted the meeting, came to my desk and asked me to join him in another room. He had a couple of things to tell me… 'urgent' suggestions. And he wanted to tell me right away, without waiting for tomorrow. A big brother indeed: someone with human priorities that guide his choices along a ladder of importance that cannot and should not be questioned.
Working on Il Divo, Paolo more or less indirectly taught me how to 'see' scenes before they are actually conceived and how to mold the characters. He taught me, as only the masters of the past were able, a sense of rhythm, that ever so delicate relationship between music, sound, images and silences. The camera as a character in and of itself. And, above all, the importance of the writing, “which you can’t make up along the way if you don’ t do it well”.
The year after, in another of these more or less casual encounters (what some people would call chance is only the trick of some God who wants to remain anonymous), we met up at Cannes. He with Il Divo, me at a parallel festival with Sotto il mio giardino (aka Under my garden) a short I made as a graduation project at the Centro Sperimentale. Once again in Cannes, once again 'together', just like four years before when it all…began. I like to think that we lent each other good luck: he won the Jury Prize and I won the Looking for a Genius award, handed to me in person by Spike Lee, president of the jury. The same thing happened the year after, the summer of 2009, at the Italian Golden Globes, a prize awarded by the foreign press. Paolo won the award for best screenplay with Il Divo, I won the award for best short film with Sotto il mio giardino – and in my acceptance speech I dedicated this significant achievement to Paolo and Nicola, among others.
We didn’t have any other chances to work together after Il Divo. When he was shooting This Must be the Place in 2010, I was in New York surveying the lay of the land in view of an impending overseas move to work on some projects. The move finally took place 3 years later when Paolo was shooting La grande bellezza (aka The great beauty)
Last Sunday I once again experienced, every detail the same like a kind of 'deja-vu', the scene I had 'seen' years before in that little room in the cinema at Cannes. I knew it was going to happen. Seeing the person who gave me the chance to cross my path with his, encouraging and advising me, warning me about this or that aspect of the sometimes unhealthy world that is cinema, always ready with the right thing to say at the right time in every circumstance both personal and professional, struck me the same way I imagine it would strike a little boy to see his big brother receive a medal for having saved a puppy from a burning building: the hero.
Go and get it
Now more than ever, Paolo Sorrentino (together with Nicola Giuliano) embodies the Italian dream. But there’s more. Paolo Sorrentino, an artist in 360° and, as such, an inevitably complex figure capable of conveying – through what he is and what he has accomplished – a principle that has long represented the linchpin of my own life: “Don't be cheap with your dreams”. His career has been a progression of successes, but also a series of challenges directly proportional and intimately linked to his success. Considering his childhood experiences, Paolo Sorrentino is really and truly a man of dreams, of courage, of forging ahead 'despite everything'.
I’m reminded of something Leonardo Da Vinci said that is more relevant now than ever: “obstacles cannot crush me; every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”
I remember myself at 8 years old, with eye glasses, my shoes perpetually untied and a red notebook clutched in my hand. Even when it was nice outside I always preferred to sit inside, in front of that newfangled device called VCR. Watching movies. Immobilized by emotion. Studying characters, frames, colors, movements and music. Daydreaming my days away. Imagining all the different ways that Cinema can tell a story. One, ten, one hundred…a thousand stories all together. It was in those days, so long ago, that I decided I wanted to be a director, to make people dream just as I had dreamed as I watched those flickering images. I’m happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish so far; me, that little boy who used to steal his daddy’s VHS tapes so he could watch and re-watch them on the sly, again and again for days in a row.
As I mentioned at the beginning, some films have irrevocably changed my life and I will never be done thanking all the artists who helped me see the esthetic, ideological, historical and – above all humane – value a film can have. With artistry and force, Paolo Sorrentino indelibly insinuated himself into my life and career. He has given me optimism and instilled in me the determination so crucial for anyone who is unwilling (or unable) to give up on their dreams.
In hard times I imagine him there with his unwittingly threatening gaze, telling me “if you think you deserve something, don’t stand around wondering why they haven’t given it to you. Just go out and get it.”
So it is thanks in part to Paolo and Nicola, these magnificent warrior-dreamers, that I will go on working and keep on feeding my will to express myself, to tell stories and dream. With the same natural innocence of that little boy clutching the red notebook. He is still there inside me and always will be.
Hurray for Italy. Hurray for Cinema. Thank you, Paolo Sorrentino.
This article was originally published on the social network and educational site for film, television, and theater creatives, Stage 32.
*Andrea Lodovichetti was born in Italy and currently lives in New York City. He graduated in Film Directing at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Nationa School of Films – Italy). Writer, producer and director, he won a consistent number of international Awards. The internationally acclaimed short film Sotto il mio Giardino (Under my Garden) won over 30 prizes including the Italian Golden Globe and the Spike Lee’s Babelgum Looking for a Genius Award in Cannes, 2008: this is one of the most screened/awarded Italian short movie ever. It is currently in development to become a feature film. Listed in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the Youngblood yearbook, dedicated to young Italian talents, in 2010 Andrea was selected as one of the 200 most outstanding talents to participate to Tnt-Talents, a great event that took place in Rome, dedicated to all of those who distinguished themselves at an international level in the fields of art, sport and research. Lodovichetti is also currently in development on Dear Mister Obama, starring Antonio Banderas, written by Stage 32 member Eros Tumbarelloand produced by Stage 32 member Alexia Melocchi and Alexandra Yacovlef of Little Studio Films.