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VARIETY: Will Netflix’s English-Language ‘Medici: Masters of Florence’ Rescue Italy’s TV Biz?

Jan 05 2018

During the early 15th century the Medici family helped foster a cultural revolution that took Italy out of the dark ages. Cut to the present. The English-language "Medici: Masters of Florence" TV series, which Frank Spotnitz is showrunning on a $28 million budget co-financed by Netflix, is considered a harbinger of change within the Italian TV industry.

The first eight-episode season, in which Dustin Hoffman played Giovanni de' Medici, the Florentine family's patriarch, scored an average primetime share of more than 25% in 2016 on Italian pubcaster RAI and traveled widely.

The second installment, "Medici: Masters of Florence. The Magnificent," will instead feature Daniel Sharman ("Teen Wolf") as Lorenzo de' Medici and Sean Bean ("Game of Thrones") as Jacopo de' Pazzi, head of a rival banking family who plotted to kill the Florentine ruler known as The Magnificent.

Co-produced by Rome's Lux Vide with Rai Fiction, Altice Group and Spotnitz's Big Light Prods., the show — which will go out as a Netflix original in North America and India — is about to wrap 82 days of shooting directed by Jon Cassar ("24") and Italy's Jan Michelini. They say this season will be more fast-paced and youth-skewing. The international distributor in still open territories is Germany's Beta Film.

Cameras started rolling in late August at Lux Vide's Rome studios, where interiors of the Medici and Pazzi palazzi were meticulously reconstructed, as were more than 2,500 square feet of frescoes by early Renaissance masters. After six weeks, production moved to more than 30 locations in Tuscany, Lombardy and the Lazio region, where castles, museums, churches and piazzas provided Renaissance elements that doubled for spots where the real historical events took place.
Production designer Francesco Frigeri says he's particularly proud of work shot in the Tuscan town of Volterra, which doubled for Florence, especially in its central square, which was augmented with some sets to make it look like Florence's famed Piazza della Signoria six centuries ago.
Frigeri, who worked with Mel Gibson on "The Passion of the Christ," points out that "Italy used to be known as the best place in the world to re-create any kind of ambience." But he laments that the decline in Italian cinema that started during the 1980s "was killing my profession." He calls "Medici" "an effort on Italy's part to rise to the challenge of the international market ... which can save us."
Cassar is impressed by Italy's nine-hour shooting day. "I hope North America wakes up one day and gets all the unions to say, 'Let's do a nine-hour day and have a life!"
Costume designer Alessandro Lai seized the "Medici" opportunity to work with Tuscan clothing manufacturers and fashion houses, and not just showbiz costume companies. Hats and jewels were made in Florence, shoes and boots in Lucca. Soft leather came from designer bag maker Bottega Veneta, while Fendi furnished "the same type of mink fur trims as those of the times," Lai says.

Lux Vide CEO Luca Bernabei hopes "Medici" will be the trailblazer for a new TV genre hailing from Italy that he calls "Mediterranean drama." He notes, "The Mediterranean is the cradle of Western civilization," while Italy "throughout history has often been positioned at the crossroads of economic and sociopolitical changes." Mining this rich material with bigger budgets, the right skill sets and a global outlook can become "the starting point for something completely new in high-end TV."