“WE WHO TAUGHT THE WORLD HOW TO CREATE CINEMA”
Since 1993, he has collaborated with Martin Scorsese, who doesn’t make a move until he is sure that no one else is taking care of his production design: Dante Ferretti, born in 1943, is one of the last protagonists of that legendary Italian cinema that set an example for the world, and has worked with the greatest artists, from Fellini to Pasolini. A frequent winner of international prizes (including three Oscars and four BAFTAS, without counting his five home-turf David di Donatellos), he travels the world with his wife, Francesca Loschiavo, who has also been his faithful collaborator for thirty years. Together they create worlds, often completely imaginary ones, but always fascinating. Born in Macerata (in Central Italy) but Roman by adoption, Ferretti continues to work in the same layout studio that has been his creative base for forty year, which is located in Cinecittà, and is called (not by accident) “Once upon a time”.
What are things like today at Cinecittà?
Things are not like they used to be, it’s getting better, meanwhile there are more people: forty years ago I opened the door and didn’t see anyone, today on the other hand there is a variety of people. . . let’s say, it’s no longer the Sahara but Marrakesh.
Have your cinematic taste changed since then?
Cinema has changed. Let’s say that I have always looked at the story, the screenplay—that’s the element that really grabs me. As for the rest, comedies always amuse me, especially those filmed outside of Rome, because in the Capital the sets are too recognizable.
As I was saying, I like comedy if it’s funny; otherwise, like the rest of you, it only bores me.
Any comedies that you have particularly appreciated this year?
I really enjoyed this year’s box-office hit Quo Vado by Checco Zalone, as well as Perfetti Sconosciuti by Paolo Genovese, another film worthy of note [editor’s note: recognized as the Best Screenplay at the
Tribeca Film Festival] in which I thought the actors were truly excellent, from Valerio Mastandrea to Anna Foglietta, Alba Rohrwacher, and Marco Giallini. I’m not that well versed in Italian films, though: voting for the Oscars, I saw around 400 American movies—the transatlantic cinema still seems to me quite strong.
Can you tell us about an Oscar vote of which you are particularly proud?
Together with my wife, we voted for the latest Oscar for Ennio Morricone. Not just because I am Italian, but because he’s such a great artist that we are happy he has had such an important international recognition on an official level. He moved us and made us all proud of him.
How was it, on the other hand, being in the Far East for months in order to create the sets for “Silence”, the new Martin Scorsese film?
For budgetary reasons, we had to build the Japan you see in the film in Taiwan, which created a notable effort because there isn’t a real cinema industry there, and we had to compensate for an organization that was inexistent. We were abroad for nine months, but in reality it was a film we had prepared five times.
In what sense?
We had traveled everywhere, from Japan to Canada, from New Zealand to California, in order to understand what the ideal place would be to create this film that Scorsese has had so close to his heart, as if it were the film of his life.
The hardest challenge?
Succeeding in recreating all of the shops. Together with my wife, we made a huge effort to find old lithographs and drawings of Japan at that time; our task was to give life to a world that is no longer, and that has closed in on itself so much that even its past has not been preserved as it should have been.
Your artistic collaboration with Scorsese has certainly been long-lived. Martin is one of the greatest directors in the world. I consider it an honor that he always calls us, and if I didn’t do Wolf of Wall Street and The Departed it is only because I had commitments with other films. In fact, I confess that while he was filming Wolf of Wall Street, I was in Vancouver preparing Silence, which we were planning to film in Canada.
As for The Departed, on the other hand, I couldn’t do it because I was collaborating with Brian De Palma and they threatened me with a lawsuit: I would have had to pay ten million dollars.
So I said to my friend Martin: “I’m sorry, buddy, but let’s see each other on the next one,” and so it happened.
By this time you understand each other intuitively with little effort. . .
Yes, he trusts me and I’m able to understand in a few hours of chatting what he wants, what type of atmosphere or suggestion he wants to evoke in a film. And when I show him the first designs, in general he compliments me with a “great” and I understand that we are, once again, on the same wavelength.
How was it, on the other hand, working with Fellini?
I met him at Cinecittà, and he proposed to work together with Donati for one of his films, but I refused, suggesting that we get back together after a decade. And so it happened: we always met at Cinecittà and after a second encounter we worked together on La città delle donne, Prova d’orchestra and so on.
Did you get along?
He remains my great teacher, together with Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese; they are the three greats that gave me the most.
Was the rapport with Pasolini different?
He didn’t like trappings, he was for simplicity and for outdoor shoots: he didn’t like to work on sound stages; we talked a lot together.
If you had to sum up your work in a few words, what would you say?
I’m someone who follows the visions and dreams of a director. Or perhaps, even more than following them I materialize them, I make them come alive through the production design.
What do you think about the massive advent of digital photography?
I’m not a fan of those who exaggerate, but one has to look to the future, and to the new techniques that allow you to create things that were once impossible. We have to treasure the lessons of the masters, of that way of making an artistic and artisanal cinema that has made us unique in the world.
Is there a director with whom you have never collaborated but would like to?
Ridley Scott, whom I have come close to working with.
A last curiosity: among so many production designs, your work on “The Name of the Rose” remains legendary. How do you remember that experience?
Marvelous: every single detail was recreated, from the ancient books to the treasure—we had two goldsmiths at Cinecittà. I’m a bit nostalgic when I speak of it: we’re talking about the sort of film that I fear one no longer makes with that type of art and those manual skills.
“I’m someone who follows the visions and dreams of a director. Or perhaps, even more than following them I materialize them”