Francesca Cima’s office at Indigo Film is adonred in Beatles memorabilia. There’s a black and white photo of John, Paul, George and Ringo, a John Lennon Russian doll, a music anthology. Is Cima a Beatles maniac?
“It’s Nicola, actually,” says Cima, “we shared this office for years. It ended up rubbing off on me. We should probably do a division of assets.”
The Fab Four might have pride of place but Indigo’s headquarters in Rome, appropriately, is adorned with posters of the many films and series Cima and co-founders Nicola Giuliano and Carlotta Calori have made over the years, as well as the numerous awards won for them, including the Oscar and BAFTA for Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. On our way in, we pass a poster for Sophie Chiarello’s Il Cerchio — which just won best documentary at David di Donatello Awards — Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars — alongside one for The Bad Guy, Indigo’s hit miniseries, produced for Amazon Prime.
Indigo’s offices are set in a huge circular apartment surrounding a central kitchen. “Once a week we do a big grocery shop for everyone” and cook together to feel part of a family, she notes. [The menu that day was roasted potatoes]. “Indigo Film is my pride and joy, also Nicola’s and Carlotta’s. We built a company where many people love to come to work every day. And this feels already like a great achievement to me.”
As we stroll around the rooms with Cima — writers’ rooms with blackboards full of notes and dark editing suites — Indigo appears bustling and full of young people, some 70 percent of them women. At one point we interrupt a meeting between the showrunners of The Bad Guy, Giuseppe Stasi and Giancarlo Fontana, hard at work on the second season.
The Hollywood Reporter recently ranked Cima as one of the 40 most influential women in international film, the only Italian on the list. “Of course, I’m happy to be on the list,” she says, “but I wouldn’t say the situation is improving, especially in Italy.”
In a wide-ranging discussion with THR Roma, Cima discussed gender equity in the industry, the recent Cannes Film Festival and the state of Italian cinema.
You were included by THR in a list of the 40 most influential women in film worldwide. Apart from pride, do you feel this gender division is still needed or are we maybe tired of being the exception?
This is a complex question. There has been a shift from the disillusion of the past to an exaggerated enthusiasm for a model of guaranteed quotas because there is still so much to be done at the social level. I’m obviously very happy to be on that list. But there are many Italian women, more prominent than me, who play relevant roles in our audiovisual sector. Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that things are improving, particularly in Italy. After being president of the Italian producers association for almost 10 years, I must admit I have some great stories to tell. It comes down to a cultural problem that limits possibilities and access, with archaic artistic models where women have a hard time imagining themselves in certain roles.
Which, for example?
Music is a cultural model even older than ours. If you think about it, there are not that many female composers. I believe there are a great many women who graduate from a conservatory, but so few who picture themselves as conductors or composers. We are currently experiencing a production boom, and there is great demand from professionals in all fields. For film composers, I can think of maybe two women. You have to ask yourself a question: Is this a cultural problem, or not? Because it’s obvious that women can’t see themselves in certain roles, and men can’t see them in those roles either.
Italian cinema returned from Cannes empty-handed as none of the three Italian films in competition won awards. Some are outraged, others claim we should stop seeking approval beyond the Alps. What is your take?
There is a jury, a discretionary one, as always. I don’t subscribe to either claim. The thing that has always set Cannes and the French system apart is the pride they take in their cultural expression and cultural identity. The thing that worries me the most right now about Italy is that we are not reflecting on this. Instead, we keep fueling useless ethnic-cultural feuds while we lose our cultural identity. All we do is trash-talk what we do, or say we don’t know how to do it. I think there’s a generation of kids growing up — I have two kids and I see it at home — who don’t feel any form of cultural or social identification with their country. In fact, the best ones are leaving. Something has happened on a deep level and it’s going to be a problem.
In what way?
I belong to the Boomer generation. [She is actually Gen X]. There are still a great many of us, so this problem hasn’t been recognized yet. By the time we’re old, I have no idea who will still be in Italy, because the young we raised, the ones our government is counting so much on, their highest ambition is to emigrate. They don’t identify with a country that has no plans for them. I notice a big difference compared to other countries that take pride in everything they express, not only in film, but also in music, art, culture and in the manifestation of their past. We don’t have the same sense of pride here.
Two years ago, from the stage of the David di Donatello Awards [Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars] actor Pierfrancesco Favino said that cinema should be studied in schools as part of the school curriculum…
This is happening already to some degree. I’ve been active in regulation and legislation, the Franceschini law was passed while I was president of the producers association. Favino refers to something that is already there and required by law. The Franceschini bill contains substantial resources to encourage film education in schools, something that France has been doing for a very long time. But ours is a half-baked reform, because in France they study the history of cinema as they study the history of literature. Here the projects are a bit uneven. The notion that cinema is a cultural foundation of our country is not there. This is the problem: it is seen as something fleeting, with us always harkening back to neorealism, to our glorious past.
Is it also a problem of communication?
In the last 20-30 years we’ve had a cinema that was also lively at the commercial level. Production houses have become little idea factories, but we are not talking about this. When I started out, everyone understood the role of a producer, but today when I do courses, students ask me: “What does a producer actually do?” The ABCs of the sector are missing. In France they take as much pride in their current productions as they do in their past ones. They will do anything to safeguard their industry. It’s an investment you make in the future. We have the tools to teach cinema in schools, but they are used for projects of various kinds and not to cultivate a specific attachment to our own cultural and production heritage, especially that in recent years. Kids today watch a huge number of films and TV series but very few Italian ones. There is something wrong there because we need to work on tomorrow’s audience, while also studying how to improve our storytelling.
Do your own children help you with this? What did they say about The Bad Guy?
The Bad Guy was a series that captured the interest of a wide demographic of viewers, including younger ones. But it’s not just about our own productions, the discussion is broader than that. The movie-going audience — and this is supported by the statistics of our movie theaters — is basically still the same audience. It’s difficult to get a younger audience to go see Italian films, except for certain projects more related to their childhood.
Do you think this is because filmmakers tend to write stories for the same audience over and over again?
There is a question of quality, a deeper question. I think about Italian music — always seeing this through my children’s eyes — which has managed to do what cinema hasn’t. Younger kids listen to an insane amount of Italian music, identifying with it both as users and as possible musicians of tomorrow. The Italian record industry has been reborn from this point of view, also thanks to streaming.
So it’s about a problem of supply of content?
It’s not so much about the offer available. Due to a series of circumstances, with artists and various other phenomena — including the Sanremo Music Festival — [Italian] kids today are no longer ashamed to listen to Italian music, as they were 10 years ago. As far as Italian cinema is concerned, this process has not yet taken place. So it’s not a matter of output but one of perception, image and communication. Not enough is being done on this. I have always watched Sanremo and the greatest disappointment is that our cinema is never mentioned. The odd series may be plugged, but not a word about feature films, as if they weren’t even perceived by viewers. It’s quite bizarre because we’ve never had such a huge TV audience, including young viewers, in Italy. It’s as if we are unable to grasp great demand for product or create communication between demand and supply. This is the worst thing that can happen.
There is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and screenplays. What are your thoughts on AI?
Certainly, this theme will not affect only movies, we’ll have to see how to deal with it. [AI] could be used, I would like to hope, for a certain kind of average product. I think Americans, who have a strong sense of identity and of safeguarding their industry, are quite right to try to put restraints on it because there are jobs at stake.
I honestly don’t perceive it as a threat yet. It may be that in my work, ideas and creative processes come from meetings, from talking to our authors, from reading an article, from discussions and relationships. I cannot understand or imagine a different process. I would be tempted to say that with artificial intelligence it would be an endless replica of the same things. Instead, cinema has always been able to innovate through diversity.
Is The Bad Guy an example of that?
It’s a series that very much represents the authors, starting with the directors Giuseppe Stasi and Giancarlo Fontana who already made two films with us [Put Grandma in the Freezer and Welcome Back, Mr. President]. It grew from a relationship, from a group of people who were interested in working together. If I had to define our modus operandi as a production company, we have always worked this way. All the films we made with Paolo Sorrentino but also other projects, even TV shows, have always been focused on the identity of the people who pitched them and developed them. Starting with our first series, An Imperfect Mom. I believe it showed a woman’s world in an innovative way while also reflecting the personality of its author, Ivan Cotroneo. Ours is a production house made of connections and talent relationships, so we do our best to be mindful of their identity. If a viewer has seen Giancarlo and Giuseppe’s previous films, they will probably find a bit of the same taste and liveliness in The Bad Guy, aided by the quality of the equally brilliant writers who worked with them, Ludovica Rampoldi and Davide Serino. It’s a matter of maintaining the quality. Please forgive me for using a blatant cliché, but quality always pays off.
You wrote your dissertation on [legendary U.S. studio executive] Darryl Zanuck. How do you think the role of the producer has changed since his day?
Zanuck started out as a screenwriter. In my mind, during his time at Warner Bros. [before founding 20th Century Fox in 1933] he was what today we’d call a showrunner – a man integrated into the production cycle, not just the producer, but the creative producer within the studio. Other countries in the world, especially more economically-dynamic ones like the United States and France, have actually had very regulated systems [of film production], and if I had to say what Italy is lacking right now it’s a little bit of regulation in the industry. The producer in my opinion has not lost his role and function. We have also had wonderful producers.
Who, for example?
Franco Cristaldi [Cinema Paradiso, The Name of the Rose] for instance. I always mention his motto: “You should not produce what sells, but sell what you produce.” Meaning, you should not make what the market seems to want at the time, you should make what you like and then try to sell it, you should stimulate. Franco Cristaldi was perhaps the greatest creative producer we had in those years. We strive to be a pale imitation. There were producers out there when we started Indigo, like Domenico Procacci and Angelo Barbagallo, who in my view chose projects by always wanting to sell what they really liked. I would love for young people to consider being a producer because it’s a beautiful job and it kind of covers the whole creative arc, from the initial idea to the presentation of a finished film to the public.
Is there a production company right now that you look up to? I think of what A24 has done in America over the last few years, distributing, producing and quickly making it to the Oscars.
We cannot compare ourselves to the United States, with its much more structured system. They have conquered the world with their imagery and stories. This is precisely what hasn’t been understood here, the power cinema, and now streamed TV series, as storytelling to conquer audiences in all other countries. Americans understood this early on, in the 1910s and 1920s, and they kept insisting on it. Now there is A24, before there was (Harvey) Weinstein — now he is unmentionable but he did a lot for cinema — and there are others.
I think of the producer of Gravity and Harry Potter, David Heyman, who did an incredible thing. He managed to make a saga out of Harry Potter while maintaining a very European identity. He combined the economic firepower of a major like Warner Bros. with a creative system in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, creating a kind of Leonardo da Vinci factory. If you go to the Harry Potter studio tour near London, you realize the scope of that whole industrial process with the best craftsmen, graphic designers, costume designers delving deeply into imagery from England, Ireland and Scotland. I would have loved to create a model like that. Above all, I would have won the eternal admiration of my children. (laughs)
COVID ended up accelerating a process, including in streaming, that had already begun. How did Indigo react to this revolution?
Like everyone else. I don’t think we are different from other production companies. What happened with COVID had already started to happen. But there were resisters around Italy, those who had never seen a movie or a series, those who never watched anything on the platforms or on TV: We conquered all of them. Of course, there will be a rebound, an adjustment in terms of numbers and possible hours of viewing that allow human life. [laughs] At the moment, live concerts and live shows which had been penalized during COVID, are benefiting from the rebound. Having said that, I don’t think people will be turning back. Because once you enter this viewing mechanism, I think the overall production of films and series might suffer a small drop compared to the pandemic period, but it will still keep very high quantitative and economic levels. In short, I see a bright future. It’s an opportunity to be seized and we must seize it by pulling together our best strengths. Above all, by betting on quality, not only on quantity. Because we don’t have the tools to aim just at quantity. Others do it egregiously because they have endless resources. Quality is rewarded by our audience, the public always welcomes it, in many different forms.
Ten years have passed since The Great Beauty. What do you think is the legacy of that film, on a producing level?
It set the standard because we proved that we are not below the cinema from other countries. Which is kind of a habit in Italy, us always feeling sorry for ourselves, crying and always criticizing. Unfortunately, we are a country with a strong moral imprint rooted in Catholicism, so success — even financial success — is condemned. It is no accident that the strongest industrial systems originate from more Calvinist roots, where the notion of succeeding and making it is not necessarily viewed as a sin. We have to break free from this, especially from this national sport of always badmouthing everything. This is also at the press level. It’s like what happens in soccer: Everyone is a coach and everyone is a film critic. A film is the result of a journey made with an author. The thing that should be taught is that things don’t happen right away, they happen by following a path, through mutual knowledge. Today it’s all about rushing ahead, making it in a hurry.
Kids come out of film school thinking they will find work immediately because there are so many job opportunities, but not so much thinking about what they really want to say. Making a movie should be the result of research, of a process, of revising screenplays, of having a good understanding of when a feature is ready to be shot. I think you kind of have to wait for the outcome of a movie before you think about making another one. The thing I appreciated so much about this year’s David di Donatello winner [The Eight Mountains] is that the writer-directors [Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch] spent a lot of time studying the territory, the region where the story is set. This is something that shows in the film and I think people got it and gave them credit for it.
Is time the real luxury today?
Yes, I think it is the most precious thing. The time you give a director, especially a first-timer, to shoot, to prepare, to write, and also the time to think about what stories to tell. Today we are all kind of bouncing around in a blender and we don’t have much time to stop and talk, to engage with authors. There are great opportunities to do it. I am very fond of the Solinas Prize [for first-time filmmakers] because it’s a way to bring in a lot of new talent.
Indigo acquired the rights to The Echo Chamber, Bernardo Bertolucci’s last screenplay. How far along are you?
I can’t say much. It’s a project we were working on, written by Ludovica Rampoldi and Ilaria Bernardini together with Bertolucci. Maybe here you need the right amount of detachment from the author. We have so many projects. Our work has changed because when there were fewer of us, we only did what we could afford to do, which was two or three projects a year. Now we have so many projects in development, with no certainty to get them all off the ground in the near future. In my opinion, though, there is a right time for all things. Last year we did a series, Free Body [a thriller set in the world of teen gymnasts] with Paramount+ and RAI, that we had been working on for years. And it happened to come out just when the rhythmic gymnasts’ scandal emerged. We couldn’t have imagined this coincidence, but clearly, that series became ripe at the right time. It’s a mistake to abandon things, you have to cultivate them. Kind of like a vegetable garden where you need to have everything or the soil dies out. You cannot focus on only one type of project. We do everything. We won the Davide di Donatello for best documentary with Il Cerchio by Sophie Chiarello, which by the way, talking about production time, was shot over five years following a single school class. There was no specific idea but it was a beautiful project and it was beautiful to follow this director.
Is this a modus operandi that you replicate?
On a lot of projects, we work with many authors, respecting their time frames. Right now, I think what fascinates me the most, besides the idea of time, is the intersection between disciplines. If one looks at other countries, let’s say the more evolved ones in terms of film production, there is a constant exchange with literature, theater and music. Here, everything is divided. Especially post-COVID, people have rediscovered live performances. I feel we have extraordinary talent in theater, playwrights and directors that we don’t utilize enough. I also believe there is a cosmic void in female comedy. Whereas in theater and literature, we have female voices writing very successful comedies, this has not been true in film so much. What is missing is a cross-over between disciplines.
Where does this division come from in your opinion?
Maybe it was set at the normative level, because we have funding for theater, for film, for opera. But my ambition now would be to bring talent from theatre to film. As far as female comedians there is no one except Paola Cortellesi who is believable to the audience. What happened with Fleabag, which was conceived for the theater, did not happen here. We have very beautiful voices on the stage, including female ones. I’m thinking of Lucia Calamaro, it would be great to bring all of her work to the big screen, or many other female authors, also young ones, performers and stand-up comedians.
What is in the future for Indigo?
The great thing about Indigo is that there are so many of us. And many of us are kids coming out of schools whom we met while teaching there. I don’t do a thing without consulting with them first because I think they are more connected and up-to-date. You make the mistake of thinking that what you produce always has a connection with the audience, but it doesn’t. Indigo Film is my pride, as well as Nicola’s and Carlotta’s. We have built this place where so many people love to work. And to me, that already feels like a great achievement. We have done everything from designing the kitchen to the weekly groceries to the fact that there is always a moment in the day when you say, “but what shall we cook?” I see that everyone has a smile on their face, they are happy to work here, despite maybe even having received offers from other companies. In my opinion, getting up in the morning with the desire to come to the office is already an achievement. A lot of my workday is dedicated to that. There are many of us, so we can get more things done. Personally, I am working on many projects written by women. I am very drawn to these intersections of women’s voices in various creative forms. And we also have three films in post-production, so we will see how they do. Nicola and I have always told each other to try to make something that we would like to see as viewers. Now I always try to do it with the idea of pleasing my children because they are the toughest critics.