Written by Sveva De Marinis
During the 6th edition of Filming Italy Los Angeles, production designers Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, who have been married for years, hosted a masterclass and received the Filming Italy Los Angeles achievement award for their outstanding accomplishments.
The two have been working for decades with some of the most distinguished directors in the business. Ferretti began his career in 1964 at the age of 21 as an assistant production designer on the set of “Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo” (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) by Pier Paolo Pasolini and went on to work as a production designer for five more movies of his. He then worked on Federico Fellini’s last five movies, from “Prova d’orchestra” (Orchestra Rehearsal) to “La voce della luna” (Voice of the Moon).
Lo Schiavo started working as a production designer with Ferretti on Liliana Cavani’s 1981 “La pelle” (The Skin). They continued on their shared artistic path with exceptional Italian directors like Elio Petri, Sergio Citti, Luigi Comencini and Marco Ferreri. Outside Italy, they worked on Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 “The Name of the Rose” and Terry Gillian’s 1988 “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” The next decade would mark the beginning of a 9-film collaboration with Martin Scorsese.
Production design is a very specific field that many times granted Italy its due recognition and the couple has certainly received theirs with a total of ten Oscars nominations for Best Production Design and one for Best Costume, which Ferretti says makes him particularly proud since it’s not even their field. They took home the prize for Scorsese’s 2005 “The Aviator” and 2012 “Hugo Cabret” as well as Tim Burton’s 2008 “Sweeney Todd.” Ferretti reminds the students of his masterclass, “That’s a total of six statues!”
The three movies that granted them their Oscars are very different. “The Aviator” is set in Hollywood between the ‘20s and the ‘40s, “Hugo Cabret” in Paris in the ‘30s, and “Sweeney Todd” in 17th century England. The films are different in their scenarios and settings, but props are essential, and thanks to them, we couldn’t imagine the films with a different design team. We couldn’t imagine John Hughes not walking through those huge airplanes or in a different setting than the movie theater where he slowly gets mad. We couldn’t imagine Hugo Cabret with a different robot, or, worse, without one. And, lastly, of course, we couldn’t imagine Sweeney Todd without his razor or his barber chair. And that’s because half of their magic would be gone.
On his professional bond with Scorsese, Ferretti reveals that it was actually he who convinced the director to shoot “Gangs of New York” at Cinecittà studios. He explained that Scorsese wasn’t sure about filming there because he wanted to shoot the movie in the United States. Then one Sunday, Ferretti took him to lunch at a restaurant in front of Cinecittà that Scorsese loved very much. Afterwards, he showed him around. Scorsese seemed to like the set, and Ferretti assured him, “Martin, this is my home, don’t worry, I’ll make it work,” and the rest is history.
|Cinecittà World by Puntadelsole|
When I think about their movies, the first words that come to mind are “grand” and “specific.” They always create alternative realities. Even when they work on more reality-based films, everything they do is grand and exceptional, but also very detailed and close to the director’s vision. Of course, every production designer has to follow the style and the general atmosphere of the movie, but watching the couple Ferretti-Lo Schiavo at work, you can really tell that they’ve mastered their art throughout the years. They’ve worked on many different movies, with different perceptions, different eras, from the mythological (“Medea” by Pasolini), to the grotesque (“Sweeney Todd”), from the ‘20s (“The Aviator”) to the ‘40s (“Gangs of New York”) and so much more.
What amazes me is the accuracy of the props, even the smallest ones, that make movies and sets as real as possible. When you watch their movies, you can tell that nothing is left to chance, everything has been decided on and studied carefully. Something that catches the eye is the precision and detail of every historical time. One thing is to know how people would dress during a certain time, another is to know what kind of objects people would keep on their nightstand. That’s not something that is left to chance. It requires studying, researching and analyzing every single detail.
What they create on set is not only important for the director and for the sake of the movie, but for the actors too, because they will have the chance to immerse themselves even more into the world of their character and won’t have to rely as much on the imagination. A good production design makes the actor’s job a lot easier. And that, I think, is what every production designer tries to accomplish.