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Opinion and Insight

5 Crazy Creative Italian Virtuosos You Don’t Want to Miss

LBB Editorial, 2 months ago

We catch up with some of the most exciting directors and photographers working in Italian advertising

5 Crazy Creative Italian Virtuosos You Don’t Want to Miss

With an abundance of culture and a penchant for food, fashion and spaghetti westerns, Italy has produced a menagerie of world-class directors. From Federico Fellini (8 1/2) to Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West), it’s clear that Italy has a knack for beautifully shot, high-class productions.

LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with a host of Italian directors and photographers at different stages in their career to find out what they think about the ‘bel paese’.


Igor Borghi

A filmmaker since his teens, Igor graduated from the University of Bologna with a BA in International Politics, before going on to attend the Italian National Film School in Rome. Since 2010, he has been directing commercials for the likes of Parisian Gentleman, Renault Clio and Yamaha to name a few. Igor is repped by Generator Films in the UK.


LBB> How would you describe yourself and your work?

IB> Ever since I was a kid I saw filmmaking as this kind of magic that could reveal the extraordinary part of ordinary things; a wonderful illusion to get lost within. I feel that I am a storyteller or, better yet, a creative liar. Like an illusionist you have to involve your viewers into the story while hiding all the techniques that you are using to create it. Building and creating stories is a privilege.


LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?

IB> I do what everyone does: I watch lots movies (like, a lot!), commercials, I go to art galleries, to the theatre; I listen to music and read a lot of books. All the ideas I get bombarded with put me in the right attitude to listen and understand someone else’s soul. Sometimes some of these ideas I bump into get stuck inside me and they start rumbling in my head so much that, at the end, I need to find a way to elaborate on them. This is how I start working on a new script: I elaborate on the ideas so much that the only way to get ‘rid of them’ is to work on them, expand them, have them grow and mature. This happens all the time. 

I’m basically a workaholic... I must admit.


Q> What makes Italy so exciting right now? 

IB> Italy is a weird country. We are experienced in what we do but we always feel as if we are a little worse than other countries. We have a lot of reasons to feel proud of who we are, but we keep looking outside our confines instead of looking in.  Today the diplomacy of filmmaking is challenging all over the world, but it is a little more challenging in Italy. A lot of clients, creatives, authors and people in the business want to explore languages and ideas. I frequently speak with agencies about the new ideas we want to explore together... I think Italy can live a new renaissance through communication.


LBB> What do you consider Italy's forte in the advertising world? How do you think advertising is changing in Italy?

IB> Italy is a country with a great history in advertising but for the last 20 years, Anglo-Saxon culture has ruled our imagination and conditioned our iconography. Today, maybe, we’ve gotten to a point in which Italy has realised that it shouldn't sell hamburgers to the world, but rather spaghetti. I think Sergio Leone arrived at this conclusion also....  

In Italy, our peculiarity represents our strength and we are starting to tell stories that are more ‘Italian’ cinematically, with a strong insight. Social media is giving us exciting opportunities to do this in different ways and in different ‘places’. 


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why? 

IB> It’s impossible to choose! I like ‘Sogni d’oro’ because I used a single take to tell a real story with a little twist in the finale. I like Ford’s web series for its strong cinematic insight. I like ‘Giorgini’ for the noir atmosphere and ‘Ladies’ for the attention on the lighting and locations. Then there's ‘Merck’ filled with storytelling sweetness and melancholy and ‘Sky Top Gear’ for its madness. I could continue for hours! 

I see every job I do as an opportunity to grow, try, experiment and learn from. This is why I try to have as few skeletons in my closet as possible. 


LBB> What are some stellar examples of Italian advertising in your opinion?

A> I think the work that Bruno Bertelli and Cristiana Bocassini are doing at Publicis for Heineken is proof that Italian creativity can be global. The work that Saatchi’s Luca Pannese and Luca Lorenzini have been doing for CoorDown in the past four years is amazing and always perfect. 

Ogilvy’s Giuseppe Mastromatteo realised an amazing series of long stories for Wind.

I think, in general, these examples demonstrate that when we Italians do ‘our own thing’ and stop imitating others, we do great. We'll see more projects like this in the next few years. We have the ‘people’.



SÄMEN

Childhood friends Ludovico Amen Galletti and Sami Schinaia are the faces behind SÄMEN. Having started out directing music videos and short films, the duo has now shot commercials for Hyundai, IKEA, Nike and Apple.


LBB> How would you describe yourself and your work?

S> Recently our work has been about defining ourselves as individuals, there really is no space for anything else! We wouldn’t mind loading our mind off and discovering a bit more about ourselves!

That said, we have a few themes that we constantly try to explore throughout our work. Subtlety, suspension, entrancement… You can find this in every film we do. As a result, we’re not as all-embracing as most directors, as we explore specific facets of storytelling… for now. 


LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

S> Landscapes. We always feel lured to vacant, dreary places. The emptiness translates itself through images and sounds, and it comforts us. We grew up near corn fields, so you could say everything started for us with a silent place and a camera. 

Speaking of influences, we admire the work of unreal, talented artists that constantly shock and shape our work as filmmakers, which these days happens more and more. We think it’s a peculiar stage of history for creatives and we are happy to be part of it. 


LBB> What makes Italy so exciting right now? 

S> What’s exciting is that there are no borders anymore. The digital era has brought the drop of single realities with it, which makes every artist aware and connected. What’s great about Italy is that it has a distinct culture, and we all have a sense of authenticity that’s otherwise difficult to achieve. 


LBB> What do you consider Italy's forte in the advertising world? How do you think advertising is changing in Italy?

S> Italians have always had a thing for humour, but that’s not really what we are into. We descend from Latin commoners. We take most everyday issues on the chest, which makes us come across as offhanded (and is made evident in the ‘unrehearsed’ nature of the film and advertising we produce). 

The difficulty is that advertisers are quite nervous to get over what’s new, thinking people aren’t well disposed to twists, which in turn makes it hard for creative directors to sell fresh ideas. There’s a long way to the top, but we can catch a glimpse of the spotlight through new companies or great channels that break the single reality, like Netflix. 


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why? 

S> The ones we haven’t shot yet? Ha ha.

We are very self-indulgent with our work and try and see the heart and potential in every piece that we do. Phaos, our previous short film, is the one we tightly embrace because it’s just free storytelling, we are 100% guilty of every ‘naivety’ there could be. Looking to the future we are writing another short which is going to be really far out. 


LBB> What are some stellar examples of Italian advertising in your opinion?

S> There’s one film for Alfa Romeo called ‘Heart Is Always Right’ which features quotes from Erasmus of Rotterdam, and was directed by Luca Maroni. You watch it and you just get this gut reaction, like when you fall in love.



Fabrizio Mari

With a host of awards under his belt (including a Cannes Silver Lion) Fabrizio has directed stunning work for international clients, bringing his trademark elegance and poetic spark to each project. Fabrizio is repped by Generator Films in the UK.


LBB> How would you describe yourself and your work?

FM> I would say, without sounding pretentious, that my work has an elegance and poetry to it. In general, this is something I often find in my work once I finish the process of digesting, preparing, shooting and post-producing a job. This isn’t always the case of course, but I do think that I push in this direction. Beauty is something that generates a mixture of emotions in me, which is something I can't live without. I'm passionate, enthusiastic, curious and generally anything new energises me.


LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?

FM> I think there's no better way to explain it: "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows etc. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery, Celebrate it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It's not where you take things from; it's where you take them to." - Jim Jarmusch


LBB> What makes Italy so exciting right now?

FM> Italy to me looks like a never ending, exciting country. Full of contradictions and bad habits. It is a refreshing place that is certain to be full of surprises. It lends itself as a platform to get out and experience the rest of the world. It's a generous country, and in many ways is a mirror of itself. I often ask myself how this country strives to survive and at the end of the day the answers are always the same. It is a country not only full of talent in many disciplines, but full of people who are not scared to work, to reinvent themselves, and I notice this even more now that I'm living abroad.

 

LBB> What do you consider Italy's forte in the advertising world? How do you think advertising is changing in Italy?

FM> Italy often looks abroad to find a way for itself to communicate, and it's true that it often forgets its own talent, voice and culture, which are all in abundancy. This means that when Italian creativity is expressed, the results are similar to the Anglo-Saxons and South Americans. Italian agencies can stand alone and do just as well as any other country in advertising festivals. 

Unfortunately, this happens as well with directors. Considering Italy is a country which is very open minded to receiving talent from abroad, it generally doesn't make a great effort to recognise its own home grown talent. For this and many other reasons we set up an Italian director's association, www.air3.it, to develop and protect our own talent within our own market. In this way we will endeavour to export some truly inspiring talent to the rest of the globe. 

 

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

FM> There are a few jobs I've shot over the years which have made bigger, better headlines than others… and yet I don't know if they're the best in my own eyes. There are multiple reasons for this. Every job, apart from the initial creativity, brings with itself a 'package of conditions, constraints, and difficulties’. I would choose DGT, Mazda 'A Japanese Tale', Barclays, Reale Sabios, Greenpeace and Picasso.

 

LBB> What are some stellar examples of Italian advertising in your opinion?

FM> It's very difficult for me to give an answer to this question as I think there a lot of talented people in the industry. I’m afraid I’d be leaving too many out! Everybody can be 'explosive' for a multitude of different reasons at any particular moment. Talent needs to be pushed, and is a beast that needs to be constantly fed. 



Valentina Bertani

During a music video shoot for her band, Valentina found her true calling behind the camera. Since then she has directed a host of promos, commercials and web content for the likes of Adidas, Samsung and Pirelli.


LBB> How would you describe yourself and your work?

VB> I am a director who loves to experiment. An introspective person, who can’t stop thinking pictorially. I spend almost all my time thinking of situations (likely or unlikely) that might happen around me. This aspect of my personality reflects also on my work: I prepare the film carefully during the pre-production, then an unexpected image takes form in my mind and kidnaps me, forcing me to represent it. 


LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

VB> Inspirations are everywhere, but you have to be receptive otherwise you risk being left behind. Visual styles change and evolve continuously. I love contaminations: I shoot commercials, music videos and fashion films and I love to mix these different mediums. My inspirations therefore come from unexpected sources: paintings, graphic novels, TV series and, of course, from innovative commercial directors such as Canada, Megaforce, The Daniels, and We Are from L.A. 


LBB> What makes Italy so exciting right now? 

VB> Italy is exciting right now because Italian cinema is going through a very positive movement. Young filmmakers are directing beautiful films or TV series that get major awards at international festivals. This hasn’t happened for a long time and makes me very proud of my country and our culture. It gives me faith in the future. This is why I'm writing a TV series with two young screenwriters. It’s set in the future, that - as I said - I picture as wonderful. 


LBB> What do you consider Italy's forte in the advertising world? How do you think advertising is changing in Italy?

VB> I think Italy’s strength in advertising is the ability to narrate little stories in a cinematographic and poetic way. An example would be the commercials of director Giuseppe Capotondi: technically perfect, emotionally powerful.

His work’s aesthetic is melancholic and cool at the same time, Italian and international at once. 


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why? 

VB> I'm most proud of the music video for Negramaro, which was selected this year for Bokeh Festival, South Africa. It‘s a long take of four minutes in which all the characters kiss, creating a kind of ‘chain of love’. The idea is simple and powerful at the same time. Visually the film is made up of a few elements on stage: black background, unique faces and a lot of kisses. This work is a complex mix of long takes, targeted casting and photography, a touch of post-production and a lot of preparation. Let’s just say we rehearsed it a lot... but without the French kissing :) I am very proud because it is a film that shares a message of integration around the world: a representation of love in all its forms. 


LBB> What are some stellar examples of Italian advertising in your opinion?

VB> Some stellar examples of Italian advertising in my opinion are Yamaha 'Eyes of Darkness' by Luigi Pane at abstr^ct:groove, Campari Mixx 'Mixed World' by Alessandra Pescetta and Rolling Stone Magazine's 'Life'n'Roll' by Marco Gentile.

There are many other great Italian commercials, but unfortunately Italian agencies often prefer to work with foreign directors, so they end up with ‘half-Italian’ projects which is a shame. As you can see from these commercials Italian directors are very talented. They’re just waiting to be tested by new challenges. 


Michele Secchi

With a love for black comedy and a fascination with UFO sightings, Michele's photography has an extremely distinct and often surreal edge. He is currently repped by Terminal Production.



LBB> How would you describe yourself and your work?

MS> I describe myself as an experimenter. I love the fact that I can explore a subject and tell a story about it. With my photography, I aim for compelling yet simple work, always with something new to discover (and a bit of dark humour behind it!). What I enjoy most is viewing something beautiful, with a great aesthetic, with a story containing many different layers. It's easy to create a staggering image with glittering lights, strong colours and tons of special effects. What's not so easy is to also have a vision behind it and an interesting story to tell.


LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

MS> I find inspiration in many different places. Although I love photography and advertising, I try not to look at what's going on in the business too much. Of course I keep myself up to date, but I try to push myself to look outside our little circle. Otherwise I’d easily fall into the trap of doing what other people do! I find it more interesting to look at things that don't involve photography. For example, I'm very interested in aliens and UFO sightings, that's where my portrait of the alien family comes from. I love the internet because it gives me access to knowledge that would otherwise be difficult to obtain, and my curiosity is insatiable. 


LBB> What makes Italy so exciting right now? 

MS> Ah, here you are touching my Italian heart! For the last couple of years, I have been spending quite a bit of time abroad. This is helping me better understand who I am and why my roots are so important. I think Italy will always be exciting because of the ‘Italian way’. That's our brand. Our strength and signature. It's very common for us to look back at our history and feel home sick - even in our own country - for what made Italy the centre of culture and creativity in the past.


LBB> What do you consider Italy's forte in the advertising world? How do you think advertising is changing in Italy?

MS> The lack of money. That's what’s going to make Italy stronger. We all know that in a moment of crisis, we push ourselves to find a way out, and that's what creativity needs. I think in the advertising industry we are facing a huge change in the way that we reach the market. The internet is changing it all. We have so much more space to fill with new content, videos, photographs, digital media and so on. Now is the time to reinvent how we tell stories. The internet means that your competitor is not only the guy next door, it's also the guy in Warwick Avenue or in Los Angeles or wherever, and if you don't have money for the most expensive special effects, you need to be creative and be smarter.


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why? 

MS> It's a photograph I took for an emerging band, The Stone Seeds. Their request was simple: “make us sweaty and dirty”. I managed to squeeze some of my favourite subjects into the photo. Homer’s Odyssey, for one. I see the guy on the boat as Ulysses leading his soldiers into a fantastic world full of hope, yet fraught with obstacles. I also love the paradox of the band members pushing a boat in a desert, and the sheer determination in the leader’s face. 

I consider this work one of my signature images, full of all the ingredients I use in my photos: dark humour, paradoxical situations, beautiful lighting and an image that is a small movie on its own.



LBB> What are some stellar examples of Italian advertising in your opinion?

MS> I'm afraid some of my favourite campaigns from Italy are a little old! I love the wonderful series made for Poste Italiane in 2015. The campaign was called Never Alone, and it had such a beautiful cinematic atmosphere. I also loved the Sky TV campaign from 1861 United, where they remade famous movie posters. In general, I like it when adverts manage to create a world of their own: different, dreamy and fantastical.