Massimo Gaudioso

Last Updated: April 28, 2013By Tags:

Great films are the product of the collaborative process. And while screenwriters may not get asked the most questions during the daily press conferences at Cannes as wordsmiths and dramatists they are responsible for the surprising comeback, the wit, the meme, and the devastating third act that make a film come alive. A screenplay is the most sought-after piece of writing nowadays–one element of a script gets overlooked and a film goes permanently astray.

We caught up with screenwriter Massimo Gaudioso (at right in featured image) during his passage to Cannes. In 2008 he was here to present “Gomorrah.” This year, “Reality” for which he co-authored the screenplay, won the Grand Prix, the festival’s second most visible prize.

Screen Comment: Tell us a little about your background.
Massimo Gaudioso: Since childhood, I’ve been a self-taught film lover watching many movies and trying to read everything I could find about the authors I loved. That was my school. My first job was as a copywriter in a large international ad agency in Rome, directing made-for-TV shorts and corporate films. Meanwhile, I also took screenwriting and directing courses with the greats, people like Ugo Pirro, Robert McKee, Nikita Mikhalkov. Then I finally started a small production company with two friends, called Boccia Film (a name which is inspired from Tanio Boccia, Italy’s own Ed Wood). In 1995 we produced, directed and starred in, our first short film, called “The Magazine” which won several awards, including the “Leopard of Tomorrow” at the Locarno Film Festival.

The following year I made my first feature, using the title of the short made earlier. This also won several national awards and has been shown around the world.

Then, in 1999, I started working with Matteo Garrone. “Reality” is our fifth project together. I’ve also worked with other Italian directors, each with their own style, and I wrote a remake of the French comedy “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”, which here in Italy was the third highest-grossing film of all time (called “Benvenuti al sud” and directed by Luca Miniero). Writing a comedy was very important for me as it proved that I could work with different film genres, although the greatest success of my career and the film to which I am most attached is, undoubtedly, “Gomorrah.”

With co-screenwriter Maurizio Braucci (Gaudioso is at right)

How did you and Matteo Garrone first meet?
We met when my friends and I had made a short called “Charger” that we then turned into a feature film. Matteo had followed the same path, directing a short, called “Silhouette” and then a feature film from the short, called “Middle Earth.” It was a weird coincidence, we mutually congratulated each other on our films.

Through various conversations we discovered that we had the same filmmaking vision or, better yet, the same understanding of our craft, and that we had unknowingly used the same creation “methods.” So for him it came almost automatically to ask me whether I wanted to help him make a film–for which he had already set a starting date! The resulting film is “Roman Summer” for which all I had to do was to create narrative, determine the succession of events, and instill soul to his film’s three protagonists which he had already selected!

What was your collaboration like on “Reality”?
Development for “Reality” began a long time ago. It had been two years since we wanted to make a film that would reflect the present. We had already written several treatments after having toured the “happy” Italy of TV and of politics. We had met many people who are representative of that world such as aspiring soubrettes (good-looking, youthful girls looking for movie parts), failed former celebrities, billionaires and prostitutes, people who had been on a reality show, paparazzi, characters such as Fabrizio Corona and Lele Mora, this culture of the myth of wealth and appearance.

We got involved in their lives, heard a huge amount of anecdotes and gossip, and collected a trove of material so vast that we could shoot ten movies with it.

Then, just as we had become captivated by that world, we also became tired and much disillusioned by the great vacuousness that we found hiding behind the gleaming façade.

While looking for a new project, Matteo happened to hear the story which became the film. He described it to me, without much conviction as usual, to get my reaction. It struck me as a great metaphor for the present times. Not only for Italy, I believe, and an extension of the two years of research we had done together on this, but also, from a completely different point of view, more popular, the point of view of the ordinary man who found himself wishing for what many others wished for but without quite understanding the reason, perhaps just to fill that sense of emptiness which surrounded him, which surrounds us, that total absence of points of reference or of values which have been replaced with superficial myths. So we structured the story that had already been created and, as before, we looked for collaborators with whom to write the screenplay. We naturally turned to Ugo Chiti (with whom we had written “The Embalmer” and “Gomorrah”) and Maurizio Braucci (who had written “Gomorrah” with us, is Napolitan and lives there, and who saw that the story takes place in Naples).

How did you and Ugo Chiti divide up writing duties?
Ugo is a major playwright in Italy, so is often busy and unable to work every day or full-time with us. Usually, Matteo and I work daily on the worksheet, putting down ideas, meeting with people, scouting locations, brainstorming scenes and characters. Then we compare them with Ugo, review the various lineup elements and then jointly write the scenes to achieve a complete draft.

What’s the key ingredient of an effective screenplay?
I wouldn’t know. As far as I’m concerned it’s very important to enter completely into the story, make a total connection with the characters, in fact know them as deeply as if they were part of myself. I don’t have much imagination and so working on thorough documentation is key, as is applying my own everyday life (or that of someone else) to the characters.

How familiar are you with “Grande Fratello,” the television series that Luciano wants to be cast in?
We’ve watched productions of the show up close and spoken with many people. Matteo has an office in the old studios where the auditions were held for aspiring contestants and where various television shows were make, so it was easy to get in. We’ve also watched the shows to understand how they work and to look for interesting points. Fortunately, we dealt with a short period. Personally, I don’t like reality television but I can understand why so much people would be into them, even if today the genre seems to me to be in decline.

Is the character of Luciano religious in your eyes?
No, he’s not. He approaches religion because of his employee and cousin Michele, but without being entirely convinced, rather confused, I think, as are so many.

When he gives away the family’s furniture, is it to gain God’s favor and make his dream come true or because he believes he’s being spied on?
Luciano does it because he believes he’s being spied on, only for that reason, also because during the screenwriting process we spent much time and much reflection on the parallels between religion and the new idols, it seemed a very important and deep aspect. For that reason, we created the Michele character who sometimes serves as counterpoint to the path that Luciano takes and sometimes goes with him.

Is there a director, an actor or an actress for whom you wish to write?
When I was young, I continuously had that kind of daydream. Now that I’m a relatively satisfied person, I’m working at what I wanted to do as a child and that is the most beautiful thing in the world. I’ve had various satisfactions and above all this work allows me to live. As I’m very curious by nature, I love to travel and always look to expand my horizons, meet people from other countries who are making different kinds of films, in short, I’m always open to the unexpected.

As opposed to Hollywood screenwriting, is there an Italian way of writing a screenplay, a special “made in Italy” ingredient?
I wouldn’t know. The new generation of Italian screenwriters is often trained on classic American manuals, those on structure, therefore the differences become attenuated. Not always, but naturally there are similarities. I’m familiar with those manuals and that way of writing well, so Matteo and I try not to conform to what they like to define as “a nice story,” (as in school) and create stories that are not like any other, that surprise, like a window always open to suggestions that come from reality, even if in that mode the work to be done becomes more complex. We say that in Italy this is a method adopted only by us, an artisanal and original method. The way that works for me is that I start writing what I will develop on the set and finalize during editing, a method that is now well-known and is beginning to be followed by the most daring young directors.

What’s your next project?
I don’t know. I’ve written a couple screenplays which I’m running by Matteo, although I don’t think he’s interested at this time. He’s mentioned a very special project in the fantastic genre, I’ve read the book which could be an inspiration but it’s probably too soon to talk about it. Matteo often changes his mind.

Translated from the Italian by Saïdeh Pakravan.

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