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Cinecittà Chief Nicola Maccanico on Revamping Italy’s Iconic Studios as Biz Picks Up After Hollywood Strikes (EXCLUSIVE)

Nicola Maccanico, a former Warner Bros. and Sky Italia senior exec, has been spearheading the radical overhaul of Rome’s Cinecittà Studios since April 2021, when the government-owned facilities embarked on a mission to secure a multi-million dollar loan provided by the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund.

Three years later, the studios are equipped with 20 state-of-the-art soundstages, including one of Europe’s largest LED walls, and have become a magnet for Hollywood productions such as Roland Emmerich’s gladiator series “Those About to Die.” As the production hiatus brought on by the Hollywood strikes eases up, more U.S. shoots are soon to come, he vows.

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Below, Maccanico discusses with Variety what he’s accomplished in terms of reviving the studios and what remains to be done.

The first phase of the Cinecittà revamp plan seems to be complete. How tough has it been?

I was called to head Cinecittà because of my experience in the [media] market and asked to relaunch Cinecittà’s role as a market player. During these three years, we’ve been able to reach an important goal – both financially and symbolically. Financially, we’ve managed to attain almost €100 million ($108 million) in revenues at a company that had an average [annual] turnover between €12 and €15 million. And we brought Cinecittà back in the black [a €1.8 million profit for fiscal 2022]. Today, Cinecittà is a healthy company with more than 70% occupancy that is turning a profit. It’s clearly a market player that hosts major shoots and has gone back to being the home of world-class auteurs and global productions. The symbolic value of this is huge because – as proven by all the international media attention we’ve had – Cinecittà is an iconic Italian brand.

A key aspect of Cinecittà’s relaunch is that Hollywood studios flocked back. Then the strikes hit. What has been their impact?

In order to fire on all cylinders, Cinecittà needs two things: it has to attract international productions, first and foremost big American ones. But it also needs a buoyant Italian market that makes movies that travel. It’s not by chance that in the 1960s, big Hollywood blockbusters like “Ben Hur” and “Cleopatra” shot in Italy. Concurrently, we had Italian masters like Fellini and Visconti who were creating masterpieces that went around the world. Today, we are in a similar situation. The big U.S. productions are back – since Italy is competitive in terms of crew, craftsmen and tax incentives – but we also have a golden age of Italian cinema. It’s not by chance that along with Joe Wright [who shot the Sky series “M,” about Benito Mussolini’s rise to power], Roland Emmerich and Angelina Jolie [who shot “Without Blood” with Salma Hayek] at Cinecittà we’ve also hosted Luca Guadagnino [with Daniel Craig-starrer “Queer”] and Saverio Costanzo. Cinecittà must combine making global content from both great international and Italian artists.

The strikes clearly had an impact, but 2023 is still a record year for us. We grew 10% with more than €43 million ($46.7 million) in revenues partly thanks to our high intake from set constructions. In two years, we’ve made more than €40 million just from set constructions. That said, we had a great first semester. So despite the strike, we managed to have another growth year. The strike didn’t interrupt any ongoing productions, it just prevented new Hollywood productions from starting up. We had a roughly four-month gap that we tried to fill with local movies and commercials that, of course, were less lucrative. The good news is that there is now an immediate bounce back and 2024 is looking very solid in terms of bookings. Though I can’t go into specifics, due to non-disclosure agreements, Italy has fully retained its ability to be a magnet for foreign productions.

How important is the fact that Cinecittà now has one of Europe’s largest LED walls?

We invested in the giant LED stage in Theater 18 because we strongly believed that to signal innovation we had to invest in technology and show that Cinecittà was no longer a place of the past. This paid off. After inaugurating the smart stage in June 2022, we’ve now rented it for 305 days. Angelina Jolie, Joe Wright and Emmerich shot there, to name a few. This gives our business a new perspective. Thanks to virtual reality, Cinecittà is now a place where you can shoot any corner of the world.

Let’s talk infrastructure. How far along is the revamp in terms of new soundstages?

We are in good shape. June 2023 will go down in the Cinecittà annals. We met the EU deadline to launch nine calls to assign contracts to grow our soundstages. As per our original project, we are restructuring four existing theaters and building five new ones to raise the total number of theaters from 20 to 25 and increase our soundstage production capacity from 18,000 square meters (194,000 square feet) to 30,000 square meters (323,000 square feet), which reps a 60% growth. That allows us to be on track toward reaching our 2026 target. Construction is proceeding full throttle. During the first quarter of 2024 we will inaugurate the first soundstage – Theater 7 – financed by the EU recovery fund. So the “new Cinecittà” will be born before 2026.

What about the Cinecittà expansion plan? I believe that plan hit a snag.

There was a second leg of our plan that involved purchasing the Torre Spaccata land [a 76-acre plot of land adjacent to the studios] and that aspect has been put on hold. The costs for that whole operation mushroomed and they could not be covered by the EU recovery plan funding [which was cut]. So for the moment, we’ve put it on hold to fully focus on the existing Cinecittà lot and fueling its major growth. Then we will se if, with private financing, we can also invest in Torre Spaccata.

What are your goals for Cinecittà going forward?

I want to forge ahead and bolster the studios’ industrial development. We’ve managed to prove that the existing Cinecittà is competitive, that it can run at full occupancy, host big productions and turn a profit. Now we have to finish the job on the new soundstages and prove that these new facilities can be filled to increase the studio’s profit margins and generate more jobs. We have to take Cinecittà to the next level. We have to accelerate our growth. We will have an additional 12,000 square meters of stage space to fill, which is no small feat. To help boost occupancy, we are adding two more long-term deals to the five-year deal we already have in place with Fremantle. We will close similar deals for our Lumina Studios [separate facilities operated by Cinecittà in Rome] with Banijay and Endemol Shine. And we are negotiating another overall deal with a group of executive producers who are our traditional partners that will tighten their bond with Cinecittà.

You are in the final phase of your three-year mandate. What are your thoughts?

I am just focused on ending my mandate positively. I feel very tied to Cinecittà and want to complete the job.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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