A couple of Phoenicians living temporarily in Roma

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Inside Cinecitta Studios

From a Fellini movie

Statue used in a Fellini movie

Rome is home to the famous movie studios at Cinecitta. Started by Mussolini in 1937 and later made famous by the Italian director Federico Fellini, the studio became the home of Italian cinema. I wrote about the studio last year for the blog ItalianNotebook, during a strike by studio employees who were trying to save a part of it from becoming a theme park. You can view that post here for a bit more background on the studios. Recently, my new Australian friend Margo asked me to accompany her on a studio tour, so off we went.

Each day there’s an English language tour at 11:30, but we arrived earlier so we could enjoy the self tour beforehand. The self tour includes several really cool exhibits that showcase the history of the studio and the process of filmmaking. There are displays highlighting the different departments that work together to make a movie, such as costumes, props and set design, etc. Margo’s daughter works in Australia in TV helping to procure props, so her knowledge of the process helped make the tour even more interesting. You get to walk onto a set of a submarine and to experience how real it feels to be inside, complete with working parts and sound.

The guided part of the tour took us onto the back lot. We toured Stage 5, which was home to Fellini and all of his movies were made there. It is so big that it was possible to recreate full streets, like Via Veneto,  inside. Currently, a film about Fellini and his relationship with a news writer is being made inside Stage 5. We got to walk through some of the sets being used for this movie. It was amazing to experience the level of detail that goes into making it all look so real. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside Stage 5.

We next toured one of the 3 permanent sets on the lot. This set is a re-creation of an ancient city and was used for the filming of the BBC/HBO series Rome and The Passion of the Christ. It looks real, but the buildings are actually constructed from fiberglass and what look to be heavy stones are made from styrofoam. The set is multifunctional, as it can be a setting for a movie taking place in ancient Rome or Greece or Egypt. There are also parts that are made to look like 15th century Italy. These sections were used to film the BBC production of the Borgias, which is available on Netflix and is very different from The Borgias available on Showtime.

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Next we walked through an “urban” set, which is constructed from tall scaffolding that can be fronted to look like a variety of cities, as you can see in some of the photos below. This set was used for The Gangs of New York. The guided tour ended at this point and before we left, we also viewed the final “permanent” set, viewable on the self tour, which is the recreation of a street in a small Italian village that is used for a popular Italian TV show. It was a delightful morning at the movies!

From Wasteland to Abundance

We don’t really watch that much TV at home. Certainly not as much as your average American. But, okay, I admit, we do like to relax in the evening sometimes to a few shows on TV. We have the standard American 50+ inch HD TV at home in Phoenix (I am hoping to be facetious here) and a great L shaped couch, that allows us to snuggle up or find our own corners, depending on our moods.

Here in Roma, we have been roughing it big time. There is a TV in our flat and a nice, probably 40 incher at that. But as far as we can figure out, it has some kind of satellite TV that is 99.9999% in Italian. There are at least a thousand stations, and as I said 99.9999% are in Italian. Even those programs that originate in English, are dubbed in Italian. I’m told Italy is one of very few countries that rarely uses subtitles, preferring to just dub the speech. It forces you to learn their language or go without!

Since we were “going without”, it forced us to get creative. I brought my 13″ MacBook Pro with us and that has become our new TV screen. A friend here told us about purchasing a VPN, a virtual private network, that allows you to log into the internet and look like you’re still in your home country, wherever that may be; or not at home, if that’s safer for you politically. So we purchased a VPN. It has allowed us to stream Netflix, which you can’t do out of the country, but can do if it looks like you are still close to home.

I discovered that iTunes carries many network shows for purchase and so the few network programs we follow, I have been purchasing episode by episode to finish out the seasons we started while still at home. But uh-oh, the network seasons are ending, and what will we do now? Michael has been pining for a sports game to watch where he can understand the commentators and the rules of the game.  God I miss Showtime and HBO! What is Nurse Jackie up to this season? Will Kathy on the Big C continue to fight her cancer? Is Alexander still Pope on the Borgias?

So…we put our thinking caps on…and went online. Showtime has a service called Showtime Anytime and HBO has HBO Go. Both allow you to watch current seasons online via your computer or iPad. But you can only have certain, and in some cases, limited service providers to access these services. Hmmm…who do we know that might have the provider we need and if ‘luck be a lady’ also Showtime and HBO? We started contacting friends and family. We found the someone with the needed provider but they didn’t have Showtime or HBO. Can I pay you for them, I begged? She was happy to oblige.

Low and behold…a few emails later, a few passwords exchanged, a log in here and a log in there, and the gods have shined down on us. It’s not TV…it’s HBO. Rome looks a lot sunnier today. Thanks, cuz!

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