The series was in fact totally shot in Malta – in some of the movies we double for Sicily and for Italy while in one episode, Presagi, Malta is actually playing itself, so to speak. Moreover, we haven’t seen so many familiar Maltese faces on Italian prime-time television in quite a while. Well, probably in forever, come to think of it; local actors that were included on the cast included Manuel Cauchi, Edward Mercieca, Marc Cabourdin, Nathan Brimmer, Colin Fitz, Paul Portelli, David Ellul Mercer, Mark Mifsud, Alan Paris and Colin Azzopardi amongst other names.
Winston Azzopardi managed the production in Malta and was responsible for making it happen. Winston, of course, is very much the go-to man in the local industry. His own involvement in Sei Passi started way back when he worked on a Malta-filmed episode of popular police series Carabinieri. With Mediaset being happy with the way things turned out, this led to some episodes from the equally popular series Il Commissario Rex to be also filmed in Malta. Fast-forward to 2010 and an even bigger engagement landed on Winston’s – and on Malta’s plate.
“Mediaset wanted to produce a ‘movie of the week’ series. They were pleased with their previous experiences on set here and this time round they were looking for a country that would effectively double-up for Sicily and for Italy without exceeding their budget. They figured Malta was a very good choice. The first movie to be filmed here was Vite In Ostaggio, back in March 2010,” Winston tells me.
This was followed by Presagi in April/May 2010, Omicidio Su Misura in July 2010, Bodyguard in February 2011, followed by Gemelle in April and Souvenirs last June. Quite a schedule, I point out. Winston smiles and agrees, adding that the timings were extremely fast for the filming industry.
“This was one of the biggest challenges we faced. The majority of the productions movies were practically filmed back-to-back and we have to wrap everything up in four weeks max per movie. We didn’t have the luxury of a massive budget so we really needed to work fast,” Winston explains.
Besides the obvious logistical hassles, the time-frame brought with it the issue of human resources. One challenge was to find enough local cast members who were available in such a short time span without over-using the same faces.
“It’s not easy to secure two completely fresh sets of cast to work within weeks of each other. In some cases we did use the same people twice. This is Malta after all, and there are only so many actors/cast/crew to go around. One of our problems, for example, is that most of our actors are stage actors. Camera actors usually use a totally different technique; they don’t need to project as much, for starters. And they don’t have the luxury of a whole stage to perform on but are tied to the few meters right in front of the camera. So finding the right people isn’t always a straightforward business. Somehow, we managed – no mean feat to do that within budget!”
“We do have some very good people here. I just wish I had more parts to give them!”
The Maltese landscape is also getting rather a food airing. Among the outdoor locations used for filming are St. Elmo, the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta, Golden Bay, Fort Ricasoli, Dingli Cliffs, the Vittoriosa Waterfront, San Anton Gardens, St Paul’s Bay, the Hibernians Football Ground, the Manoel Island yacht yard, Anchor Bay and Popeyes Billage. The University, De La Salle College, St Catherine’s and St Phillip’s hospitals, Villa Madliena, Net TV, a junkyard in Zejtun, a bookshop in Paceville and the Golden Sands Hotel were also among the list of private properties that feature in the series. Of particular interest to fans of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is the fact that the massive house in Qrendi that was used in Presagi is the same one that the Brangelina family were staying in during the shooting of World War Z last summer.
One of the other on-set challenges to be faced was related to the practical matter of ensuring that all cars were left-hand drive and that the roads used for filming reflected the left-hand drive system in Italy and in Sicily. Sounds like a simple matter, but is really not.
“I have seen all the movies in the original language in which they were shot, ie in English and I’m quite satisfied with the result. So is Mediaset because we are already getting ready for the next locally filmed production, which is Come Un Delfino. This will be the second season of the show, which has a massive following in Italy and which will star Raoul Bova and Ricky Memphis. Filming is scheduled to start next month and the whole cast will be staying here for weeks,” Winston tells me.
Amongst the locations that are earmarked for filming there are the National Pool, Tigne Point in Sliema, Mtarfa, the University, Naxxar and Zurrieq.
“Malta is actually scripted in so this is going to be another good showcase for us.”
As we speak, in fact, Winston is busy sorting out the offices for the multitude of people who are expected to descend on Malta for the production shortly. Once again, the movie will be using a good amount of Maltese cast and crew. And with names like Raoul Bova and Ricky Memphis, the weight of notching this up to Malta are definitely not to be discounted.
All photography courtesy of the Malta Film Commission. An edited version of this interview was published on The TV Guide (Times of Malta).