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Beta Film takes on the Mafia

Gomorrah low resItalian crime writer Roberto Saviano, whose mafia exposé Gomorrah lead to death threats, tells Jesse Whittock about the scripted TV remake of the book, which Beta Film launches in Cannes film.

The real crime genre continues to pay for broadcasters, with ABC in Australia announcing Underbelly drama spin-off Fat Tony and Co. in August as just one recent example.

Germany’s Beta Film certainly sees ongoing potential in the genre and is both distributing and coproducing Gomorrah, a television take on the 2008 feature film about the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra.

The producer of Italian drama Romanzo Criminale, Cattleya, is making the series. Domenico Procacci’s prodco Fandango and pay TV provider Sky Italia, which will broadcast it, are also copro partners. “We are showing the Mafia the way it really is,” says Beta’s managing director Eric Welbers.

That reality is, unfortunately, all too real for Roberto Saviano, the Italian investigative journalist who wrote the original Gomorrah novel. He has been under police protection since the success of the feature film and gangsters have made threats against his life for exposing their secrets.

“I didn’t expect that would be the reaction to telling the story; that danger would follow and that the project would be as consuming as it has become,” Saviano tells TBI via phone from a secure location.

Continuing the story with a 12-part serialised television series, which focuses on elements of the novel the feature film could not cover, has taken on greater significance than just being an interesting new proposition for broadcast schedules, he adds.

“In a free society, I feel that I have learned that the more I tell of this story, the more is invested in protecting me.”

Saviano, who wrote the scripts with a team of TV scribes, says there were “several stories within the book that didn’t make it into the film that were waiting to be seen” and that “they were particularly apt for being told in the TV serial format”.

Gomorrah’s director and showrunner Stefano Sollima, who also helmed Romanzo Criminale, agrees: “Even though part of this trip had already been done, I thought there was space for another story that did not touch the same segment of the book told by [feature film director] Matteo Garrone.”

Shooting is currently ongoing in Naples, in the heart of the Camorra stronghold and will finish in November. Despite the obvious dangers – including the genuine risk of violence – and concerns from non-mafia affiliated locals about stereotyping, Sollima says the location is “fundamental” to the production. “It is tough work but it cannot be done in another way. If you tell the story of Gomorrah, you must shoot in Gomorrah.”

The series will follow two warring factions of the Camorra mafia, with different criminal activities, such as running drug corners or money laundering the focus of each episode.

Saviano had no prior experience of writing for television. He says it  has been like “learning to swim – you learn different strokes to stay above the water”.

He expects the broad audience it will reach on Sky Italia and internationally to allow for “greater opportunity to get into, and identify with, the story in terms of plot and development”. Furthermore, the mass audience global sales will bring will help him personally by shining light on his potential aggressors and making attacks less likely, he says.

That international outreach has already begun to take shape. HBO Nordic, Sky Deutschland and HBO Latin America are among the first channels to pre-buy the series, which debuted in Cannes with limited footage ahead of a February debut in Italy.

Welbers is targeting pay TV channels and nets that have foreign-language slots, and says: “It’s great for any channel that wants to be like an HBO or a Showtime because it adds something that does not come from the US but can very easily co-exist next to Dexter or Borgias.”

Furthermore, Beta has closed local all-rights sales deals with Arrow Films in the UK and Luminere in the Netherlands. A deal with a French pay TV channel is close, while Welbers says an agreement has been closed in Benelux.

Beta sold Gomorrah’s spiritual predecessor Romanzo Criminale, which, alongside Rai’s Inspector Montalbano, is one of the only Italian dramas to go global in recent years. “Romanzo Criminale was about bandits in the 1970s whereas this is about the real mafia,” says Welbers. “We really go to the roots. The movie showed you how the world looked, while the series will show you how it ticks.”

The show: Gomorrah

The producers: Cattleya, Beta Film, Sky Italia, Fandango, Beta Film, La7

The distributor: Beta Film

The broadcaster: Sky Italia, HBO Nordic

Concept: A TV adaptation of Italian mafia exposé that lead to an award-winning feature film and death threats to its writer