Italian film producer and director Luca Guadagnino has become well-versed in making advertising campaigns, shorts, documentaries and films since the late 90s. He observes that he has knowledge and involvement in all phases of “every one of his films,” from script development, financing, and directing, and he has produced every film he’s made since his 2009’s “I Am Love,” a romance-drama set in Milan, to ensure his vision is intact through completion.
“I don't think that producing and finding financing for your movies means that you are a shrewd businessman,” he explains, “it means that you want to have control over the process of what you do, which I think it's the most important way of owning and really making sure that you are expressing yourself.”
A self proclaimed workaholic, Guadagnino “likes to work a lot.” “I like to have a sort of [an] arrow that goes from left to right, but also from top to bottom, so I work in every direction.”
But he doesn’t have patience for and doesn’t want to be part of project development, so when he has a story, he just pitches it: “That's the script. That's the cast. That's the budget. Do you want to do it? Yes or no?”
For him, making a movie is not necessarily about selling tickets, but about making art. “It's how you can change the mind of even one audience member by making a great movie that is really a transformative experience,” he contends.
Now Guadagnino discusses two of his latest movies that have been released this fall in theaters in the United States: “Bones and All,” and “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams.”
The Salvatore Ferragamo documentary
A few years ago, Guadagnino directed a short advertising campaign film for the Ferragamo company, when he “bumped into the book that Ferragamo wrote in the 60s, ‘Shoemaker of Dreams: the Autobiography of Salvatore Ferragamo.’”
“I discovered this amazing and wonderful person, and genius, in a way,” he remarks. After reading Salvatore's “fascinating” autobiography, he contacted one of the family heirs, Diego de San Giuliano – whom he knew and who is the son of Yama Ferragamo, the first daughter of Salvatore – to ask if he “ever thought about doing something about [the book]? What about the documentary?”
The family gave Guadagnino access to the brand’s archives, interviews, family anecdotes, while the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum shared its historical expertise and in-depth knowledge of Ferragamo.
“[The Ferragamos] had no control over my movie. I did the movie I wanted, the way I wanted,” the filmmaker contends.
One thing led to another and the “Salvatore, Shoemaker of Dreams” documentary premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020, and was recently released in the US by Sony Pictures Classics.
The high-fashion documentary is an ode to Salvatore Ferragamo, the footwear designer who moved from the Southern Italian region of Camapania to the US and became a shoe entrepreneur in Hollywood then in Florence. It features archival footage of Salvatore, Michael Stuhlbarg narrating the voice of the designer, screenwriting by Dana Thomas and interviews with Manolo Blahnik, Martin Scorsese and more.
“I loved the idea [of] that crossover story of self realization with the history of Hollywood, with the history of fashion,” Guadagnino says. “We were trying to make a movie about someone who called himself the shoemaker of dreams, so there was the humbleness of being a shoemaker and there was the visionary aspect of thinking of life as a dreamscape. I thought that was quite touching.”
“Bones and All” is a brooding, cannibal romance
Guadagnino’s second film in US theaters, “Bones and All,” is a brooding cannibal romance, where troubled teenager Maren (Taylor Russell) embarks on a road trip across the midwest to find her long-lost mother. She eventually meets and falls in love with fellow cannibal Lee (Timothée Chalamet) and they continue the search together. The film also features Mark Rylance, André Holland, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sean Bridgers, Ellie Parker, and screenplay by David Kajganich.
Why Guadagnino said “yes” to making the film
Knowing that Guadagnino is no stranger to working with stories that bind tension and intimacy – having helmed the 2015 psychological drama “A Bigger Splash,” the 2017 Summer romance, “Call Me by Your Name,” and a 2018 reamaging of the Dario Argento horror classic, “Suspiria” – producer Theresa Park approached writer David Kajganich (“A Bigger Splash,” “Suspiria”) with a copy of Camile DeAngeles’ book “Bones and All - A Novel.” Kajganich then sent Guadagnino a copy and asked if he was interested in working on a movie based on it. At the time, the filmmaker was busy working on the HBO series “We Are Who We Are,” so he didn’t “put any attention” to Kajganich’s pitch.
Then, at the end of 2020, director Antonio Campus dropped out of the movie production, so Kajganich contacted Guadagnino again and insisted that he read the script he had written. Though Guadagnino had many projects lined up, he said yes.
“I have a sort of mandate to myself: if someone asked [of] me more than once a thing, more than two actually, I eventually always say, ‘Okay!’” he affirms.
Kajganich sent Guadagnino a script of the film in September of 2020, and by October it was greenlit. “I said yes also because [Kajganich] is my dear friend. He's a great writer, and I was curious about how he put together this story. I read the script, and I loved it, and I surrendered to the script, to the characters, and to the idea of working with Timothée [Chalamet].”
Getting Timothée Chalamet involved
The filmmaker says that casting Chalamet was the deciding factor in choosing to direct the film. Once he started reading the script he could envision the actor playing “Lee.”
“I thought, “Oh my God, this is somebody who I can see Timothée could make a portrait of beautifully,” he said. “And I remember [saying] to [Kajganich], once I finished the script, ‘The script is just wonderful, and I am happy to do it if Timothée does it.’”
Chalamet had worked with Guadagnino in his 2017 Academy Award film “Call Me By Your Name,” so the director was searching for something to do with the actor ever since.
“I am in awe of him. I think he's such a great artist, and it's someone who I get a lot of inspiration from,” Guadagnino remarks. “At the same time, he is probably the most important actor of his generation.”
Once Guadagnino read the script for “Bones and All,” he sent it to Chalamet and they met in Rome.
“We started having these wonderful conversations about the movie, about the concept behind the movie, about the idea of this America of disenfranchisement, and the script presented ‘Lee’ as more of a kind of commanding configure, someone who was kind of there to protect Maren,” says Guadagnino. Then, “[Chalamet] had this wonderful intuition in which he said, ‘I think [Lee] should be someone as broken, and as lost as Maren, if not more than Maren.’”
The director then contacted Kajganich to start a writer’s room and talk about their ideas, which lasted a few weeks before they started shooting.
“There are actors who choose the characters, and there are actors who choose the film, and the director. And [Chalamet] is the latter. He chooses the film, and the director. Of course, the character has to be good,” the filmmaker observes.
“So there was a great marriage there because the script was great. [Chalamet] married the script, the texture of the movie, the infrastructure of the movie, and the provocative aspects of the movie. But also, he, with his presence, made [it] possible to make this movie, which might have been a bit more difficult to make.”
The film’s budget and financing
Guadagnino affirms that the film could have cost less if Chalamet was not cast, but it was not about the budget.
“What is about is that this movie can communicate through Timothée and, in a way, overcome the reflexes in some people, and make people accept to entering this world, to discover the tenderness of the story, the actual heartbreaking aspects of the film, not the sensationalism and the shock value, which is something that we weren't interested in at all.”
The film cost about $20 million, which the filmmaker notes was, “fully financed through Italy,” very fast. “I knew a few people that would have been very interested in this and I made a few phone calls. Other people made more phone calls, and in a week we collected the amount of money needed to make the movie,” he says.
MGM-Amazon and Warner Bros. distribution
Guadagnino explains that before they left MGM, Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy acquired “Bones and All.”
“They understood the movie and went, ‘Yeah, let's go for it!’ which was amazing,” he says. “To use the platform that we have to really make people talk about a cannibal romance, is kind of extraordinary.”
MGM is distributing the film in the US, Warner Bros. Discovery, around the world, and Vision, in Italy. “It's been just a wonderful journey with these three wonderful companies,” he notes.
Once De Luca and Abdy left MGM for Warner Bros., Guadagnino started talking with people at Amazon, who had worked with him on “Suspiria.”
“The good news is that Amazon was wonderful. Jen Salke was amazing,” he affirms. “My friends at Amazon were supportive and wonderful, immediately.
Seeing the film in theaters vs. streaming
The filmmaker says he wanted to get “Bones and All” out in theaters, the old-fashioned way. “I do movies for the big screen,” he says. “I don't want it to sound pompous, but I really work for the big screen, that's how I grow as a filmmaker.”
But he also understands that with the pandemic people’s viewing habits have changed, so his film will end up in a streamer.
“I think every movie [ends] up being [made] for the streamers or for home consumption,” he observes. “So one way or another, you start in the big screen and you end up in that small screen, and then hopefully, if the movies stand the proof of time, they come back to the big screen in cinematics – full circle.”
Guadagnino’s next film, “Challengers” – featuring Zendaya (“Euphoria,” “Spider Man: No Way Home,” “Dune”), Josh O’Connor (“The Crown,” “Emma,” “God’s Own Country”), Mike Faist (“West Side Story”) – is a “sexy comedy” set in the world of tennis. He hopes that it brings about a different reaction from film goers.
“Watching ‘Bones and All,’ I want people to cry and be heartbroken, but I think that watching ‘Challengers,’ my goal is to have people on the edge of their seats, laughing and eventually crying as well.”
“Challengers” is under post-production and is set to premiere next Summer.