Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dick works with Production Designer Mario Chiari

by Richard Fleischer

Thirteen miles south of Rome runs an imaginary border that separates the more affluent North from the poverty-stricken South of Italy. The government created this boundary to help lure industry to the southern region, called the Mezzogiorno, by offering cheap land and hugh tax breaks. Dino bought several hundred acres of grassland in the South, smack up against the line. It was here that he planned to build a huge, state-of-the-art movie studio.* In late 1960, when I reported for work, it was still just hundreds of acres of grassland.
Early one morning, soon after I started work on the film, I was taken to see this barren emptiness. The production designer, Mario Chiari, and a small troupe of his assistants came with me. We looked over the rolling fields that stretched to the horizon, then Chiari turned to me and said, "Now where do you want us to put ancient Jerusalem?" I gulped and waved my arm in a vague direction. "Well, over there, I guess." "Okay," he said. "And where do you want the Praetorium?" A knot formed in my stomach. I'd studied the model of the entire city that Chiari had built in the studio, but this was no model. This was just empty fields! Once I made a decision, four hundred workers would labor for four months building this set. If I made a wrong decision now, it would be a disaster later. "How about over there, by that rock?" I said, "Okay." Chiari replied, "this will be the southwest corner," and he had one of his assistants drive a stake into the ground at the spot I'd pointed out.
So it went for several hours while we laid out the positions of buildings, streets, and squares to hold how many people? Three hundred? Five hundred? With horses? Chariots? You want a hill here? Okay, how high? We finally got through it, all one hundred multistoried buildings of it. I was wrung out, a little sick from nervous tension, but glad it was over. Then Chiari came back to me from driving in the last stake. "Okay," he said, "now where do you want ancient Rome?"

*Eventually he did build the studio. Officially it was the Dino De Laurentiis Studios, but everyone insisted on calling it Dinocitta.

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