At the Les Arcs European Film Festival in December, This Must Be The Place associate producer Carlotta Calori took part in an on-stage case study about the piecing together of the $28m European production. Andreas Wiseman reports from the presentation

Paolo Sorrentino’s 2011 film This Must Be The Place broke new ground for the celebrated Italian director.

The story of a retired rock star who sets out to find his father’s persecutor, an ex-Nazi war criminal living in the US, This Must Be The Place was Sorrentino’s first English-language film, his first to feature a major Hollywood star (Sean Penn), his first to shoot primarily in the US, and — at $28m — easily his most expensive film to date.

During a case study at the Les Arcs European Film Festival in December, the film’s associate producer — Carlotta Calori of Sorrentino’s usual collaborators Indigo Film — discussed the complicated job of piecing together such a large European independent production.

“The film was a puzzle, a patchwork,” says Calori. “From the beginning, we wanted this to be an independent film despite its budget. We wanted to give Paolo what we’ve always given him — total freedom to do what he wants. And we wanted it to remain European so we could access the many subsidies available, despite the long US shoot. It had to be a co-production.”

Penn pal

The scale of the film was ramped up by the addition of Sean Penn, who expressed his interest in working with Sorrentino shortly after the pair met at Cannes in 2008 (Penn headed the jury that gave Sorrentino’s Il Divo a jury prize). Sorrentino spent the next nine months writing a script about a character tailored to Penn. Within two days of receiving the script, the actor signed on officially. “We knew from that day the film would get made,” says Calori.

Italy’s Lucky Red came on board early to help set up the financing and look for international partners. Local distributor Medusa Distribution stumped up a hefty minimum guarantee for Italian theatrical distribution and pre-bought local TV rights.

The choice of locations was vital. “The film’s original script was set in the UK but after carrying out location scouting, we realised the film didn’t have enough British elements to qualify for local funding. Neither would we have gotten Eurimages funding [in the UK]. So Paolo did some research and realised Ireland was a plausible context for a retired rock star. We contacted Element Pictures who secured funding from the Irish Film Board and helped access the local tax credit, Section 481.

“When it came to the US, we discussed the states preferable for tax incentives and after long scouting sessions Paolo chose Michigan and New Mexico with a few days in New York as they fitted with his vision. Then we had to open a single purpose company in the US,” says Calori.

The production shot for three weeks in Ireland and seven in the US. ARP came on board as a French co-producer, in turn bringing on France 2, and sales company Pathé pre-sold the film (and gave another hefty MG to help close the budget) in every major territory except China. The production tapped into funding from MEDIA, Eurimages and two Italian tax credits while Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo took the unusual step of
financing the final 11% of the film.

On release, This Must Be The Place failed to ignite in France and Germany, but saw strong results in Italy where it opened second at the box office in October 2011 and has taken $7.8m (€6m) to date. The Weinstein Company picked up US rights and premiered the film at Sundance last week. Trinity will release in the UK on April 6 and Element will release in Ireland on April 30.

As for the all-important question of recouping $27m, Calori admits there is still a way to go. She notes: “Because it was financed in this patchwork manner, everyone recouped a share and some saw overages. There is still some money to be recouped and as producers we’re not going to get rich from this film, but I would do it again in this way if need be.”