How did an English-language, New York-set project end up as a majority Italian co-production with access to the country’s full array of financial incentives — as well as those available in the US? We talk to the team behind Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

Tucked in a corner of the arty Roman neighbourhood of Monti, next to the Coliseum, is Jean Vigo Italia, the production company of Oscar-winning producer Elda Ferri,  best known internationally for her collaboration with Roberto Benigni on 1997’s Life Is Beautiful.

Today her company is busy working on the English-language Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, a coming-of-age story about a young man in an upper middle-class New York family. Based on the eponymous novel by US writer Peter Cameron, it is written and directed by Roberto Faenza, a partner in Jean Vigo Italia, and has been set up as an Italian-US co-production.

Faenza’s credits comprise a curious mix of political satire (Forza Italia!), costume drama (The Viceroys) and English-language 1980s thriller (Corrupt, starring Harvey Keitel). His most recent film was a documentary about Silvio Berlusconi called Silvio Forever.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You is something of a labour of love for Faenza. “My dream was to realise a film based on JD Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye but the writer never allowed anyone to buy the rights,” Faenza explains. “When I read Someday, I found it very close in tone.”

‘It’s a very, very, very New York film. We could not have reconstructed New York here’

Elda Ferri, Jean Vigo Italia

With the film rights secured via Jean Vigo Italia in 2007, the project was helped along by US-based producer John Heyman of World Productions, who had sought out Ferri as a potential partner for a film he is planning to shoot in Italy. Heyman introduced Ferri to New York producers, including Ron Stein, of Four of a Kind Productions. Heyman’s daughter, Dahlia, worked with Faenza to co-write the script. Stein, impressed, he says, by “the fresh script, the book and the team”, came on board as US partner.  

“They were the right people with the right project,” Stein says of Jean Vigo Italia. “Doing a New York film through the eyes and vision of both a New York and an Italian company… I see Europe’s influence. America has a different attention span and behaviours, while Europeans have more patience,” he suggests.

Working to a budget of $8.4m, the co-production has been structured as 80% Italian, 20% American. Ferri obtained special permission from Italy’s ministry of culture for the film to be classified this way, as there is no
formal co-production agreement between the two territories.

“It’s a very, very, very New York film,” says Ferri, explaining the need to shoot in the US. “We could not have reconstructed New York here.”

Rai Cinema took 20% of the rights and will distribute locally via 01 Distribution. As the official Italian co-producer, Ferri was able to dip into the Italian tax credit of 15% on Italian spend for Italian films and co-productions, capped at $4.8m (€3.5m). While no scenes were shot in Italy, eligibility came through pre- and post-production, which is taking place in Italy. 

Ferri also secured an equity investment of $560,000 (€400,000) from the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro and Italy’s culture ministry came in with a hefty $2.2m (€1.6m) through the national arts fund.

In addition to a favourable exchange rate for the Italians (the euro was stronger than the dollar during the eight-week shoot in late summer 2010), New York provided a 30% rebate on local spend through the New York State tax credit.

For the cast, Ferri’s daughter, Rome-based entertainment lawyer Simona Bellettini approached the renowned New York-based casting director, Avy Kaufman. “Avy loved the script,” says Ferri, who is very animated when talking about the actors. She describes Marcia Gay Harden as “deliziosa” and credits Ellen Burstyn with “adding a seriousness that validated our project”.

Faenza and Ferri acknowledge they owe a lot to Kaufman. “She was able to convince many good actors to do a small film,” says Faenza. 

Young British actor Toby Regbo was cast in the lead after Ferri saw his performance in Jaco van Dormael’s fantasy romance, Mr Nobody. “He was the character,” she says simply. 

Shooting took place on location in New York City from August 18 to October 4, 2010. Now in post at Technicolor in Rome, Ferri and Stein hope to announce an international sales company before launching the project at Cannes, with a hoped-for festival premiere in Toronto.  

“I’ve always made films that have a cultural, social and moral storyline,” says Ferri. “In this case, it was the boy and his discomfort [with the world around him] that interested us.”