After studying Art and Sciences at Bishop's Stortford College, I moved to Italy immediately after school and started working in a series of interesting jobs that I somehow managed to obtain in Rome. First of all with the Daily American newspaper that broadcast a radio news programme on Sunday mornings. It was exciting because I had the entire radio station to myself on Sundays. In those days the news were printed on a teletype machine. I used to watch it roll along with news, and I cut from the roll of paper the articles (in my opinion) worthy of note. Then I read a main news bulletin with my chosen articles.
I enjoyed making radio news programmes, and I didn't know then that it would serve as a basis for television not long afterwards. Following on from a brief interlude as a stills photographer for lesser-known TV series, where I found it difficult to get a refund for film rolls, let alone be paid for my work, so I soon gave up on that.
Then it was the turn of the dubber. I had discovered that there was a discrete market for dubbing in English in those years and I had the privilege to meet John Gayford, a true master of dubbing, and someone that was also very patient with a beginner like me.
Looking for better job opportunities, I contacted a local TV station called SPQR TV. Even though my Italian wasn't that bright, I remember sitting patiently in director Giuseppe Colizzi's office most of the day, watching numerous personalities come and go with a variety of proposals for TV shows. Anyway, at the end of the day Colizzi turns to me and tells me that, since I am still there, I should come back the next day. I didn't realize it at that moment, but this was actually the beginning of a paid job in a city I was falling more and more in love with.
The most interesting thing for me at SPQR was that Colizzi had put together a television crew using his talented editors, cinematographers and film production crew. Among other things he had invented the franchise Bud Spencer / Terence Hill which was very successful.
I was privileged to be able to learn my craft from experienced professionals, and I remember with affection a series of works made with Donatella Palermo (now a renowned producer) where we had the help of a Friulano doc., affectionately called "Lasseter". In Donatella's words, and with a much better memory than mine: "Our first film together was called "Cinema and Television, what a difference! We had made some boring shots at the Socialist Party congress and in order to edit them we had taken from various television channels some sketches etc. that together made a good 30 minutes film. Actually, we were ahead of the Blob that Enrico Ghezzi made years later. In the same way I remember that together we made a video about kisses and one about fists. In short, we had fun!".
Every night transmissions finished with this beautiful song by .
Unfortunately, on a hot August day in Rome Colizzi suffered a massive stroke that immediately took his life. Then the subsequent battles for his heritage put an end to the activity of the station. Every now and then, when I am in Rome, I pass in front of the SPQR headquarters on Via Trionfale, and I feel sad for that concentrate of positive energy destroyed by Collizzi's death.
During this period, Antonio Balsamo, a successful entrepreneur in the growing post production sector, often went to SPQR to talk to the station staff, and usually said hello to me too. He was a television service provider. He must have been surprised by the quality of a program I regularly did with astrologer Anna Maria Semprini, because he asked me if I would have liked to work for him in his new and growing post production company SBP.
Looking back in time, I think Balsamo made a good bet by taking me, because I poured the technique and motivation I had learned in SPQR onto his clients. Following which, I began travelling around the world with him to see and evaluate new technologies. He had a great passion for his work and I can remember vividly what I learned from him when I watched him deal with clients and tell them about upcoming new technologies that the facility was about to install. I think he gave me a master class in how to work commercially with particular attention to "customer care".
In the meantime I was also working on many RAI projects, which earned me a certain notoriety within the sector. My graphic, aesthetic and editing talent, more and more evolved together with new technologies, and was used for "Disco-Ring", "Domenica In", "Mr. Fantasy", "Marco Polo" and "Appuntamento al Cinema", among other things, and I also worked on the opening titles of the main RAI national news, TG1 and TG2.
After five years working in SBP the constant presence of clients from Milan got the better of me, so I decided to move to the City which was especially lively in the television sector. I decided to set up my own company in Milan, because I thought that there was room to create a new, more modern reality in the City.
Once in Milan I worked mainly on high-end commercials which were shot in Cape Town, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Paris, and Rome - and these opportunities allowed me to develop my visual effects supervision skills working on many different commercials, often using motion control rigs, blue and green screens, and ever more sophisticated combinations of cgi, real and virtual sets. These ranged from the "Mulino Bianco" commercials with idyllic countryside views transported into major Italian cities, to "Zebra Zulu" for the Italian newspaper "Il Corriere Della Sera", and which won a prize for its visual effects, to Italy's first HIV awareness commercial - designed by the renowned and pioneering advertising guru Armando Testa himself, who had drawn a purple line around "infected" HIV individuals. The commercial intended to shock the public into understanding that HIV could affect anybody.
I was lucky to develop my skills through experience and innovation, satisfying and often stimulating the wish lists that the advertising community continually presented me with. In essence I was honing the skills the film industry would later seek from me - solutions that could get production value and creative ideas on the screen with ever lower aggregate budgets. To that end I specialized in offering combinations of digital, real and virtual sets, together with set-extensions and matte paintings for feature films, helping creatives and producers in achieving their often challenging goals.
I had spoken to the Venice Film Festival's Art director Gillo Pontecorvo thanks to Maria Grazie Mattei round about then. He agreed that most Italian film directors had little knowledge of what could be done using digital technologies, so he suggested we take over the beautiful Salone degli Specchi of the Excelsior Hotel in Venice, and spend time explaining to many of them during the Festival that there was a whole lot more than making dinosaurs like those in Jurassic Park; digital visual effects could mean saving money and offering spectacular virtual sets too.
As soon as I explained the possibility that Gillo had offered to us, Mike enthusiastically agreed to bring his motion control systems to Venice so that we could show directors what could be done shooting and post producing with real equipment there and then.
Well, to put it lightly, the ten day demonstrations were a huge success, thanks also to Gillo's continuous effort in pulling over directors one by one to see us. We didn't have to wait for long before a major film project would ask us for our services. The first Italian director to understand the potential and to want to use digital techniques was Giuseppe Tornatore. He said to me that he wanted to make his upcoming film "The Legend of the Pianist" look like a film produced with a much richer budget than it actually had. So, I asked him to explain what he wanted, and we worked at producing story boards on his creative requirements, discussing with Mike how we could make these visual effects and virtual sets. I could feel very confident with Mike's expert cinemographic and motion control experience, and we came up with numerous solutions to help achieve the goals and save production money overall.
We ended up working on some 450 shots, and I put together a temporary consortium of visual effects companies around Europe to work on them. See
A convinced embracer of traditional techniques ever more integrated with digital techniques, I have often consulted in team work with film production designers and creatives. I have offered my services as Visual Effects Supervisor on a large number of major films, following a career during which I also founded and managed successfully many of the principal Italian post production facilities. A pioneer in digital intermediate film techniques, I was involved with early d-cinema trials, innovative digital film restoration techniques, d-cinema mastering, digital and stereo 3d film shooting and post production, and advanced digital lab techniques.
I have been a long believer in divulging knowledge and know-how to my colleagues, and I have related my experiences often, starting with helping de-mystify the various digital processes to the often very attentive and packed audiences in the "Martedi del Digitale" (digital Tuesdays) conferences that became well known in Cinecittà in their day.
I have specified, supervised, trained others, and helped perfect the technicalities, work-flow, and creative aspects of the Digital Intermediate (DI) mastering processes in general. In particular, and together with Steve Shaw we sent continuous feedback to Quantel in Newbury from Cinecittà, where we were setting up a digital intermediate process for the lab.
In the last decade I have actively pursued a career in supervising native 3d during shooting and have learned how to use the relative post production equipment. Recenty, together with Mike Connor, we have designed the 8k Mobile Digital Lab.
Of course, none of these various tasks that I set myself would have been anything without the Italian family my wife Bettina and my two sons Alexander and Sebastian represent for me. I was, now and again, able to have them for a few days on set, and so I was able to show them what I did, but I certainly realised that I was too far away and for too long during their formative years. Both Sebastian and Alexander thank me for the help I have given them over the years, and I am happy that they are living their own lives indipendantly from mine and Bettina's.
Special mention in the Italian family goes to Piero Ottone, grandfather to my sons and shining light to us all. Piero understood many different cultures, and spoke many languages, and had that rare capability of extracting the truth from virtually any circumstances. No wonder he was certainly one of the best journalists that Italy had ever produced, and I miss the many brilliant conversations we used to have, especially on the subject of Italian politics while sailing. Yes, he also taught me the pleasures of sailing as cruising, and I accompanied him on the Lisbon - Madeira, Madeira - Casablanca, many Greek Island hops, and of course numerous Corsican trips over the years.
Bettina Bush, with friend Titti Van Der Noot on the left of frame
Alexander and Sebastian
at the Island of Capraia
Sebastian obtains University Degree for Languages with 110 Cum Laude
Sailing boat "Al Nair" in the gulf of Genoa
Maria Grazia Mattei
Me, Alexander and Sebastian
When I founded Cinecittà Digital