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A Life in Design: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo

2 April 2011

Italian set designer Dante Ferretti, whose work with directors from Fellini to Scorsese have earned him numerous awards, is joined by wife and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo to discuss his Life in Design.

  • Find out about the influence of his 'mentor' Pier Paolo Pasolini and 'lighthouse' Federico Fellini
  • Learn about his design methods, and why he thinks bigger is better when it comes to sketches
  • Hear about the differences between working with Italian and American directors

From City of Women to Sweeney Todd and Shutter Island, Dante Ferretti has long been one of cinema’s major design forces, acclaimed for creating ambitious and awe-inspiring sets with a stylised, hyper reality.

Early collaborations with Pier Paolo Pasolini and Frederico Fellini brought him to the attention of cinema fans worldwide, yet he’s perhaps most famous to a wider audience for his long-time collaborations with Martin Scorsese and through work with Terry Gilliam, Neil Jordan and Tim Burton. With countless awards and nominations from the industry, Ferretti has also won three BAFTAs and two Oscars and other major credits include: Casino, Gangs of New York, Interview with a Vampire, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Age of Innocence.

It's very important to make some mistakes. They make everything real: look around. When everything is perfect, there's something fake.

In this Life in Design interview, Ferretti is joined by his wife and artistic collaborator Francesca Lo Schiavo, whose set decoration on The Aviator and Sweeney Todd earned the pair American Academy awards for Best Achievement in Art Direction.

In conversation with host Mark Salisbury, Ferretti describes his 'maximalist' approach to design using pastel and charcoal. He talks about his early exposure to cinema as a child in Italy, and how it was always the art directors - not actors - he idolised. He describes the feeling of being 'a prisoner' to Federico Fellini's vision, compared to the artistic freedom of working with Martin Scorsese, and tells the story behind the decision to shoot Gangs of New York in Rome. He also shares his thoughts about green screen technology and the importance of making mistakes.