After making a splash with “Transparent,” Amazon Prime Video’s Italian original series “Prisma” will keep the navigation of gender identity at its core while catering to a young adult audience and connecting with Italy’s neorealist roots.
“Prisma,” which is currently shooting, is set in the city of Latina, just south of Rome, and its surrounding area, which used to be a swamp until the land was drained under Fascist rule. The area is now known for modernist architecture and fertile agriculture. The 10-episode show is centered around identical adolescent twins Marco and Andrea, who challenge gender norms in different ways, along with their group of friends who are also going through a similar journey.
“Prisma,” which means prism in Italian, is the brainchild of Ludovico Bessegato (pictured, left), who has gained local prominence as showrunner of “Skam Italia,” the Italian adaptation of the Nordic young adult drama that’s made a splash in Italy and plays on Netflix. Bessegato, who is directing “Prisma,” wrote the screenplays with Alice Urciuolo (pictured, right), a writer who hails from the Latina area. It’s being produced by Beta-owned Cross Productions, the shingle behind “Skam Italia” and also fact-based crimer “The Hunter,” about a Palermo prosecutor with a killer instinct for tracking down top Mafiosi.
In an interview with Variety, Amazon Studios’ head of Italian scripted originals Davide Nardini and Cross Productions president Rosario Rinaldo discussed the challenges of getting “Prisma” into production.
How did “Prisma” originate?
Rosario Rinaldo: We’ve been developing this show for about four years. That’s what Cross does: we work on diversity from different angles. We imagined a particular place like the Italian provinces with a specific identity. It’s this city built during Fascism with very strange architecture — with kids who are provincial, but not that much because it’s near Rome. A space where you have a nuclear power plant, factories, immigrants from India, buffaloes, a big general market for vegetables, the sea. It’s a very Italian setting. So we’ve been working on gender identity in this very specific setting, working on the search for gender identity. None of these kids has a clear-cut identity, both in terms of sexual gender and also in terms of their relationships. And one of the first potential partners we brought it to was Amazon.
Can you tell me more about the concept?
Davide Nardini: It’s titled ‘Prisma’ (Prism) because it’s an explosion of this reality that stems from the two twins. Each one of their worlds represents a different discourse in terms of gender and masculinity, and around them is a constellation of characters representing other facets of this reality. We are portraying this realistically without falling into stereotypes. We are also contrasting this diversity with the rationalist Fascist architecture of Latina. And we’re doing this by depicting issues they face in their everyday lives — issues that sometimes get oversimplified and instead need a level of complication and depth that long form narrative can achieve.
Rosario, how’s your first collaboration with Amazon been?
There was an immediate understanding between us on this show. The first thing we both said was, ‘Let’s not try to do a “teen drama” with all the limitations of this genre.’ Let’s try to make a show that’s different from that and go in the direction of neo-realism. It’s been a very constructive rapport in terms of working together on the writing and other aspects that aren’t easy because we have a young actor [whose name they are not revealing] who is, in his first acting experience, playing both of the main characters. These have to be made believable as twins which means a lot of work on set for both the actor and the director. And, from a technical standpoint, we are using really good face-replacement effects done by Italian company EDI. Also, the cast comprises 44 actors, 90% of whom have never acted before. So we are going back to [the streetcasting of] neo-realism. Fortunately, we’re now in the seventh week of shooting and pleased with the results.
Davide, how about making sure the show is real in terms of getting the gender identity issues and conflicts right?
There are issues that emerge in this series that are part of our [Amazon’s] DNA. We are very careful about representational models. We are trying to do something that is relevant by drawing from the knowledge of people who really know the subject matter. We have hired a transgender consultant that’s been with us from the writing phase and now on set. And the project has been discussed with GLAAD in the U.S.