The Bedeschi Film director on how The Lord of the Rings changed his life, his many apprenticeships and the endemic fear in Italian adland
Although he’d wanted to become a director since the age of 11, Alberto Poli decided to study Communication Psychology rather than filmmaking, so he learnt his craft on the job. Luckily for him, he landed at Bedeschi Film soon after university, where he was able to watch and learn from the Milan-based company’s more than capable directors such as founder Giovanni Bedeschi and Edoardo Lugari.
It did the job and these days Alberto is directing films like the #Doittogether online video for Indesit with JWT Italy, which won the 2017 ADCI’s Equal Special Prize for its active role in fighting for gender equality.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with him to find out what makes him tick.
LBB> You’re originally from Monza – the home of the Italian Grand Prix in Formula 1. What was it like growing up there, and how did creativity impact your younger years?
Alberto> Growing up in Monza was very nice when I was a child. Monza is a small city and this allowed me to have a certain freedom that most other kids of the same age living in larger urban centres didn’t have. I could go to the centre of Monza on Saturday afternoons alone with my friends, I could go to the park (one of Monza’s most beautiful aspects) on my bike. As I grew up that situation started to become a limit.
Monza is a place that tends to encourage everybody to be the same and isolates anybody who wants to be different, which is what happens in almost every small provincial town. Creativity (or should I say imagination?) during my childhood was a like a refuge from a reality which I really did not fit into. This sometimes happens to me today when I’m bored – I find myself imagining a world in which I feel more comfortable.
P.S. I’ve never attended the Grand Prix.
LBB> How did you first get interested in advertising and filmmaking?
Alberto> I’ve always had a talent for storytelling. When I was a child I would learn by heart the lines of the movies and cartoons that I’d watch and then I would repeat them to my grandmother who would patiently hear me out.
My first approach to the world of movies in a practical sense was when I was 11 years old. I asked for a video camera as a present to film all our family trips. To this day I still remember that afternoon in the video shop when my father pulled a face of disapproval as he paid the shop assistant (video cameras were pretty expensive back in those days). Shortly after I asked for an editing program (Pinnacle) and that was when I started putting together a mash up of images that I’d shoot with the video camera or that I had picked from movies and cartoons downloaded from the Internet. I would make short movies, borderline nonsense that now, come to think of it, I would be curious to see again. When in high school I saw the making of The Lord of the Rings. That was when I understood what I wanted to do in life.
LBB> You first started your career as an assistant to directors such as Giovanni Bedeschi, Richard de Aragues, Wayne Holloway, Luca Robecchi, Guido Belforte, Gigi Piola and Edoardo Lugari. What was that experience like and what did you learn in those years?
Alberto> I’d say I learnt everything. When I started working with Giovanni at Bedeschi Film I had just graduated from university. I had earned a degree in Communication Psychology and I had never attended film school. Therefore what I learnt about directing I basically learnt on set, observing other directors. I worked on my many sets, actually I’d say a vast number of sets, as assistant director for Italian and foreign directors. Every time I learnt something new about directing. All the phases that a director has to handle in order to carry out his work, from pre-production to editing.
LBB> What has your time at Bedeschi Film been like?
Alberto> Giovanni Bedeschi is a person who likes to share. He is like a big brother and he carries this nature within him. Ever since he founded Bedeschi Film, he has always raised other talents as if they were his younger brothers.
I compare my experiences in Bedeschi Film to that of a person who has never seen water and all of a sudden he is thrown into the sea: you either survive or die. If you survive it means you have learnt how to swim. I doubt there is a better way to teach.
LBB> What projects that you’ve worked on are you most proud of?
Alberto> Recently I shot an Italian commercial against racism – a plague, I hate to admit, that is increasingly manifesting itself again in my country (like most of the Western world) – precisely in the moment we thought we had totally overcome the issue. I put a lot of passion into the making of that commercial and I am very proud of it because the issue is a concern for me. If this commercial could only make one person stop and think, I’d know that I have done some good, making it worthwhile for me to work in the world of communications.
LBB> What’s your opinion on the current state of Italian advertising?
Alberto> I believe there is fear. The fear to make a mistake, to be too daring, not to be understood, the fear to be criticised or lose the client. So there is a tendency to rely on numbers, on marketing research, on ‘the media’ as such that cannot but generate the obvious. That is exactly the opposite of what creativity is all about.
It’s a tough job for anyone doing advertising these days; the Internet is merciless towards any type of initiative. Haters shout louder than anybody else. They are scary because for some reason for every single hater who leaves a destructive comment about a campaign, there are as many other people who have appreciated and understood a campaign but who simply have a life apart from Facebook and therefore do not leave any comments. When we understand that whatever you do there will always be somebody ready to criticise, we will be free again, ready to start producing interesting campaigns again.
LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Alberto> I do not have just one source of inspiration. A lot depends on the moment and on the type of project. Often when I have to write a treatment or imagine a film, listening to music helps me a lot because it is more immediate than images. So after I have read a brief I search for the music or a song or a musician that I believe best represents the world that I wish to create. I listen to that one song on loop many times over so that the words blend in with the emotions. Other times, I just simply search on Vimeo and on the internet to find out what other film makers or photographers have produced on the same theme.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to cool off?
Alberto> I like to go to the mountains. I have always felt attracted towards that sense of feeling small, calm and the eternity (almost) that snow capped mountain peaks convey. Being there I believe changes perspectives. It brings you back to a more realistic sense of the existence, less filtered than all the man-made things which are ever present in the city. In the mountains things are more like nature wants them to be. I get the same sensation from the sea but because they are closer, I more often hit the mountains. In general, as soon as I have the opportunity I try to get out of the city, even if its only for lunch out in the country air.
LBB> You recently worked on Indesit’s successful #DoItTogether campaign. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Alberto> It was a very interesting experience. It was an international campaign I am happy I was able to contribute to. What JWT has been doing now for some years for the Indesit brand is a very good example of the direction I believe the world of communication should be taking: taking a product and turning it into an ethical ideal. Companies and international groups in our times have truly become social agents. I think it’s correct that they should take sides and try to ‘sell’ values along with their products, even amidst many difficulties, and they are well aware that they will be accused of a lack of authenticity. When we were working on this project we firmly believed in the issue it was bringing across and in the fact that we were doing (in our own little way) something that would be important for everybody.
LBB> What have been the biggest challenges when making your films and how did you and your team overcome them?
Alberto> On one of my first jobs as a director I had to deal with a very famous Italian celebrity. The idea was that he should walk down a very famous street here in Milan as did Richard Ashcroft in Bitter Sweet Symphony. What I had not been told (and possibly neither the agency nor client were aware of this) was that the celebrity was disabled. It was a nightmare: he would take two strides and then we would have to stop and start all over again. Despite these difficulties we managed to complete the job successfully. When I think of that job now I can have a good laugh.
In general every project comes with its set of problems. The difference with making movies is that, contrary to other forms of art, it is all about teamwork and it could not be any other way. I can write a lovely poem all by myself sitting in a bar using a paper napkin and a pen, I can compose a three-note melody at night with my headphones on in my bedroom, I can paint a lovely painting downstairs in my cellar but I cannot shoot a film all by myself. The work of a director compared to any other artist is that it takes time and you face, from my point of view, very complex challenges given the collective nature of filmmaking. Sometimes the issue is the budget, sometimes it is the clashing of different visions (for example between the director and the writer of the idea or whoever is financing the project). Sometimes it is a matter of timing. It is always a challenge. Often you have to accept a compromise and from my modest experience, when one is sure of one’s idea you have to insist on it and pull in everybody else to follow you. I believe that this ability can make the difference in becoming a good director.
LBB> What tips would you give to somebody hoping to break into the world of directing?
Alberto> Be prepared to do the leg work, never give in, this is not an easy career. Never be afraid to be a little crazy and a little daring and, like I mentioned before, pursue your ideas. In the end you will be judged and valued by the end result. The in-between will soon be forgotten.