Leonardo (working title) – Television Series
Role: Leonardo Da Vinci
Producer– Lux Vide
Executive Producer – Freddie Highmore Alfresco Productions
Showrunner – Frank Spotnitz Big Light Productions
Director – Daniel Percival
Co-Writers – Steve Thompson and Frank Spotnitz
Filming – Dec 2019 – Spring 2020
Length – 8 episodes
International Distribution – Germany’s Beta
Release Date – mid to late 2020 in conjunction with 500th Anniversary of Leonardo’s Death.
Leonardo – Aidan Turner
Leonardo’s master Andrea del Verrocchio – Giancarlo Giannini
Detective Stefano Giraldi – Freddie Highmore
With the casting of Freddie Highmore as Stefano Giraldi,” a fictional police detective who frames the narrative, investigating da Vinci as the suspect in a murder case and digging into his past.” , we get a little more insight in to what will tie the different episodes together.
The fact that Highmore is also coming as Executive Producer through his Alfresco Pictures could be a good sign as far as distribution in US and Uk as Alfresco is aligned with Sony Pictures.
The English-language series is planned for screening next year to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
The production will attempt to build a picture of the Italian Renaissance genius whose many creative talents included painting, sculpture, architecture, science, mathematics and engineering, starting from when he was a young man.
Lux Vide CEO Luca Bernabei said the drama would give “life to a young Leonardo and not the old man with a beard we all are used to see. He too had a first job, he too had a master… he too had frustrations and failures.”
Each episode will focus on one of da Vinci’s masterpieces, inventions or projects as a means of capturing the man behind the creative genius. source: ScreenDaily.com
Spotnitz said his and Thompson’s intention is “not just [to] say that Leonardo was a genius, but really show why he was a genius and have the audience understand what it was that made him so brilliant and radical and centuries ahead of this time….To do that, you need to get really close to his work.”source: Variety.com
“Capturing the character of Leonardo has been one of the most fascinating and exciting challenges of my career,” Spotnitz has said. “It’s hard to fathom that a man this extraordinary could even have existed, let alone the human impulses that drove him to achieve such extraordinary things.” (Deadline.com)
Spotnitz confirmed that the show would probably mark the first time Leonardo will be portrayed on screen as being gay, news that caused a stir on social media in Italy. But Spotnitz also added that this is not central to his character.
“Some of his relationships were with men; those were significant relationships,” Spotnitz said. “But perhaps the most significant relationship in his life was with a friend who was a woman, with whom he was very close, and we unpack that.” -Variety
Spotnitz and British writer Stephen Thompson (“Sherlock”) are writing this English-language series dedicated to the Renaissance art genius, who will not be depicted as the bearded painter many may have in mind. Andreatta has pointed out that da Vinci was a complex character who had a very troubled childhood. “He was an illegitimate son, he was gay and left-handed,” she says, adding that the hook into his character will be a woman who modeled for him. Each episode will draw from one of Leonardo’s masterworks, “but the personal and adventurous aspects of his life prevail over the purely artistic ones.” This should be the first project of the Alliance with Italy’s Lux Vide producing, Germany’s Beta as international distributor, and a strong interest (to be confirmed when the scripts are ready) on the part of France Televisions and ZDF.
The following is an interview with Spotnitz Thompson and from a year ago.
Frank Spotnitz and Steve Thompson on the Challenges Posed by Enigmatic ‘Leonardo’
by Nick Vivarelli 7 December 2018
Variety: How are you guys tackling this beast?
Spotnitz: With Leonardo, the advantage you have is that there is so much built-in fascination with him. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me excited that we are doing this show to tell me how interested they are in Leonardo, although not that many people really know that much about his life….What we are doing in writing the story is not taking that interest for granted, and kind of pretending like he isn’t this world-famous artist and inventor and scientist, and just making it a compelling human drama even if he was somebody you had never heard of.
Variety: Some of the aspects that are going to stand out are those that are lesser-known, such as that he was an outsider, an illegitimate child, gay, vegetarian, left-handed.
Thompson: There is a huge amount of information about Leonardo, but there are still some enigmas. Whenever you read his biography, there are still places where the biography starts to speculate. And from the point of view of Frank and I, that’s just wonderful, because it means there are moments which are factual, but there are [also] moments where we can be dramatic and venture off a little bit and try and solve these enigmas….
He was an outsider in many ways. But when we started to read about him, we were amazed and thrilled to find out there were actually some key relationships in his life….There were people he painted, people in the portraits whom he forged really interesting relationships with. And eventually, for a man who was basically an outsider and who was rejected by his family when he was young, he started to form his own family around him. He had people who were very close to him – friends, colleagues who became very close to him. Some of those relationships are really interesting to unpack and to explore, which I think is quite surprising, because he tends to think of himself as an outsider and very isolated. Actually, he wasn’t.
Variety: I don’t want to overemphasize the aspect of Leonardo being gay, which lends itself to being misconstrued as one of the central elements of the narrative. However, if I’m not mistaken this will probably be the first time that this aspect of Leonardo is represented on screen. Does this pose any challenges for you?
Thompson: It’s certainly a feature, but it’s not the main pillar on which we are hanging it. Some of his relationships were with men; those were significant relationships. But perhaps the most significant relationship in his life was with a friend who was a woman, with whom he was very close, and we unpack that. So we are not steering clear of it….It’s just part of the mix.
Variety: As I understand it, each episode will in some way revolve around one of Leonardo’s masterworks.
Thompson: Yes, that’s true because, importantly, each of his masterworks has a really juicy drama attached to it. The actual creation of some of these pieces of art involved incredible toil and incredible battle….Sometimes they are not necessarily going to be the works you expected them to be. Certainly some of the works we describe were never even realized. One of them in particular was never even painted. It was just planned. But the story of its creation, and ultimately its destruction, is a really interesting one.
Spotnitz: The other thing that Steve and I want to do is not just say that Leonardo was a genius, but really show why he was a genius and have the audience understand what it was that made him so brilliant and radical and centuries ahead of this time. To do that, you need to get really close to his work.
Variety: Does that mean there isn’t going to be an episode centered around the Mona Lisa?
Thompson: The Mona Lisa is something that he was painting for years. He started painting it and then he went back to it. Actually, getting it out of his clutches and releasing it took a long time…So the Mona Lisa isn’t an episode. It’s part of a much longer period of narrative.
Spotnitz: But will you be disappointed if you are a Mona Lisa fan? The answer is no. You will learn everything you want to know – hopefully not too much, but everything you want to know about the true story behind the Mona Lisa and why it’s such an important painting.
The following is a portion of an interview Deadline.com did with Freddie Highmore a year ago. It was specifically about his new production company, Alfresco Pictures, and it’s relationship to Sony. The portion below is where he talks about Leonardo.
DEADLINE: What does Sony offer that you can’t get elsewhere?
HIGHMORE: One of the nicest things about being at Sony is, because they’re an independent studio, they’re by definition not providing for themselves, and so they’re not trying to push us into developing one form of storytelling over another. If it’s a project that fits best on broadcasting, great, or if it’s cable or if it’s streaming or if it’s a limited series, they’re very open to all of those. And having not had an experience at a different studio, I can only imagine what it would be like. But at Sony there’s definitely not, “You must create a project for this network.”
I know ‘family’ is an overused term, but it feels like a home, being at Sony and being on the lot. And I’ve got to know everyone very well, obviously, through The Good Doctor, from the beginning. I’ve built these wonderful, close relationships with everyone there. Jason Clodfelter was instrumental in putting together this whole deal. And Lauren Stein as well, who I had known from The Good Doctor pilot. The two of them, I’ve known longer than anyone.
But now, I’d say I definitely have great relationships with Jason as well as Jeff Frost and Chris Parnell, the other co-Presidents, and Tony Vinciquerra. There’s a lovely sense of collaboration with all of them on all of these projects, and they’re all very much open and engaged, and keen to listen to ideas whenever they come up. It’s not this kind of weirdly hierarchical structure to work within.
And then the other great thing is that they have such a strong international arm. Leonardo came through Sony’s international team. I was in Europe doing a film last year and had sat down with Wayne Garvie, who runs Sony International from London. And then a person called Brendan Fitzgerald, who was based in Spain. They were looking at this project, Leonardo, and it fitted exactly with the sort of stories that we wanted to tell. And so, we could team up with them to help get Leonardo made in a way that probably a studio that didn’t have that kind of international reach, we wouldn’t have been able to be involved with it at all.
DEADLINE: What was it about Leonardo that fit into Alfresco’s sensibility?
HIGHMORE: It’s about the stripping back of this enigmatic personality to reveal a truth that I don’t think many people are aware of with him, and that has perhaps been purposefully not discussed over the course of the many years that people have been interested in Leonardo. And that’s seeing him as this illegitimate child, as a gay man, very much as an outsider.
What’s great about the way Frank and Steve have written it is it’s not this facile conclusion of, “Oh, he’s just a tortured, artistic soul and we just have to understand him for who he is.” It’s better than that. I think people are a bit bored of the idea of excusing people simply for being tortured souls. And there needs to be much more in order to like a character and to understand them.
I think that harks back to what we were saying earlier about definitions of modern masculinity and how they are constantly and rightfully evolving today. Looking at Leonardo at this time is about examining the repercussions of what happens when society stifles male vulnerability, or pigeonholes the idea of what it is to be a man.
DEADLINE: You’ll act in the series too. Tell me about your role.
HIGHMORE: The structure of the show is framed by this murder investigation where Leonardo has been accused of murder. My character, Stefano Giraldi, he is trying to figure out what happened. He is trying to understand the truth. And at least initially, he doesn’t really have any great appreciation for Leonardo and for his artistry in general.
I’m excited for the mind games between my character and Leonardo. Hopefully, they’ll be these wonderful, tennis match scenes between the two of them as each of them is trying to suss the other one out and figure out what the realities of the other person are. They have preconceptions of what the other person is like but they don’t know them at all on a genuine level. And so, in a funny way, my character arrives with perhaps the same preconceptions or ideas of Leonardo as the audience will. And throughout the course of the show, will try and figure out who that person really is instead of the one that everyone has been saying he is. The myths, positive or negative, that people have perpetuated.
DEADLINE: Were you surprised by what you’ve come to learn about Leonardo’s life?
HIGHMORE: I guess I was oblivious to who this person genuinely was. Usually, we come to feel like we understand him through his paintings. And therefore, we attribute certain things to him that we have seen in his work instead of making more of an attempt to separate the art that he’s making from the person that he was at the time. I think he was able to, in part, remain an enigma in that moment because he could hide a little bit through his work. Hide the things that he wasn’t able to say and be open up about at the time, disguise those truer, deeper thoughts and emotions in his artwork that we can only now be truly seeking to understand and dig away at.
DEADLINE: Where are you in terms of your conversations with Frank and Steve?
HIGHMORE: We’ve discussed a lot the character that I’m going to be playing, because originally in Frank and Steve’s conception he was older than I am. It’s hard speaking about it now, because the scripts are still being written. The last few scripts are being written. There’s still a sense of work in progress that is now coming to an end and ready to shoot. At this stage, things are consolidating and coming together and becoming more definitive.
I’m an Executive Producer on it, and then Claire as well is a co-Executive Producer on it. I think I feel when one isn’t writing on the project, I see my role as a producer is in supporting the vision of Frank and Steve as much as possible. And being there to help them tell the story that they want to tell. You need to be on the same page and subscribe to what the writer’s vision is, and then be able to help them implement it insofar as possible.
About “The Alliance”
I’ve been trying to get an idea of exactly what “The Alliance” that is financing and distributing “Leonardo” is all about. I’ve done some research and would say the simple answer is that it’s European competition for streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix. By pooling resources, a group of public broadcasters can produce high budget content. So the answer to the question of “How/Where will Leonardo air” is probably – Streaming in Europe first and then the rest of the world.
Below is what I’ve compiled about The Alliance: (If shared, please credit)
The Alliance is a joint VOD (Video on Demand) platform to fight Netflix, Amazon, HBO and other big US VOD platforms that are pulling viewers away from mainstream public broadcasters. The Alliance is made up of a group of European broadcasters who will share in the financing of original content, big budget projects to compete with the series being put out by US streaming platforms.
“We can imagine European blockbusters that can compete with the American series,” added Eleonora Andreatta, RAI’s fiction director.
The Alliance sees itself as “a flexible and project-driven organization,” meaning that its members can carry out co-productions with one or more pubcasters within The Alliance but also with other private companies who are not members of the pact. Members must, however, keep each other informed about European co-production projects that each of them is planning in what amounts to a first-look arrangement.
A key aspect of The Alliance is that all linear and non-linear TV rights must stay in the pubcasters’ hands. ~atlanticbb.net
“We want to make sure that we expand in an organic way, rather than be really disruptive and do something which nobody would expect from us,” he said. “It’s a crowded market space, but also it’s a very active and vivid market space. Because of the streamers…there are a lot of new shows from new territories which haven’t been seen so much. It’s the perfect time for us to test more things.” ~Robert Franke / France Televisions
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