Giovanni D’Amaro is a 36-year-old writer and director from Naples who lives in Rome. After his graduation with honors in Architecture at the University of Naples “Federico II” with a thesis about cinema and the city, he decided to pursue writing and filmmaking. He started by reading books on cinema, taking classes in acting, cinematography, writing, and directing at the National Film School in Rome, and attending masterclasses with Giuseppe Tornatore and other directors. As a result of this training, he made short films, such as the commercial for Pompeii which won a 3000 € prize in 2010 and aired on networks worldwide, from China to USA.
In 2015, supported by a letter of reference from Oscar-winning producer of The Great Beauty Nicola Giuliano, he was shortlisted at the NYU Tisch School and accepted at the Master in Filmmaking at the London Film School, where he studied with Stephen Frears and Mike Leigh. Having dropped the course after a few months for financial reasons, Giovanni went back to Italy, but felt not discouraged at all. Instead, he kept pursuing his dream by earning a scholarship at the Master in Screenwriting at the University of Padua, where he wrote his first feature screenplay, Death is Contagious. Shortly after Giovanni realized that, although it had a strong premise, the story was not well told. It needed to be more vast, more ambitious, more imaginative, just like the stories he had read and loved. So, he started over by writing it in the form of a novel, with the aim of publishing it and someday writing a film adaptation from it.
In 2017, feeling he still needed much more control on his writing, Giovanni enrolled in the Master in Screenwriting at the Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome. Having developed an interest in writing for tv, he also attended the week-long workshop Showrunner – TV Drama Writing with Neil Landau at the prestigious UCLA Film School in Los Angeles. Two years ago, he went on to complete a 6-month internship at Rai Fiction, working as a story editor on HBO series My Brilliant Friend 2 and Medici: The Magnificient. Last year he worked as 2nd AD on Survivors, a drama series coproduced by RAI Fiction, France Televisions and ZDF. Giovanni is currently writing a revenge story feature and a fantasy novel.
NY Elite Interview with Giovanni D’Amaro, Screenwriter and Director
NY Elite: Congratulations on being an ISC finalist. What does it mean for your work to be selected at the International Screenwriting Competition in New York?
Giovanni D’Amaro: I still find hard to believe that I am an ISC finalist! Thus far this is the closest to the fulfillment of my dream, that actually is making movies in America. My favorite mode of narration and of film directing has always been the American one, both Hollywood and off-Hollywood. I always strive to tell stories as strong and involving as those written by American storytellers. So, being exposed to the American film industry and audience is a sort of holy grail for me. Being an ISC finalist is also the validation that I have grown up as a screenwriter and that I am ready for the industry.
As a finalist I also hope to be exposed to a wide range of different people with different cultural backgrounds that will ultimately enrich my life, my vision of the world and my writing skills.
NY Elite: Can you tell us about the work that you participated with at ISC? What is the story about?
Giovanni D’Amaro: The script I sent to the ISC is named The Guilt and its structure blends a linear storyline set in a village of Northern Italy during the fifties, with a flashback storyline set in the same place during the end of Second World War. At its core it is essentially a drama, but most of all a coming of age, a rite of passage for both a father and a son, Giacomo and Luca, who struggle with their respective sense of guilt for an unconfessed crime that each has always kept hidden from the other.
At the beginning of the story Giacomo forces Luca to take part in a mysterious killing, so he can finally grow up and become stronger. However, this event unexpectedly triggers painful memories from both Giacomo’s past as a fascist soldier during the war and from Luca’s childhood. In the end they will come to terms with their own guilts and will get the rare opportunity to atone.
NY Elite: Can you tell us yourself and your artistic talents?
Giovanni D’Amaro: I’ve got a very optimistic temperament, but sometimes I am also very pessimistic and cynical. I think that each of us feel and act that way, but I am still trying to figure out how it is possible for us to possess such a multilayered personality. Maybe it’s the contradictory nature of life that causes me and other people to act that way. I am saying this, because it is this kind of wide-ranging temperament that makes me both sensible and logical, warm and icy in what I love to write about. My artistic sensibility always fluctuates between a watchful eye on how people live and a sympathetic tenderness for human miseries. That said, I believe that artistic talent comes out of a mixture of rational and emotional intelligence. I can’t state what I am excellent at, I can just keep writing to discover if at least I am talented in doing this.
NY Elite: What scripts have you written so far?
Giovanni D’Amaro: I’ve got short scripts that have been produced, but the feature scripts that I have written so far are few and unproduced, as I didn’t dare to send them to any producer. Mostly they have been my testing ground in which I learnt the art of screenwriting. I am currently working on the most mature and satisfying story among them, and soon I will be ready to submit it both to studios and screenwriting competitions around the world.
NY Elite: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?
Giovanni D’Amaro: The project that means the most to me is the commercial for the UNESCO Archeological Site of Pompeii, which ended up winning a 3000 euros first prize and aired on worldwide networks. I shot it with the help of just two friends: a cinematographer and a young actress. I was young, full of ideas, but out of budget and crew, stressed by the heat of August and bothered by the tourists constantly looking into the camera. Anyway, it reveled to be the ultimate learning experience, because every skill I had learnt up to that point came into place in a satisfying way.
Another top moment that has shaped my skills has been working as a story editor on the scripts of HBO drama series My Brilliant Friend 2. In 2019 I was making my internship in RAI Fiction and was so eager to work on a top-notch project like this, as I already was a fan of Ferrante’s novels. Along with the series screenwriters, RAI and HBO producers, I learned how to adapt such a complex novel and how to turn a first draft into a shooting script ready to be filmed.
The third most interesting project I have been involved in is the series Survivors. Being an assistant director gives you yet another perspective on film. It allows you to see how the written words turn into the practicalities and intricacies of a film set and budget, and then forces you to go back to your typewriter and pay much more attention to what you write and how you write it.
NY Elite: What type of scripts do you want to write in your career?
Giovanni D’Amaro: Every writer who really loves cinema and fiction usually enjoys a great variety of genres, such as drama, coming of age, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, mystery, musical. I just think that as a writer you always need to look back at your writing and search for the themes that you cared the most. So, it’s not a question of the types of films you want to write, but of the leitmotivs that keep spinning in your mind. Basically, you can make a sci-fi, a comedy, a western or a musical out of the same topic. Therefore, if you find that something recurs and is explored over and over in your scripts, you can be sure you’re on the right path to become a real auteur. In my case, I’ve found that many themes are central in my work: death intended as something to escape from or accept, the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood, the consequences of guilt, and the controversial father-son relationship (even though I had a wonderful relationship with my father before he died).
NY Elite: As a writer, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Giovanni D’Amaro: I believe that Ancient Greeks’ wisdom never fails. When Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that story is more important than character, he was right. I always come up with a theme and a series of events that whet my narrative appetite, and only then I look for the most appropriate characters that can embark on that particular journey. That said, character is so important in storytelling and, in order to captivate an audience and become unforgettable, he needs to have certain qualities. He must be provided with flaws, a need, an objective for whom he should struggle, and a self-revelation that marks the end of his journey and measures how far he has gone from the initial flawed self to the new self he has achieved overcoming lots of obstacles.
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Giovanni D’Amaro: My current writing efforts are mainly devoted to a feature script and a novel. The feature is a revenge story set in Rome during the lockdown 2020 and takes inspiration from both Pasolini’s movie Teorema and the Greek myth of Uranus and Cronos. The novel is a fantasy that takes place during the Years of Lead in 1980’s Italy and blends historical drama with fantasy and mythology as experienced by Marco, an 11-year-old boy. It something along the lines of Rowling’s Harry Potter and Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
Giovanni D’Amaro: The reason I love cinema so much is that it allows you to bring into play a great variety of skills and interests. My favorite form of expression besides writing has always been drawing. I think that since childhood it has been the first tool that I used to conjure up an imaginary world, replete with characters and settings. I could say that in my creative life the images came first, then came the written words to sustain and give depth to those images. Another creative form that I enjoy is singing, even though I did not take professional classes. Anyway, when I sing, I feel a childish pleasure and light-heartedness that other art forms hardly give me.
NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking/writing?
Giovanni D’Amaro: I’ve got two big advices for newcomers. The first one is to carefully study the principles of dramatic writing and to use them to shape their own story. Not by chance Alfred Hitchcock said that film students should first make films with their typewriter, and Orson Welles thought that the film technique can be learnt in a week or so. Indeed, our primary concern is not to learn how to use a camera, but how to tell an involving story that can elicit emotion in the audience. Loads of contemporary movies, although technically well-crafted, fail on a storytelling level.
The second big advice is to act like a sponge. Travel a lot and absorb everything, read all kind of writers, watch a Bergman movie but also a Marvel one, hear how people talk, study human behavior and psychology, pay attention to your dears’ suffering and to yours too. Ultimately put yourself in other people’s shoes. Eventually all of this exposure will nurture your own sensibility and provide you with an original vision on what it means to be human, a vision so strong to stir other people’s hearts. That’s what really distinguishes an artist from a craftsman.