Internet TV Mans Up! Ivan Silvestrini Offers an Inside Look at Stuck, The Italian Series About a Stunted Playboy That’s Changing the ITV Game
By Ariel Nishli
In 1995, veteran showrunner David Chase pitched a new series to HBO about a 40-year-old New Jersey suburbanite whose contentious relationship with his mother and stressful job forced him to meet with a therapist once a week. His situation was relatable to men across the country, except that he also happened to be the don of a Mafia family. The premise piqued most people’s curiosities; that it would forever change the nature of television was anyone’s guess.
The two key ingredients allowed The Sopranos to singlehandedly raise the bar for subsequent shows: character and production value. Tony Soprano was a brooding, complex antihero; a murderer and a family man constantly fighting his dark side for a sense of normalcy. As for the show’s aesthetics, it had a protracted, cinematic quality never before seen on TV.
Dr. Jennifer Melfi and Tony Soprano in The Sopranos
Today we’ve reached another turning point in television’s evolution, which is of course taking place online. The audience for short-form Internet series is growing in numbers and sophistication, but much of the fare is still ultra-low budget and amateurish. This has given rise to licensing, distribution and marketing companies like KoldCast TV, talent curators that handpick the very best series among an abundance of content, giving lift to exciting filmmakers aptly exploiting the burgeoning medium. Filmmakers like the spirited and opinionated Ivan Silvestrini (pictured at page top).
Words about the state of current cinema roll off the young Italian’s tongue like potent missiles aimed at convention, yet they convey the discipline he maintains in pursuit of his craft. Silvestrini sees Internet TV as nothing short of an entertainment revolution, and he’s arguably leading it with KoldCast’s newest dramedy Stuck, a show whose 12-minute runtime perfectly suits it for tablet, laptop, or mobile screens, but that is so beautifully shot it would like right at home on cable and broadcast TV.
Stuck’s leading man, David Rea, is a life coach of sorts who pulls his clients out of their ruts by brazenly stirring up their lives. Yet for all his charm, good looks, and supposed wisdom, Rea seems to be sitting at the bottom of the deepest ditch; he’s a 40-year-old man whose thrills come from bedding multitudes of women and creating personal drama. A complicated character that’s resonating with male audiences approaching middle age all around the world. Men, who like Rea, just can’t seem to grow up.
Silvestrini just wrapped his first feature Come Non Detto, a comedy about a young Italian man coming out of the closet to a very polarized community much like Italy itself, which is currently in the heat of a national gay rights debate ahead of its election. It’s further testament to Silvestrini’s ability to keep his finger on society’s pulse and parlay it into damn cool entertainment.
IVAN SILVESTRINI: I consider myself quite lucky to have had the opportunity to make my first feature film in Italy. At this moment, Italian cinema is moving in a really bad direction.
THE SIXTH WALL (T6W): Why do you say that?
IVAN: The number of movies produced in Italy decreases every day, every month, and every year. The established directors don’t easily leave space for new directors, so it’s very hard for a young director to make their first feature film. I had to deal with a lot of compromises to make this feature. It’s been two years of very hard work to get something that I consider mine.
T6W: Do you think there’s a lack of creativity in the Italian film world or is it mostly financial?
IVAN: Unfortunately, I think there is also a lack of creativity and the interesting fact is that web series actually represents a totally new opportunity. If I had to name the new Italian directors to watch, I would only pick web series directors because they’re exploring a new frontier for Italy. We’re arriving a little late compared to America, but it’s a new frontier that is exploding.
T6W: It’s still in its infancy in America too. Only recently has it started to really blow up, but it certainly hasn’t plateaued here.
IVAN: It’s interesting that technology and the changing perception of new media have made this revolution possible. I think that if you are a new director or a new writer, there’s no better place for you to get noticed, because now you can be completely free to express yourself. Producing a web series is not an easy thing, but if you really want to, you will find a way because you can. It’s not unaffordable to create a season.
T6W: It’s the first truly democratic film medium. Was your Internet TV series, Stuck, the result of an ultimate creative expression? Did you have to make any compromises?
IVAN: No, exactly my point. Stuck is quite revolutionary, for Italy at least. The decision to shoot in English was a first. Now I know that a new generation of filmmakers is making their web series in English after us. But the fact is, we wanted to escape the limitations of the Italian film industry. If I had to make Stuck with some Italian production company, I would for sure have to make lots and lots of compromises. The writing on Stuck is the result of complete artistic freedom, and that is what I like most.
T6W: Was your decision to make it an English language show in order to get more eyeballs or was it also a creative decision?
IVAN: It was primarily a creative decision. I wanted to use English humor because in Italy we have a very different kind of humor that I don’t like very much. I kind of hate it.
Click to watch Episode 1 of Stuck, “The Observer Effect”
T6W: What is it? Can you describe it?
IVAN: It’s much noisier.
T6W:. The director and star of Life is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni, comes to mind.
IVAN: That’s what I mean. He exaggerates the Italian way of making a comedy. He is a sort of a caricature of an Italian actor. But that’s the way he is. I like Life is Beautiful. It’s a wonderful movie but there are lots of Italian directors making films like that and I don’t want to be part of them.
T6W: You have to pursue a style that speaks to you.
IVAN: I’d have to say that’s kind of obvious in America but not in a little country like Italy. In America you have the wonderful indie movies that can be made because even if they don’t earn a lot in America, they have a worldwide market. I wanted to make Stuck without compromises but I didn’t want to lower the level of discussion.
T6W: What in your life experience inspired you to create a series about David Rea, the master manipulator of people’s emotions who thinks he has everything under control? Yet, he also spirals out of control, unsure of what he’s doing. There are a lot of contradictions to him.
IVAN: I wanted to create an antihero. I wanted to tell the story of the destruction of the powerful male role model many people may have in mind when they think, what kind of a man would I want to be, or be with? Someone who has everything under control, who can deal with women the way David Rea deals with them. But in fact, it’s an illusion. It’s David who is actually stuck because he does not accept that change is a part of life. If you want to stay young forever – if you don’t want to grow into a mature man – you become pathetic.
T6W: You develop a Peter Pan syndrome?
IVAN: Right. That is what happens to David Rea. He’s cool and clever. But when a forty-year-old man says he is not ready to be a father and he has no real reason, you have to ask, “What’s wrong with you man!” If he has a philosophical reason, I can respect that. But he doesn’t and it affects the way he deals with his clients. He brings everyone into his downward spiral. There’s an episode called “To Defend the Weak” and on the surface it seems that the weak one we’re referring to is Emma.
T6W: This is Episode 5, where he meets with Emma’s ex-boyfriend after sleeping with her.
IVAN: Exactly. “To Defend the Weak” is really about David defending the weakness within him. He has to defend himself from Ramona when she gets sexually aggressive with him. In the first episode, he manages vulnerable women as a sex toys. As his character unfolds, he becomes the sex toy for older, more assertive women on the show. It’s his destiny.
T6W: Do you think David Rea is representative of stunted men in their thirties today? Men who are afraid of growing up?
IVAN: Of course! The fact is that David Rea is a wonderfully charming character. He represents what some men are and what most men may aspire to be, without ever achieving it. What I wanted to say is, “Come on men! This is who you aspire to be? See how miserable it can be. How miserable! Even an exciting sex life where you f*ck lots of wonderful women – what’s behind it? In the sixth episode, you see the pathetic face he has on while he gets f*cked like a sex toy by Lisa. He’s lost control of who f*cks him. As you said, he’s lost control of his life.
T6W: So it’s a cautionary tale for men. What about the women of Stuck? They seem to go from weak to strong in opposition to David. What were you trying to say there?
IVAN: So, women… We have three main women in the show and of course they change throughout the series in different ways. Ramona is his secretary in the beginning of the first season and turns out to be very dominating towards the end, especially because she can blackmail him. Emma, who is very weak in the beginning, grows in strength with each episode. She’ll get her revenge on David as well. Lisa is a bit different than Emma or Ramona because she is much more in control of what she wants and enjoys life.
T6W: Are you happy leaving David Rea struggling, or do you have any desire to tell the story of him maturing into the man he is supposed to be?
IVAN: I don’t want his story to end because I want to make many seasons of Stuck. I’m not going to make him become a very good man so easily. But, of course, he will have to deal with the man that he is before the end of season one. What you’re asking is going to be satisfied in the next episode but I won’t tell you anymore now.
Click to watch Episode 2 of Stuck, “Sex Does Not Exist”
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T6W: Was David Rea influenced at all by Mad Men’s Don Draper?
IVAN: I love Don Draper. He’s one of the most powerful characters in modern television, in modern drama altogether. Of course, David is the exaggerated version of what Don Draper may become. We see the destruction of Draper as a family man with children, because he’s leading two different lives. In this way, David is a lot more honest because he is the way he is and he doesn’t betray anyone. If I ever make something like Mad Men in my life I’ll be a happy man. It takes time and maybe web series are not the perfect medium to do it. Mad Men is beautiful the way it is because it’s longer. It’s a very slow burn. You can take your time, and it’s incredible that Mad Men doesn’t need strong cliffhangers.
T6W: Do you think web series need strong cliffhangers to keep their audiences?
IVAN: I think that you need cliffhangers, but what you should concentrate on the most is making the audience love your characters because then they will follow you regardless. You sympathize so much with what they’re dealing with that you really want to live with them, live close to them. Of course I use cliffhangers, but everyone uses cliffhangers in cinema.
T6W: There’s so much content online. It’s exploding as you said, so you do need to utilize those storytelling tools in order to help your series build an audience.
IVAN: It’s very interesting. It’s the first time I’ve made a web series. I love it because I see comments from people like, “Come on, what the f*ck? I want to know! Don’t leave me like that!” That’s good because it means you are affecting that viewer somehow.
T6W: Are you obsessive about keeping up with viewers’ comments?
IVAN: I’m very happy because I don’t receive many bad comments and you know how evil the Internet community can be. They are very mean and don’t wait a moment to smear sh*t on your work. Stuck is receiving a wonderful response. I receive lots of comments from people saying it’s the best Show they’ve ever seen. So I’m very happy.
Ariel Nishli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sixth Wall. He’s got a big apple in his heart but moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007, he worked in the motion picture literary department at ICM, then moved on to feature film development at Parkes MacDonald Productions. Ariel’s wardrobe has steadily devolved from designer suits to worn out slippers, as he now focuses on screenwriting and journalism when he’s not obsessing over this magazine.