Interview with Italian director/producer/screen writer Simona Ilaria Di Michele on her career with a focus on the unreleased short film, UnderSense, starring Aida Yespica.

Note: this interview was conducted over email in English in April 2013. Simona has, generously, also provided answers in her native Italian.

simona_profileSimona Ilaria di Michele is a young Italian Director/Producer/Screen Writer whose short film UnderSense, starring Aida Yespica, is about to be released to festivals. Simona was born in Puglia, Italy in 1987 and has graduated in Media Design & Media Art in Milan, Italy; earned a degree in Filmmaking in Los Angeles and a Master’s degree in Graphic Design and Advertising, again in Italy. Simona has directed three short films before UnderSense Nuovo Avvento (2007), Water (2008), (In)visibility (2009) and worked as a Producer and Assistant Director on several other films.

UnderSense is a journey through a woman’s mind, and deals closely with the various social problems of a woman who is determined and free, but has many problems in love.

Ciao Simona, and thank you for giving me some of your time. I have given a brief summary of UnderSense above, could you expand on this a little for us… what is the film about and what are its main themes?

Every human being has his or her own unique mentality… Sometimes we think we know ourselves, but then we are faced with situations where we marvel at our own reactions. This is where we start to reach the conclusion that sometimes one person has multiple identities, each different from the others…

UnderSense is the journey inside a woman’s mind. In the background there is a society in which we find a woman, Alicia (played by Aida Yespica), who does not know how to love, and that is due to compromise. In the life of Alicia belong two people, Shara, played by Gaia Saporito, and Bill played by Alessandro Mario. Shara is another woman, another story. Sarah is “in love” with Alicia. Into this “love” she puts all of herself, becoming the alter ego of Alicia. Shara is a woman, a friend, always present in Alicia’s life. A character sometimes inconvenient and unwelcome, and who is the source of great confusion. A strong woman, charming, but who in this case is herself charmed. Bill is the boyfriend of the Beautiful Alicia. A fascinating man, in love with her and caring, but only in appearance. Bill is caring, but only because it helps him get what he needs. A man who tries to understand his woman and love her as she is. In his heart, he knows that something is not right, but leaves Alicia free to choose and live her life. But there’s a side of him that lives only for himself: he lives a superficial life.

I searched and wanted to explain the emotional difficulties with which a woman must fight. Not always have everything it means to be happy. There are many roles that are interpreted in real life. It is not always easy to be honest, especially with yourself.

Simona Ilaria Di Michele on the set of UnderSense
Simona on the set of UnderSense
Simona Ilaria Di Michele on the set of UnderSense

What is the running time of UnderSense?

UnderSense is about 12 min with the title and everything.

When can we expect to see it released?

This week I will finalize everything and after this I will start to send it to festivals. I will put up a trailer in the next week, I think.

UnderSense is the first film you have directed since the 2009 (In)visibility. How did this project come about and what has occupied your time in the intervening period?

In recent years I have worked a lot on myself. I studied a lot. I have studied the psychology of human beings and how it changes in facing the difficulties that life presents. Traveling has helped me so much to discover multiple realities. Travelling has stimulated in me a lot of fantasy and seeing new cultures has helped me to improve in my role as a director. Above all I deepened my passion for film, looking for new ideas.

How did Aida become involved in UnderSense?

Aida has believed in this project from the start. As soon as I presented it to her. And she wanted to produce it, along with Gaia. Then I proposed her to be the main character of UnderSense: watching and knowing her, she was the perfect actress. And she accepted.

I’ve not yet seen the film, but Aida’s role in UnderSense would seem to be the most demanding of her acting career. How has she taken to this challenge?

The problems on the set are not missed, the roles that Aida was to play, for the multiple personalities of her role, were varied: changes in hair and makeup, costumes and locations and the timings were very tight. Aida on set was spectacular. She followed my directions and was able to immediately identify herself with the part, and she was professional and impeccable.

The film is getting quite a deal of attention due to Aida’s involvement, and more particularly some set stills that have been circulated. Do you have any concerns that such publicity can overshadow the film itself?

I am not afraid that the popularity of Aida can obscure the film. Her role is crucial, of course. But it is an integral part of the film. If UnderSense will have good luck will be thanks to the entire troupe.

In viewing some of the stills from the set of UnderSense, there were a few that, to me, strongly evoked other movies, particularly Eyes Wide Shut and Girl, Interrupted. Were these films a source of inspiration and were there any others?

Yes, I took a lot of inspiration from these films and others like Doberman by Jan Kounen, Basic Instinct by Paul Verhoeven, Matrimonio all’Italiana by Vittorio de Sica and Gia by Michael Cristofer. I was inspired by the most memorable scenes of these cult films. My cinema culture has led me to gather the scenes which for me, depict a journey, especially psychological.

Aida Yespica and Gaia Saponaro - UnderSense
Aida Yespica and Gaia Saponaro on the set of UnderSense.
Aida Yespica - UnderSense
Aida Yespica on the set of UnderSense.

Although UnderSense and Aida’s presence in it is a large part of why this interview has come about, it is not the only reason (that would be rude), so let’s now talk more generally…

A simple question, whose answer may not be so simple: what kind of films do you like to make?

For me, cinema is the invention of dreams, but also a tool to get to the thoughts and heart of the viewer. The great potential of cinema, if used in the right way, is to be able to communicate a message, to be able to let the viewer think, and this is a Big Power. I love the dream-like quality of Lynch but also cynical and ironical view unique to Tarantino and the complexity of Kubrick. I like to talk about the society and highlight its problems, but always trying to give the viewer a hint of a smile.

In your career so far, which project has been the most significant for you?

Working for the film Bobby has been exciting. To work with actors like Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan and with professionals in the American Film Industry was something indescribable. It was for me like being weaned. From there I realized that the Cinema would be my life partner. However working for a charity project to help Haiti after its earthquake, gave me a feeling even stronger, because I saw the real poverty there. Seeing how those children with nothing, living in inhuman conditions, they were full of joy and life, made me realize how much superficiality is around us.

What would be your dream project?

Which filmmaker does not dream of an Oscar nomination? Makes you smile even though it can be trivial. My icon is Angelina Jolie, not only as a star but as a person engaged in social work. My dream is to make a Feature Film connected to a charity project of social gender with cinematic style between Tarantino and Lynch. Being able to communicate something strong that arrives in the depths of the viewer and is able to dissolve the superficiality that surrounds us.

In addition to your directing and producing work you have also worked and studied as an actress. Which is your true passion and why?

As far as can enthuse me, work as an actress, my passion is to be a film director. Studying acting and being an actress, has been instrumental in directing the actor on the set, because in my opinion a great director should have the basics of all film roles, to direct them, to understand the various difficulties and to know which results to obtain. Being a Director and Producer allows me to study people, to get in touch with the situations and roles. In short a third eye, that allows you to see better.

How do you approach the making of a short film like Water, (In)visibility and now UnderSense? What do you start with? Is it a narrative or thematic idea or some technical aspect that you look to explore or hone?

Water was the screening of my short film at the Warner Bros studios for my diploma as a filmmaker in Los Angeles, shot with Zero budget. Is a short film with a fairly linear story that tells of a woman of the upper class with terror to get old. Water is close to social problems such as betrayal, involuntary incest, abandonment of a child at a young age and attempted suicide.

While with (In)visibility I wanted to experiment. To keep the story all together with the glue of a long sequence shot, using well-disguised cuts, trying to create my own unique directing style, more irreversible, unprecedented, strong, always speaking of the social. With (In)visibility I wanted to bring to light the issue of diversity, the one of female homosexuality, still hidden from the eyes of a society retrograde.

Instead UnderSense was my very first job as an author and producer where I had external funding. I was the youngest, and the leader of an entire troupe of professionals. For me it was an opportunity to grow professionally, to express my talent. My biggest concern was to not disappoint those who had believed in me.

How about specifically for UnderSense? How did the idea for this film first form?

The idea comes from a personal quest. Observing today’s society: a society divided between current and past values, a society focused on contradictions and a confusion of roles ever more fluctuating. All this mental journey led me to the design of this short film. Starting from the problems of identity for men and women in our society, born the idea of a short film based on the differences, and on an environment structurally and formally different. A journey into the mind of a Woman: Alicia.

Simona Ilaria Di Michele
Beautiful shot of Simona
Simona Ilaria Di Michele and Aida Yespica - UnderSense
Simona Ilaria Di Michele and Aida Yespica on the set of UnderSense.

Finally, let’s look to the future… how do you see your career progressing? What are your plans or dreams?

My biggest project is to take the flight to go and live in America. In Los Angeles, the home of the star system and of the purest cinema. I wish my dream of becoming a Director will be realized and will be realized there. I have other projects going on. Among these I’m writing my first feature film and I’m completely submerged. Has great prospects and issues, and will not be simple to achieve, I only hope to measure up.

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