Home » Christian Cantamessa: “Imagination? It’s a TV to tune in”

Christian Cantamessa: “Imagination? It’s a TV to tune in”

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Christian Cantamessa: “Imagination? It’s a TV to tune in”

Once upon a time … A little boy who loved to tell stories and dreamed of making films. And after 25 years, moving the bricks of his life between an extraordinary career in the world of video games and a great ability to write and tell, he has made his dreams of him come true. “Dreams, when you realize them, have the bad habit of dissolving. And another mirage appears on the horizon and the bar continues to move further”.

ITW 2022

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by Ernesto Assante

Christian Cantamessa is now 45 years old, lives in Los Angeles, has worked in the world of video games since he was 18. He has won awards everywhere. But if you ask him what his job is, he answers you: writer and director. With Red Dead Redemption, what is considered the quintessential western video game, he has achieved global success. Today he is Creative Consultant for Microsoft: he is remaking Perfect Dark, an old spy game mixed with science fiction. In 2015 he wrote and directed his first film Air. He today he has another ready in the drawer. Meanwhile, he is working on a comic, a TV series, and teaches creative writing at the University of Los Angeles.

ITW 2022

Manuel Agnelli and Achille Lauro at the Italian Tech Week

by Ernesto Assante

Born in Savona, scientific high school in Rapallo, he arrived in Hollywood, passing through Milan, Edinburgh, San Diego. “Cinema has been my passion since I was very young. I wanted to get there through the world of video games. In fact, the world of video games has captivated me for two decades.” The result? Two parallel careers.

At 18, a group of friends asked him “You write the script for this game, maybe they’ll publish it for us”. Then he moves to Milan. First he works at Ubisoft, a large international software house. Then he chooses the Rockstar Games of Edinburgh. He joins the company during the final months of the project known as GTAIII (Grand Theft Auto III), a 3D criminal saga that changed the world of video games, the best-selling of 2001 in the US and Europe. “I was reading the previews of this work and they were all negative criticisms. They said it would not be possible, that the technology did not exist. I sensed that there was something extraordinary and I said to myself: I want to go and work for them. During the interview , the manufacturer of GTAIII asked me the classic question: ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ Because you have the courage to go on when everyone tells you it’s impossible. His reaction? ‘You’re hired’. “

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Cantamessa stays in Edinburgh for five years. He works as a videogames writer, takes his first steps as a game designer, directs the most cinematic sequences of games. But after five years the dream of that little boy who wanted to make films begins to resurface. “I said to the producer: I would like to move to London and prepare cups of tea in film production houses. Sooner or later, someone will notice me and read what I wrote…”.

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The boss listens, understands, and makes a counter-proposal. “We have a studio in San Diego that is starting a western, they need a creative director. Why don’t you go there? You are two hours from Los Angeles, the Mecca of cinema, we will prepare all the documents, the green card …”. How do you respond to such a proposal?

From Edinburgh to San Diego. Christian leaves in November 2005. “It was one of those gray days, when it rains horizontally and you can’t even shelter with an umbrella.” He comes to California and has what he calls an immediate culture shock. Sun, palm trees and a team of 120 people with whom to realize that western project that will become, five years later, in 2010 the video game Red Dead Redemption. 15 million copies distributed. An incredible critical success. The game wins 106 awards for the best video game of the year. Christian wins the Academy of Interactive Arts and Science Best Game Director Award.

Meanwhile, in his spare time, he makes short films. One of these is selected by the most important horror festival in Los Angeles. “On that occasion, I met an agent who liked the short, who introduced me to another agent who liked Red Dead ReEdempion. So I came to the Creative Artist Agency (CAA) and from there I slowly built a parallel career in field of cinema “.

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In 2015 he wrote and directed his first film. It is titled Air – The keepers of sleep which was also released in Italy on Sky. It is a science fiction film with two great protagonists Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou, an actor who also won an Oscar.

Tech writer, Cantamessa knows programming languages, has the technological basis for programming, knows a lot about visual communication. He has read hundreds of books on creative writing, created dozens of characters. Telling stories has always been his approach to life. At school he did not make themes, he told stories. And you ask him how inspiration is born, he replies: this is a million dollar question. Then he adds: “If you read director David Lynch’s autobiography you discover that the imagination is like tuning into a television and confusingly seeing this TV inside your head until something comes into focus. Or it’s like going fishing: the little fish you catch you put them all in a basket behind them. They are the experiences, the encounters you make. Then these things collide, time passes and at a certain point something is born “.

Cantamessa will be at the Italian Tech Week in Turin on 29 and 30 September. He will give a speech on the metaverse (“For me it is a concept of technological and content convergence”) and a masterclass on creative writing techniques.

“Writing requires that what you have inside is brought out. This” physical “process, from head to paper, is difficult especially in the beginning. And the first things you create are not perfect. It is easy to be discouraged. a recipe for success. You must first learn the process of moving from imagination to paper. Then, you must understand that no one in the world is paid to like the things you do. What you create must please by its nature. And finally, there is the time to say “this is not the right time”, I put it there and I do something else “. Without giving up.

“Don’t take” no “as an answer. It’s a struggle of friction. Being successful in the creative industry isn’t like being a mechanical engineer. talent, I don’t like what you are doing, there is no place for you. These people are like characters in a fairy tale, they only exist to check if you have the right attributes to continue. They are ghosts and if you ignore them, they evaporate. They vanish. And you manage to publish your work, make a movie, create a videogame, write. There are two ways to give up. The first is to say: “I’m not good, give up and go do something else” The second is to think, “I wrote my first book, nobody liked it and I keep tweaking it until someone likes it.” So you surrender to the fact that you are nothing better than this first thing. You did. Instead you have to put it away and write another. And then another, and another, and a other. When you’ve written a hundred, you’ll find someone who likes one. The law of large numbers works in your favor. If you write a hundred books, you become so good that you are already on the right path. It’s like that baby who doesn’t want to come out of his mother’s womb. Because there is a channel in which you have to go, it crushes your head, it hurts but from there you have to go through it, because if you don’t, you are not born… “.

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Meanwhile Cantamessa has opened a creative agency, Sleep Deprivation Lab. On the opportunities in the world of video games he says: “It is the last bastion of the studio system, where there are mega companies that hire. Entering today is more difficult than in 1995, but there they are schools and universities, you can do an internship or launch a small startup “.

If you ask him the secret of his success, he tells you: “I don’t know how to celebrate my successes. It is a skill that I have not developed. I never tell myself: now I have arrived here and now I eat a piece of cake. Maybe if I don’t. if I had been able to tell a story since I was 10, I wouldn’t have had the career I have. ” And if you were to write your story, how would you start? “Once upon a time…”. No sooner said than done.

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