Scam City: Spies at the Vatican
In this behind-the-scenes look at Scam City’s Rome episode, researcher on location Luca Gastaldi shares how the crew channelled their inner 007s to escape scammers hot on their heels at the Vatican.
This is a GUEST POST by Scam City camera crew member LUCA GASTALDI.
One thing I learned from filming in Rome, Italy, is that wearing a secret camera makes you feel paranoid. It is an instinctive reaction—you always assume everyone knows what you are up to. I am sure movies play a part in that; getting miked up in a film is never too far removed from being found out, and what follows is often unpleasant. However, despite these feelings of doom, I am glad to say that no members of the crew were injured in the making of this film.
The main story we covered was the turf war between travel agencies going on at the Vatican. Tourism is big business there, and some agency owners figured that hiring muscle was the best way to take control of the territory and make more money. Promoters who sell on contested corners are likely to get threatened or punched, and Conor was eager to try that out for himself. It seemed like the ideal situation to deploy our arsenal of secret cameras.
We went to Italy equipped with all sorts of gear: cameras hidden in books, bags, buttons and a pair of sunglasses. For this particular sequence, Conor wore his button camera to capture close-up in-your-face yelling. Two contributors were wearing the same kind of gear and went down to the corner with him. Steeve, our cameraman, sat across the road from them with the main camera tucked under his jacket. Michele, the sound man, lurked around with his 007 sunglasses trying to look inconspicuous, while a second camera monitored the situation from the van.
One thing I learned from filming in Rome is that wearing a secret camera makes you feel paranoid.
One particular promoter made it his job to teach Conor the rules of the game. They were something along the lines of, “You can’t talk to tourists when I am around.” Conor was very good at agreeing with him and then doing the opposite, pushing the guy’s buttons to get the reaction he was looking for. When a second guy joined in to tell him to “calm down” and “be respectful,” the situation got very tense. Things changed suddenly, though, for no apparent reason. A word from one of the bosses and the tension was gone. We were left with nice-mannered promoters and the certainty that our cover had been blown.
At about the same time, I got a call from Steeve and Michele, saying they were being followed. Two shady guys were watching their every move, and were following them across the road and toward St Peter’s. As we were packing the van, Michele and Steeve tried to shake off the stalkers by taking a turn on a side street, to no result. We drove to the rescue A-team style, barely stopping to open the side door for them to jump in.
Were the shady guys really up to no good, or was it just the paranoia talking? I’m afraid there is no way to know.
By Luca Gastaldi, Researcher on Location, Scam City
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