Raffaello Degruttola wrote, directed, produced, and acts in Transference: A Love Story. He did it all with a shoestring budget and whatever favors he could call in. Now, it has over 13 million views on YouTube — and climbing.
Transference: A Love Story follows Nik (Degruttola) and Katerina (Emilie Sofie Johannesen), two nurses who work at the same hospital and fall into a complicated love affair. It also stars Lotte Verbeek, Pernille Broch, Simone Lahbib, Iggy Blanco and Tyrone Keogh.
“It’s basically a psychological love story that falls apart because of secret mental health issues that start to corrode it over a period of time through the eyes of two immigrants that are working in London,” Raffaello Degruttola told MovieMaker in a video interview, which you can watch above.
This isn’t Degruttola’s first time making a feature. His directorial debut, Film: The Movie, came in 2014, and he’s made several shorts before and since. Primarily, he’s an actor, with credits including Saving Private Ryan, Quantum of Solace, and Rush, plus appearances in episodes of Ted Lasso and Father Brown.
Transference: A Love Story didn’t take the traditional route to finding an audience — hooking up with a distributor and trying to make its budget back through streaming and/or a theatrical release. Instead, it gained wide exposure through YouTube, while racking up the kind of numbers that can lead to big profits via YouTube ads. It’s an approach that has been advocated by indie filmmakers like Thunder Road and The Beta Test writer-director-star Jim Cumming, who recommends that moviemakers eschew studios to put their own work online.
Transference: A Love Story did get help from a distributor, however: It secured distribution from 1091 Pictures after it screened at the SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York. From there, 1091 floated the idea of putting Transference: A Love Story up on their FREE MOVIES YouTube Channel. You can watch it in full here.
Of course, there was no guarantee the film would go viral from there. What was Degruttola’s secret?
He can’t say for sure what made the movie pop off on YouTube’s algorithm — it’s been up since May 7, 2021 — but his best guess is that it’s because of the video’s enticing thumbnail image. It’s the first thing people see when they’re scrolling through free movies to watch, so an eye-catching thumbnail is essential.
“I do remember after a couple of weeks looking at the artwork, actually, and I thought [there was] something in it I didn’t like, so I created that new piece of artwork with her looking in the mirror and me behind her, and she had something about her persona in that it almost felt like she was in really in charge at the moment, potentially manipulating it,” he said. “That happened again in the bedroom artwork, and I asked 1091 if they wouldn’t mind using that. And actually, when that new artwork went down, if I’m not mistaken, that’s when numbers started to grow quite dramatically.”
On its current trajectory, Transference: A Love Story is racking in a million plus views a month. Beyond the thumbnail, Degruttola isn’t exactly sure why Transference went so viral — other than that it’s a quality film.
“Who knows what the magic spell is? I don’t have it,” he said. “But I think if I would say anything, it would be to really make something from the heart and then hope for the best.”
Some of the other things that helped him make the film successful were “not having anybody to corrupt the story that I wanted to make, so reducing too many producers around me with too many influences, unless I felt it was really supporting the story of these two characters,” he said.
“Working with a minimal crew really helped. Making sure that everybody involved was there without ego driving them, but the actual project at the forefront. And I know that comes from me, who’s written, directed, produced, and acts in it, but part of that was just to sort of keep a secure, very creative unit, and not corrupt it,” he added. “I just wanted to keep it pure to the story and to these characters — and again, making sure that both characters were represented in a way that was fair.”
Watch our full interview with Raffaello Degruttola above.
Main Image: Emilie Sofie Johannesen and Raffaello Degruttola in Transference: A Love Story.