The famous scene in the Trevi Fountain was shot over a week in March, when nights were still cold. According to Federico Fellini (in an interview with Costanzo Costantini), Anita Ekberg stood in the cold water in her dress for hours without any trouble. Marcello Mastroianni, on the other hand, had to wear a wetsuit beneath his clothes, and even that wasn't enough. Still freezing, he downed an entire bottle of vodka, so that he was completely drunk while shooting the scene.
The film contributed the term "paparazzo" to the language. The term derives from Marcello's photographer friend Paparazzo. Federico Fellini took the name "Paparazzo", as he explained in a later interview, from the name of someone he met in Calabria (Southern Italy) where Greek names are still common. "Paparazzi" is the plural meaning.
It seems that term "paparazzo" was coined by Federico Fellini himself. Paparazzo means "sparrow" in one Italian dialect (in normal usage the Italian for "sparrow" is "passero"). Fellini explained that the photographers hopping and scurrying around celebrities reminded him of sparrows.
When shooting the famous Fontana di Trevi scene, director Federico Fellini complained that the water in the fountain looked dirty. A representative of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) present at the shooting was able to supply the film team with some of the airline's green sea dye marker (for use in case of an emergency landing at sea). This was used to color the water, and the director was satisfied.
Asked how he got the idea for the film, Federico Fellini replied that one year the fashions made the women in Rome look like big flowers. Several extremely exaggerated costumes here and there in the film (such as two women guests' cloaks in the sequence of the party at the castle) point back to this original inspiration.
The Italian catholic party Democrazia Cristiana and the Vatican were deeply against this movie for the portrayal of the city of Rome and its vicious aristocracy (which is historically very close to the Church). One article against the movie, "La schifosa vita" (The filthy life) was probably written by Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, in 1992, President of the Republic.
The film and especially the final beach scene were inspired by the infamous 1953 Wilma Montesi murder case. Montesi was a normal Italian woman from a proper family. Her dead body was found on a beach near Rome. The investigation exposed the drugs and sex orgies of Roman high society at the time. The murder remains unsolved as of today.
In the beach house sequence, when the woman asks Marcello if he was a 'writer once,' and Marcello announced he's now a publicity agent,' the young woman reads from a magazine 'he has a Greek profile, but the modernity of his expression brings him to the most modern actor of our time - Paul Newman.
She reads the quote - and the actor's name with disappointment, which is an intentional sly reference to Newman, as he was Dino De Laurentiis' choice for the lead - which Marcello Mastroianni eventually took.
A scene was mooted that involved Marcello's relationship with an older writer, Dolores, to be played by Oscar winning actress Luise Rainer. After much protracted discussions and difficulties, due to Luise Rainer's wish to rewrite her role somewhat, Federico Fellini cancelled the scene altogether. The actress was furious, reportedly saying, "I have spoiled a priceless piece of cloth on this character that will never be!"
Set designer Piero Gherardi created over eighty locations, including the Via Veneto, the dome of Saint Peter's with the staircase leading up to it, and various nightclubs. However, other sequences were shot on location such as the party at the aristocrats' castle filmed in the real Bassano di Sutri palace north of Rome. (Some of the servants, waiters, and guests were played by real aristocrats.) Federico Fellini combined constructed sets with location shots, depending on script requirements-a real location often "gave birth to the modified scene and, consequently, the newly constructed set."
Credit for the creation of Steiner goes to co-screenwriter Tullio Pinelli. Having gone to school with Italian novelist Cesare Pavese, Pinelli had closely followed the writer's career and felt that his over-intellectualism had become emotionally sterile, leading to his suicide in a Turin hotel in 1950. This idea of a "burnt-out existence" is carried over to Steiner in the party episode where the sounds of nature are not to be experienced first-hand by himself and his guests but in the virtual world of tape recordings.
The character of Paparazzo, the news photographer, was inspired by photojournalist Tazio Secchiaroli and is the origin of the word paparazzi used in many languages to describe intrusive photographers. As to the origin of the character's name itself, Federico Fellini scholar Peter Bondanella argues that although "it is indeed an Italian family name, the word is probably a corruption of the word papataceo, a large and bothersome mosquito. Ennio Flaiano, the film's co-screenwriter and creator of Paparazzo, reports that he took the name from a character in a novel by George Gissing." Gissing's character, Signor Paparazzo, is found in his travel book, By the Ionian Sea (1901).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the Steiner home suicide scene, the famous "Il Fungo" (The Mushroom) water tower in the EUR zone can be seen directly from his balcony. This structure is featured prominently in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1962 film "L'Eclisse" (Eclipse).