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ARRI large format on Netflix’s “Rose Island”

Cinematographer Valerio Azzalishot “Rose Island,” the first Italian feature film produced in large format, with ARRI’s ALEXA LF, ALEXA Mini LF,and ARRI ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses. 

After working on the TV series “Gomorrah” and “Black Moon,” Valerio Azzali accepted Sydney Sibilia's challenge by directing the photography for the Netflix film “Rose Island,” which tells the true story of Giorgio Rosa and the creation of an independent state on a platform off the Rimini coast. “Rose Island” was the first Italian feature film shot with ALEXA LF and ALEXA Mini LF, produced in Large Format with a 24X36 sensor with ARRI ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses. ARRI Lighting was also part of the lineup. Azzali spoke to ARRI about his work on the project.

The film is primarily set in the middle of the sea. Where did you shoot and what were the shooting conditions?

We shot a total of eleven weeks, six of which were in Malta, mostly in swimming pools and with exteriors on the beach. The rest was shot in Rimini, Bologna, and Rome since an essential part of the film takes place in the palaces of power between Montecitorio and the Ministry of the Interior. The film shows two worlds characterized in diametrically opposite ways and managed with totally different lighting. One world portrayed the DC political party with closed and smoky buildings in which things happened that had no connection with the outside world. The other was a world of children, of light, of open air. Another location was Cogne in Val d'Aosta. We needed snow and it had snowed a lot there, so we recreated the car park in front of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, which will then be processed digitally.

What visual style were you looking to capture? 

“Rose Island” is a period film set in 1968, and we were very inspired by the language of that period. I was born in 1977, and my perception of the 60s is taken from the historical and photographic documents and films of those years. Among these, a very important reference, even if totally different from our film, was “Contempt” by Godard: there was an ability to frame the characters and the environment in the Cinemascope format in a beautiful, elegant, and particular way from the chromatic point of view. Another practically contemporary film we watched was “Ford v Ferarri” by James Mangold. It is set in a similar period and is shot on the ALEXA LF with anamorphic lenses.

You evaluated several options, but in the end, why did you choose ALEXA LF?

It was very interesting. I tried several cameras, but in the end, the one that seemed best to us was the ALEXA LF because it had all the features necessary to achieve the photographic look we wanted. It manages the exposure latitude, the highlights, and the sun in the way that best corresponds to the image we wanted to create in a film that, for the vast majority, is shot in exterior day. Then there was another fundamental aspect that I had to keep under control: the blue screens. The blues were chosen with the digital effects supervisor Stefano Leoni, and because of the reflections on the sea, they were often underexposed compared to the image. They were also enormous and could not be lit properly. Yet when we checked the logarithmic of the camera, they were perfect. All the information that Stefano needed to create the special effects to perfection was all there.

What is the reason for choosing the ARRI Master Anamorphics?

They were technical and artistic reasons. This film had to have its own formal precision, also because in the movies of the 60s, you didn't see a lot of imperfections; the flares didn't exist yet; they were avoided. Then there was a narrative requirement: there are always many people in the frame, all-important and often on the same focal plane. It would have been horrible to see them deformed on the sides of the frame. Therefore we combined large format and anamorphic lenses, with the tendency to use them as wide as possible even in close-ups, getting as close as possible with the camera to never lose the background. There are a lot of extras in the film and it's nice to have a close-up and a world moving behind that is still legible. Naturally, it was not easy to shoot in this setting for various reasons. The main one is that the lenses do not cover that format. We then did an 86% crop inside the sensor and used the Anamorphic Master series from 40 mm up. 

You handled very different shooting situations. How did you maintain technical flexibility?

From this point of view, the ALEXA Mini LF is a great camera—it's tiny but has everything you need for complex shots. The process was smooth and immediate; we managed boat chases well during a water ski race and chases with MotoGPs of the period, all with the Mini LF on a gimbal, on cushioned arms, on Steadycam. “Rose Island” is a large-scale film, with camera movements, few cuts, underwater shots, and long takes on the island shot with a drone. For the latter, we used both Inspire Dji and the octocopter with an ALEXA Mini. When the shots had the sea as a background, I always preferred to use the second option to obtain maximum exposure latitude and detail, thanks to the ALEXA file.

What was the most difficult challenge?

Continuity was the biggest challenge. We had to figure out how to manage the light on a stationary platform while the sun, of course, moved. One of the solutions was to filter and cover the sun and use lights. For this purpose, we had a 12 x 12-meter artificial silk cloth built, which was hoisted by a 60-meter crane. It often saved us; other times, we couldn't use it because of the strong wind, but it worked great in various situations because it allowed us to maintain continuity in a scene that maybe lasted 20 seconds and that we shot over a whole day, with the sun moving 180 degrees relative to the platform.

All Photos: Courtesy of Netflix