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DP Giorgi Shvelidze on ARRI’s ALEXA: “Can’t imagine working with any different camera”

Since the beginning of his career, award winning DP Giorgi Shvelidze, from the country of Georgia, has relied on ARRI equipment. In this interview, he talks about his most recent project: an interactive commercial video, shot on ALEXA XT and ALEXA Mini cameras with Master Anamorphic lenses.

In 2019, you received the ASC Spotlight Award for your feature film “Namme.” What does this type of recognition mean to you?

The ASC Awards are one of the most important and prestigious awards for each and every working cinematographer. I was very happy to receive the nomination and then eventually win. It is a great honor to be selected amidst cinematographers from all over the world. Receiving such a high-profile award is not only important for me, but it also helps in the promotion of our small country’s movie industry. Once again, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the ASC for giving me this marvelous chance.

Recently, you worked on a commercial video for the local online gambling company, directed by David Borchkhadze and starring well-known Georgian actors and athletes. Does the work of a cinematographer on a commercial film differ from that of a feature film?

Probably my final goal is the key difference between the two. Feature films and commercial videos have different approaches, therefore they have different goals and motivations during the preparation period. No matter how extraordinary and exceptional the commercial is, it still only exists for a specific period of time and only for specific people. Technically, one main difference is time. A commercial is smart, quick, and visual. It must be finished in a couple of days; you don’t have a chance to shoot even 10-15 sec. frames. It is more like a sprint, whereas a film is a marathon.

Can you explain the project?

My current project is a mix of cinema, commercial, and video game. When finished, it will be a one-hour interactive video where spectators will be able to choose how the video plays out. The leading character moves in different spaces, all which imitate various services of the company. At the beginning, we planned to build the set in a film studio, but later, the director mentioned the old Soviet sanatoriums in one of the cities in Western Georgia. Soon, we were all convinced that these monumental spaces would be a perfect visual fit for our project. We all agreed that they would be a mix of old but ornamented with our modern details.

What was the biggest challenge in this project for you?

Probably the biggest challenge was time, so to say, the absence of time. Imagine the ordinary film shooting process, with dialogs, steadicam shots, lots of extras, only with a commercial, you have 4-5 times less time. The key goal was to plan everything in pre-production so we could just receive beautiful visual interactions during the shooting.

Why did you decide to shoot with ALEXA XT and ALEXA Mini?

Since learning about the ALEXA, I can hardly think of a project that I did with a different camera. We chose the stabile and confident XT as the leading camera and ARRI’s best camera, the ALEXA Mini, as steadicam.

What thoughts did you have when choosing the ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses?

As I have already mentioned, the project was envisioned as a cinematic commercial-video game. After some tests, we all agreed that an anamorphic format would be the most suitable. Anamorphic lenses were the most helpful in depicting and capturing these extraordinary buildings.

How would you describe the Master Anamorphic lenses after shooting with them?

As agreed with the director, our one main goal was to receive as simple and transparent an image as possible. We had to avoid unexpected flares, aberrations in case of wide-angle lenses, softness. Everything should be realistic, as well as cinematic and artistic. We were only able to achieved this result with the Master Anamorphic lenses.

It seems that you appreciate ARRI. Why do you rely on ARRI products?

I can describe ARRI in two words—reliability and quality. Every camera, along with everything else the company produce, is super dependable; they are created and made to bring out the cinematographer’s best practices. This high-quality standard helps us to achieve our goals easily. I am so accustomed to the ALEXA that I cannot imagine working with any different camera. I am the owner of three ALEXAs. Now we have a Mini LF in our family and it is already working on a new film; I am totally impressed with its capabilities.

Do you remember when you heard about ARRI for the first time?

I think it was 1999, I was a student at that time. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Georgian film industry was destroyed. After a 10-years pause, I worked for a big Georgian-German co-production. Now famous cinematographer and my friend Phedon Papamichael helped to bring in the necessary equipment from Germany at that time. It was my first shock when I saw how much equipment is needed to make a film. After this project, I, together with my friends, decided to create a rental service.

How was your first shot with ARRI products?

I see myself belonging to the generation of digital cameras; I feel more peaceful and comfortable using them even though my first encounter was with film cameras. I shot my first two movies on the ARRIFLEX 435 Extreme and ARRICAM ST.

ARRI also offers an ARRI Approved Certified Pre-Owned program. Would you ever recommend that someone buy a used ARRI camera?

To be honest, I have never used this option. This program is still quite young, but it could be very attractive for many customers, especially from emerging markets. ARRI’s technical products have a long-life span, as evidenced by the fact that the award I received in 2019 was for a feature film shot with the first generation of ALEXA cameras and Ultra Prime lenses that were developed more than 20 years ago. Obviously, the possibility of purchasing ARRI equipment “with mileage,” complete with a factory warranty similar to a new model, is really very interesting for potential users. I will always recommend ARRI.

For more information about the ARRI Approved Certified Pre-Owned program, visit cpo.arri.com.

Photos: Elene Shelgelia