Emanuele Zarlenga first approached the world of filmmaking through film studies at the University of Rome, followed by practical training on sets. After a long and pioneering journey as a digital imaging technician, Emanuele Zarlenga is now an established cinematographer. During the work on his commercials “La forza delle connessioni” for Tim signed by Giuseppe Tornatore, Spotify for Sanremo 2023, and the opening spot at the Venice film festival, he relies on ARRI tools as important allies.
How did you start your journey to become a cinematographer?
I started as a digital imaging technician in 2006, at the beginning of digital cinema in Italy. Those were the years when the first digital cameras were launched: ARRI launched the D21 in 2008, a beautiful camera with a digital sensor and a mechanical shutter, unique of its kind. Knowing how to use this machine allowed me to work with important personalities of the Italian film scene. I used the D21 on several projects, in particular on the documentary “L'ultimo Gattopardo,” directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and photographed by Fabio Zamarion, who I studied under and worked for as a digital imaging technician. In 2012, after several comparative tests between digital cameras and traditional cameras with Kodak Vision3 film, Fabio Zamarion and Giuseppe Tornatore decided to use ALEXA Studio for the film “The Best Offer.” This choice is indicative of the major changes that took place in those years, changes that ARRI made possible thanks to its wide dynamic range cameras and their extreme flexibility and stability. These important work experiences and the relationships that I have built with various cinematographers have undoubtedly shaped my technique and, in part, my artistic vision.
How often do you use ARRI tools in your work and what do you appreciate most about them?
I use ARRI about 70% of the time. It is almost always a matter of choice. The ARRI ALEXA is a formidable camera, a shifting eye that can adapt to any number of cinematic atmospheres. The ability to feel free of the medium I am using, and to know that my vision will be 100% respected, gives me room for inspiration and helps my workflow. This is why I choose the ARRI ALEXA.
An important commercial you shot with the ALEXA Mini LF is the one for Dolce & Gabbana, directed by Tornatore ...
Tim’s 90-second spot is called “La forza delle connessioni,” and was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. For this commercial we used the ALEXA Mini LF and Hawk V-Lite and Signature Prime lenses. The story begins with the birth of two children, their growth and development, Stefano Gabbana in cold and rarefied Milan and Domenico Dolce in warm Sicily. Dolce moves to Milan until Gabbana catches his eye while working in a studio and decides to work with him.
What look were you going for?
For the first part, which recounts the early years of the two protagonists’ lives, we wanted a nostalgic yet classic look. The strong contrast between the vibrant colors of Sicily and the more austere and severe Milan. I used anamorphic lenses to best capture the memory and canonical vision of these two worlds. In the narrative of the spot, it is as if the past enters the present. Giuseppe Tornatore asked me to make this moment iconic in the film. With the 12 mm Signature Prime, the 24 mm x 36 mm LF sensor, and the use of Impression V Filters, I was able to enhance this passage and create the right optical combination. The final image shows Dolce and Gabbana together in their studio. The color was handled by Orash Rahnema, who took full advantage of the flexibility offered by the ARRIRAW file, making the images rich in detail and nuance, just as Giuseppe and I had envisioned during the production phase. For lighting, I only used ARRI: SkyPanel and M-Series.
What are the main environments in the commercial?
Dolce’s summer town, Polizzi, is seen as a classic postcard of 1950s Sicily. The interior in which he is cradled by the ironers is a classic reminder of Tornatore’s imagination. So, in the commercial we see a warm Sicily and a cold Milan, everything is played out on the contrast of the two orange and cyan blue carriers, which then come together and become white. The framing of today is a white world, representing the result of the union of these two forces.
Did you shoot mostly with handheld or stationary camera?
Everything was shot using a dolly, except for two shots done with TRINITY in Milan: the child walking in Piazza Duomo and the child entering the church. It was Giuseppe Tornatore's first time using TRINITY, and he appreciated its stability and speed of use; being able to move without the constraint of the track but still simulating the visual rendering of a Dolly.
Another important project is the Spotify commercial for Sanremo …
It is about a guy who wakes up in the morning, listens to the music of Mahmood and Blanco, gets stuck on the “i” of “Brividi” song and then continues to sing it throughout the commercial in different situations. It is a super pop song for a contemporary and modern music network, used by everyone and with a middle-aged audience. The director is the Argentinean Miguel Usandivaras: I often use the ALEXA Mini LF in combination with the Signature Primes. I find this to be the best combination for his vision. The use of color in this work was crucial. We paid a lot of attention to the color palette, ALEXA Mini LF and Signature Primes were again crucial, the color rendering is precise and without aberrations. For the lighting I also used a lot of ARRI tools, especially SkyPanel and M-Series.
Is there a scene that gave you particular satisfaction?
An indoor night scene where the protagonist is having dinner with his partner. This scene with its complex color relationship encapsulates the visual idea of the commercial in a few seconds. Spotify’s color grading was done by Alessio Zanardi, with whom I had already worked on the spot for the 79th edition of the Venice International Film Festival on the notes of Vanoni’s song “Senza fine,” shot with an ALEXA Mini LF and an ARRIFLEX SR III. A mixture of black and white and color, the film is set mainly at the Hotel Excelsior on the Venice Lido, between the exteriors on the beach and the salons where some famous photographs are recreated, portraying personalities such as Marcello Mastroianni, Monica Vitti, Sergio Leone, Ennio Morricone, Federico Fellini.
How do you control the images?
In my past life as a digital imaging technician, I developed advanced systems for on-set image management. But as a cinematographer, I prefer to visualize a single LUT that I create with the colorist in pre-production. This way of working makes me more precise and pushes me to create more solid images on set. My DIT then applies on-set dailies to the LUT, further improving tone and contrast so that the dailies for editing are very close to the final look of the film. With the colorist, I look for visual and chromatic taste as well as a very technical approach from a pipeline and color grading point of view. I like to maintain the highest image quality that a machine like the ARRI ALEXA can give me.