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Mar. 5, 2024

DP Stefano Meloni on “Caracas,” captured with ARRI technology

Cinematographer Stefano Meloni relied on ALEXA 35, Signature Prime lenses, and SkyPanel lights to capture the feature film “Caracas,” a journey through a cold and livid city of Naples. 

Mar. 5, 2024

Naples in their hearts and in their eyes: In recent years, DP Stefano Meloni and director Marco D'Amore have shared a path very much linked to the Neapolitan city that has been the scene of all their artistic collaborations. “I am from Turin, but I spent a lot of time in Naples in recent years,” Meloni says. ”I had already fallen in love with it 15 years ago, during the first film I made there, and by some strange coincidence the city became the center of my professional work: I shot four films with Edoardo De Angelis, two films with Mario Martone and all of 'Gomorra' there. Going to Naples is like coming home for me, same as for the protagonist of 'Caracas'.” 

Sitting down with ARRI, cinematographer Meloni explains his technical choices and talks about his experiences behind the scenes of “Caracas”. The film celebrated its theatrical release in Italy very recently; it is inspired by the novel “Napoli ferrovia” by Ermanno Rea, starring Toni Servillo and director Marco D’Amore in leading roles.

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“Caracas” was shot with ALEXA 35 and Signature Primes lenses and lit with ARRI SkyPanels

How did your collaboration with director Marco D'Amore begin?

Marco and I met on the set of “Gomorra.” I had started the series as a focus puller for cinematographer Guido Michelotti, who then had to leave the set due to personal reasons. So from one day to the next, I found myself going from technician to director of photography; Marco asked me to sign off as DP on episode nine. After that, we joined forces for the documentary ”Napoli magica” and finally ”Caracas,” our third project together.

We were talking about Naples, the heart of the film: what kind of city is the one you present in “Caracas”?

We tried to create a particular Naples, a very cold city, completely different from what you would expect. A rainy Naples, with fog and wet asphalt; we had special atmospheric effects in the exteriors almost every day of the shoot. We tried to represent Naples not as a real city, but as an unidentified metropolis of any country, as a universal place. One of the challenges was to never have sun in the scene, except for very few sequences, the lighter ones. We moved mostly in the shadows and dark alleys, or in moments when the sun had not yet risen.

I felt like I couldn’t see the limit of this camera: It provided an impressive reading both on the highlights and in total darkness. (...) The ALEXA 35 is an incredible camera.

Stefano Meloni


What visual references did director D'Amore give you?

Marco had the film in his head and gave me an important reference: Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s Barcelona from “Biutiful.” Then, starting from Ermanno Rea’s book, we developed two opposite faces of the city: the light one, with warm, Mediterranean tones, and the blue, glacial, livid, quite inhospitable one, that one of the main characters doesn’t recognize when he goes back there.

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DP Meloni felt that the ALEXA 35 had an impressive reading both on the highlights and in total darkness 

The film opens with a parachute jump scene. Definitely a complicated sequence to handle.

It was a huge challenge. The group of people jumping includes protagonist Caracas, who is particularly reckless: He opens his parachute at the last moment, he is brave and rebellious. To shoot the sequence we relied on the Frecce Tricolore national parachute school and the wonderful parachutist Sandro Andreotti, who jumped wearing a specially created helmet to be able to capture images. During the shoot I was in a helicopter, using a Shotover on an ALEXA Mini. There were also two ALEXA 35 cameras on the planes.

“Caracas” is shot in many different environments, both outdoor and indoor. Which are the most significant ones?

Immediately after the parachute drop, we find ourselves in a far-right environment, with squad members leaving to do some kind of raid. We see a kind of hideout, a rotten den, presented in cold tones. From there we move out onto the street where two of the film’s big action scenes take place. One of the most challenging locations was precisely where the initial action scene is set, which we see first through Caracas’ eyes and then through the eyes of the other protagonist, Giordano. We were in the Lavinaio neighborhoods, behind the market square, a very long street on which our set stretched for five or six blocks. Illuminated at night, it moved us: It is a spectacular street. 


Cinematographer Stefano Meloni and the camera crew on set of “Caracas”  

In contrast with this, we tried to present a religious world, as Caracas converts to Islam through his acquaintance with a girl, Yasmina. From the rotten and cold environment, the protagonist moves towards red and warm colors on a path of purification and pacification. Another key environment is Caracas’ house. We see it change as the story progresses; at first it is the refuge of a fascist, violent, and disturbed protagonist, with busts of Mussolini and eagles. Then, thanks to Giordano and Yasmina, the house is transformed, with important changes in the set design, furnishings, and lighting. The location was a sixth-floor apartment on Via Carbonara in downtown Naples, at a height of 25 meters, and it was impossible to illuminate from outside. Red lights from streetlamps transform the rooms at night in a somewhat cartoonish, alienating way. Those are the scenes I’m most proud of. In some neighborhoods we even had the lamps changed. Finally, two or three scenes set in the mosque have the same colors that viewers can see in Caracas’ house in moments of peace. 

You shot almost the entire film with ARRI ALEXA 35 and Signature Prime lenses. Did you shoot handheld a lot?

We used different shooting styles to be consistent with the moods of different scenes: We shot a lot with Steadicam, with Matteo Carlesimo, who did wonderful work based on a deep understanding of the characters’ emotions, along with the director’s and my wishes. We shot the most agitated sequences handheld, while more posed scenes were captured with fixed shots, camera on tripod, and dollies.

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Actor Toni Servillo (left), DP Stefano Meloni and director Marco D'Amore on set of “Caracas”

Did you use a LUT?

There was no DIT. We managed the material with the data manager. I worked with two LUTs prepared together with Andrea “Red” Baracca. We were dealing with a new camera, which Andrea also knew very little about. After a few tests he prepared two LUTs: one, covering 70 to 80 percent of the film, on the cold, bruised, somewhat inky tones, and the other on the red, warm, more light scenes. I felt like I couldn’t see the limit of this camera: It provided an impressive reading both on the highlights and in total darkness. In the first few days of the shoot, I was a bit shy, but then I realized that the more I dared, the more the ALEXA 35 performed. There’s a scene where we frame a black person against the light with the sun in the frame, and there’s reading on both the face and the sun. In some of the action sequences we were able to read city lights, burning cars, and the black of the night simultaneously. The ALEXA 35 is an incredible camera.  

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DP Stefano Meloni worked with two LUTs, prepared together with Andrea “Red” Baracca

How did the choice of lenses come about?

We always used ARRI Signature Prime lenses: They are beautifully clean, combining sharpness and softness. They won me over immediately, I had no doubts at all. The only remaining question was whether to use ALEXA Mini LF or ALEXA 35, but after some tests I opted for the 35, because it offers an incredible rendition of reality. We looked for focal lengths that wouldn’t take us too far away from reality, so we preferred the ones that are closest to the vision of the human eye: the 35, the 40 and the 47. We also occasionally took advantage of wide-angle and tele lenses, which are truly wonderful in brightness and sharpness.

We always used ARRI Signature Prime lenses: They are beautifully clean, combining sharpness and softness. They won me over immediately.

Stefano Meloni


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To capture “Caracas,” DP Stefano Meloni chose ALEXA 35 for its incredible rendition of reality 

What about lights?

We used ARRI SkyPanels on the ceilings. Director D’Amore likes to shoot freely, with scenes visible from 360 degrees, so all the lighting fixtures were hung. We used Naples’ balconies a lot, even with 2000 and 5000 incandescents. For a very interesting rain scene, with lightning reverberating inside Caracas’ house, we used Titan tubes inside wooden cradles, reflecting on raw cotton fabric. 

How did you handle the T-stop and what shooting format did you choose?

I'm not afraid to keep the aperture a bit closed. In daytime scenes I worked at five to six. I think it’s nice to offer the viewer a choice where to look at in the screen, without being forced by the focus. At night we were quite constrained to two or 2.5. We chose a 2:1 aspect ratio, having two strong protagonists facing each other. I believe in Storaro’s Univision, for me it is the most natural aspect ratio. I think it is powerful, wide, and impressive.

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A still of actor Toni Servillo from the film “Caracas”

Were there any complicated scenes that gave you particular satisfaction?

There is a scene where we see Giordano in a hotel, starting as a nice and composed person, then becoming upset. The camera rotates 360 degrees and we go from night to day. When we return to the protagonist he has completely changed: He is dressed in a robe, with an messy beard and shaggy hair. One part was done at night, with the warm lights of the hotel and Jumbo lights coming from outside, another part was done during the day. 

Another interesting scene is when Giordano wanders around the hotel in a state of confusion and ends up seamlessly, opening a door, on a street in Naples where urban guerrilla warfare is going on: We physically built a piece of the corridor and placed it in the middle of the street. 

Technical equipment provided by D-Vision Movie People

Opening photo: Marco Ghidelli