Jul. 8, 2020

Italian DP Paolo Carnera relies on ALEXA and SkyPanel as powerful allies

From independent films to international television productions, Paolo Carnera keeps coming back to the ALEXA camera system as well as lighting from ARRI. Whether it be the ALEXA Mini and ALEXA SXT with Master Prime lenses or the new ALEXA LF, Carnera has found a look that works.

Jul. 8, 2020

In order to capture the poetic realism of the independent film “Favolacce,” which was presented in competition at the Berlinale and awarded the Silver Bear, and be able to meet the demands of an international super-set for the TV series “ZeroZeroZero,” co-production Cattleya and Bartlebyfilm for Sky Studios, Canal+ and Amazon Prime Video, cinematographer Paolo Carnera turned to ARRI. For these two very different projects, Carnera was able to team up again with the directing brothers Fabio and Damiano D'Innocenzo on “Favolacce” after their success on “The Land of Enough” and renew his long collaboration with director Stefano Sollima on “ZeroZeroZero.” 

ARRI was able to catch up with Carnera. In our talk, he shares with us the visual inspiration behind his latest work, the challenges that are inherently present on two very different sets, and how ARRI equipment continues to be at his service.

What visual setup were you looking for to tell the story of “Favolacce”? 

Fabio and Damiano D'Innocenzo are two total cinephiles; they know the image very well and are directors without compromise. Fabio is also a photographer, while Damiano is an excellent illustrator. Every day, before going to the set, they sent suggestions to their co-workers with beautiful drawings. Upstream, in our narrative universe, however, there was a trail of films ranging from “The Tree of Life” to “Rebel Angels,” and “Gummo,” passing through “Revolutionary Road,” as well as many pictures of photographers that we shared. This time, I tried to interpret the film not as a director of photography, but as a photographer. 

What is the tone of “Favolacce”? 

It’s a profound film that tells a difficult story. It talks about a neighborhood, but it’s also a cross-section of our society. It is a painful and harsh story that I tried to tell with a very sweet, almost romantic look, in which the characters are seen with love. This was my goal and to achieve it I needed sensitive tools from an expressive as well as technical point of view. I took advantage of natural light, as I have often done in recent years. Using the naturalness of light as a basis does not mean, however, that you have to accept what you find organically. Instead you can employ this naturalness as a creative element and adapt it to your project. 

What tools did you choose to work with? 

This is the second film I made with the D'Innocenzo brothers, and in both cases I used ALEXA. We searched together for simplicity, agility, and lightness. I shot everything with the ALEXA Mini because I needed a small camera that I could easily put on my shoulder. I also used vintage optics; lenses that have optical aberrations. I wanted to have defects in the image and I was looking for an old texture and great simplicity. Since I knew that I would venture into a terrain with many surprises, I decided to reassure myself and use a sensor that I knew very well. I would have liked to shoot in spring instead of summer, because in the Roman suburbs the light is very harsh in the summer, but due to production needs, we started shooting in late June and ended in late August. However, the sensor held up the contrast very well, much better than I thought. The vintage optics and cameras for this film come from D-Vision Movie People.

The work on “ZeroZeroZero” was definitely different ... 

“ZeroZeroZero” is the latest step down a path that I have taken with Stefano Sollima, starting from the series “Romanzo Criminale,” through “Acab,” the first season of “Gomorrah,” and the film “Suburra.” Every time in making one of Stefano's films, there is an item that must be added to the budget which ends up raising the bar. In the case of “ZeroZeroZero,” the complexity was inherent given the vastness of the world we had to bring to life. Filming took place in Louisiana, Mexico, Calabria, Morocco, Senegal, and the Sahara Desert. We spent months in those places and needed reliable and ductile materials. We used Master Prime lenses and ALEXA, which was the subject of a small battle. At that time, there were still no ALEXA LFs on the market and some international networks were reluctant to use the ALEXA because its sensor is not 4K native. However, we were able to reach an agreement: instead of shooting in ARRIRAW, we shot in ProRes 4444 XQ to get the maximum definition possible with ALEXA. I later shot “The White Tiger” for Netflix where I used ALEXA LF to be able to meet the network's full 4K policy. In this case, the cameras came from Panalight-Rome.

How many cameras did you use for “ZeroZeroZero,” and how? 

“ZeroZeroZero” was shot with two ALEXA Minis and one ALEXA SXT, we also used a lot of different stabilization systems. The technical evolution in Stefano's style can be seen by the transition away from the exclusive use of a handheld camera (and the total rejection of the Steadicam) in “Romanzo Criminale” and “Gomorrah,” to using the camera almost exclusively on stabilization systems or with dolly shots. We were looking for smoother movements and more composed shots. The series was mostly shot with one camera and sometimes with two cameras, while all the action scenes were shot with two, three, sometimes even four cameras. I needed bright, clear, and elegant optics, that's why I chose the Master Primes. In constructing the image, I tried to overcome realism with an attractive style, enhancing the visual appeal of reality. During the preparation, we conducted infinite scouting and cataloging of locations and I collected plenty of images. The result is that everything you see in “ZeroZeroZero” is real; these places actually exist in the world. Every powerful atmosphere we found during our location scouting was brought to our sets. 

What difficulties did the many locations entail? 

The ARRI cameras were an element of continuity. With Cattleya we decided to maintain a solid technical unit from the beginning of the project. We rented the cameras in Italy, where we did all the technical preparation at Panalight-Rome under the supervision of my first AC Massimiliano Ricci. Then we sent them to the places around the world where we were prepping to shoot. It was complex but exciting to maintain a technical and creative continuity, coupled with the difficulty of managing different crews divided by an ocean. We needed reliable cameras and the ALEXAs held up for months without creating any problems, at every temperature—from the cold mountains of Calabria to the winter in New Orleans, to the rain of Mexico and the extreme heat of the Sahara Desert. 

How did you manage the lights? 

We also used many ARRI lights. On “ZeroZeroZero,” I actually used LED lights extensively for the first time, in particular the ARRI SkyPanels. LEDs are transforming the way we work. The possibility of remote controlling color temperature and light intensity is extremely interesting. This is a feature that I also exploited a lot on the Netflix movie “The White Tiger” by Ramin Bahrani.