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Using ALEXA Mini LF and large format for a cinematic TV look

DP Ralph Kaechele BVK uses the ALEXA Mini LF’s nuanced color rendition and large-format aesthetic to craft a big-screen look for TV movie “The Hunted – In the Camorra’s Net.”

Apr. 26, 2023

Directed by Rick Ostermann, the German TV movie “Der Gejagte – Im Netz der Camorra” ("The Hunted – In the Camorra’s Net”) is the third film in a series about an ex-criminal winemaker who testifies against the mafia and goes into witness protection to safeguard his family. The German, Austrian, and Italian co-production was filmed in Northern Italy on a tight, 21-day shooting schedule. Although the previous two films were captured with a different camera, cinematographer Ralph Kaechele BVK fought for an ALEXA Mini LF, which was supplied along with Zeiss Supreme Primes and a grip and lighting package by Maier Bros. in Meran, Italy. Kaechele spoke to ARRI about his creative choices on the production.

In what ways did you want this third film to look different from the previous two?
We looked at the great work that director Andreas Prochaska and cinematographer Thomas W. Kiennast did, wanting to stay true to the visual and narrative world that they had established, but also putting our own imprint on it. There were certain elements in the visual design of the first two films that we wanted to increase, or strengthen. For example, the long one-shot Steadicam shots, the relationships between space and characters, and the muting of certain colors, especially the predominant greens of nature. We were also inspired by the modern, high-end architecture of the vinery location, which radiated success, luxury, and minimalism—we wanted to build on that, visually.

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Handheld filming with the ALEXA Mini LF, helped by an Easyrig and DJI Ronin 2 gimbal.

Why did you want to shoot with the ALEXA Mini LF?
The ALEXA Mini LF is my favorite camera for so many reasons. I love the sensor, the dynamic range, color rendition, the speed, and also the small form factor. Even before large format was around, I tended to use slightly wider lenses and go physically closer to subjects. I just love including more of the environment around characters in my shots and not shutting it out by being too flat or using long focal lengths. With large format’s shallower depth of field, I can do both: soft and creamy backgrounds, yet a greater sense of the space, sets, and locations. I also love the reliability of ARRI products. I can trust the camera and I know what I will get, no matter how crazy the schedule or how tricky the setup.

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DP Ralph Kaechele BVK (at camera) blended dirty green light with warmer orange tones at this industrial location.

Are the benefits of large format also seen on small screens, for TV productions?
I think especially TV productions can benefit from the advantages of large format. Having stronger, more cinematic visuals, incorporating more space around the characters, will set any TV production apart. We are used to seeing big images in movie theaters and large format can bring that feeling to TV screens, no matter what the aspect ratio is. There’s a scene where the protagonist’s daughter is being abducted by mafia guys and even though it is a rough, handheld scene shot mostly in mediums and close-ups, you can see the whole valley, this amazing scenery behind the actors. It’s just so much more visual. 

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Kaechele operating another handheld setup with the Mini LF, combining the Ronin 2 with a Ready Rig.

How did you approach camerawork and camera movement?
I loved the long Steadicam moves in the first two films, especially showing the main character in his vinery, so I wanted to take that further and use those kinds of shots throughout the film. We even shot the climactic shootout as a one-shot camera move. But we also wanted to free the camera from being locked purely to the characters, so we incorporated more drama-building moves to subtly reveal things to the audience that the characters hadn’t seen yet, or to heighten emotions. I also shot quite a few drone shots because we didn’t want do shoot ordinary establishers and we liked showing the relationships of the characters in the landscape with much bigger wide shots. 
We considered using two camera bodies because of the time savings of building the camera in studio, handheld, or gimbal mode, but my excellent 1st AC Christian Temme assured me that he could build out the camera in a way that would take minimal time to switch between different configurations. That way we could work with just one camera, which helped us stay within the budget constraints.

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Shooting on location at a port in Northern Italy.

What about color? Did you create LUTs in prep?
I created six LUTs with the help of my very talented dailies colorist, Silvia Pozzi at Cine Chromatix in Merano, Italy. I divided them up into exterior and interior, and day and night LUTs, with different levels of color saturation, contrast, and highlight protection, and a one-stop and two-stop simulated underexposure for darker scenes. I also altered the skin tones a bit, but most importantly reduced the blue-greenish values that were very dominant in nature during the shoot, due to the fact that it was late summer, and everything was bursting with color. 
I wanted to create a very specific color palette, going further than the previous two films because this is the dramatic showdown. I was trying to steer away from a realistic or authentic look, especially since those alpine exteriors look so idyllic and romantic to our eyes. Our concept was to show the less picturesque side of that area, so we always searched for locations with minimal greenery and more 1960s architecture, and then we muted any screaming colors, especially green.

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Kaechele on set, fine-tuning his lighting setup.

How did you continue this approach to the color palette on set?
We decided to schedule and shoot everything backlit, and reduce colors in our sets dramatically. If you look at scenes in the inspector’s office, we chose a location that is basically just windows looking out over another building. We told our production designer that we would never look towards the walls, always towards the windows, so that we could create an almost monochrome image through silhouettes, without desaturating in post. 
Given the overall desaturation we wanted, I thought it was important to give each scene a special color and tone. Otherwise, the film would feel bleak and grey. I love giving a location or scene a certain identity, cutting from an orange scene to a blue scene, to a green scene, and so on. This compensates for the lack of color through desaturation. I also love blending colors so that they are broken or dirty. This is apparent in the stand-off scenes between the mafia leader and the protagonist’s daughter in a rundown industrial hideout. I used dirty green tones and blended them with warmer orange and sodium colors. I often have several lights with slight variations of the same color close to each other because it looks less clean and less like studio lighting. The ALEXA Mini LF picks up all the nuances and always surprises me with its incredibly smooth tones and wonderfully rendered colors. 

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Checking a composition through the ARRI MVF-2 viewfinder with the help of 1st AC Christian Temme.

Did you attend the final color grade? Were the images easy to work with?
Yes, I did the final grade with Tobias Wiedmer, who is the lead colorist at Cine Chromatix. Since Silvia and I had built a big part of the look with LUTs, Tobias and I could concentrate on the more detailed work, as well as the overall visual arc of the film. There were no bad surprises, no artefacts, no pixel shifts or errors, so we could completely focus on the narrative and creative aspects of shaping the film. In my conversations with Tobias, I could hear that he prefers the depth and overall quality of an ALEXA image over any other camera. I couldn't agree more. The ALEXA Mini LF is the ultimate camera for me, versatile and reliable, with a gorgeous sensor and the perfect form factor.

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Kaechele describes the ALEXA Mini LF as his “ultimate camera.”

Opening image: Martin Rattini

Website of DP Ralph Kaechele BVK: