The rich visuals of Re Granchio (The Tale of King Crab) will be both striking and familiar for cineastes. As soon as the movie begins, it’s clear that directors Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis had particular ideas for how they wanted their story to appear on-screen.
Cinematographer Simone D’Arcangelo worked with VENICE camera to follow distinct artistic references and the result is nominations and wins at multiple film festivals, including Cannes, Vienna and Seville. We spoke to him about his creative process.
The two directors drew on their love for various genres to build an incredibly detailed creative plan for Re Granchio. Every single frame and sequence had a particular reference, from Peckinpaw Westerns to Herzog movies.
But for D’Arcangelo, his main inspiration came from the Macchiaioli – a group of nineteenth century Italian painters, known for working outside and exploring areas of light and shadow in their works. When it came time to choose a camera that could reflect this style, he chose VENICE.
“With digital cameras, the most important thing is that they capture as much information and light as possible,” D’Arcangelo says. “VENICE gave us the opportunity for deeper shades of colour and more light contrast. And it gave us the space to do colour correction so we could find exactly the right look. I used this box of light to pick up every element I wanted.”
The sky moves a lot in Patagonia, so the light can change in drastic ways. They’re beautiful, stunning changes and I loved them… The VENICE sensor helped us capture these situations and turn them into a further narrative element.
The film begins in an Italian village, where local hunters exchange stories, in particular the tale of Luciano. We then see Luciano’s misfortunes unfold on-screen, from wandering drunk in Tuscia to his eventual exile in Tierra del Fuego.
Shooting daytime scenes in Italy, D’Arcangelo chose Super16 film for the exterior shots. But every interior shot, every night-time scene, and all of the shooting in Argentina were handled by VENICE. D’Arcangelo was then able to emulate the filmic look for the digitally-captured scenes.
“VENICE gave us flexibility in the look and how we worked. When you shoot with film, you have amazing colour rendition. But it’s a wild horse. There can be magic in it, but you don’t have complete control over the camera and picture.
“With VENICE, you can have all the shades of colour and light, then decide the direction you want. I worked with our colourist, Nazzareno Neri, for a week to establish the look for the film, and then just one more week to do the digital colour correction for the entire movie.”
Having used VENICE for several commercials and documentaries before, D’Arcangelo knew not only what the camera sensor was capable of, but also Sony’s 16-bit X-OCN format.
“Sony is the only company that’s made a lossless compression format in years. I love the fact that they’re improving not only the camera technology but even the image data and how it’s captured.”
He wanted RAW footage in every frame he captured, so he had the flexibility to add and augment the film’s distinctive look during postproduction. But he would also be working with a very small crew in remote locations, and that would mean practical challenges. By shooting X-OCN, D’Arcangelo was able to capture the RAW image quality and texture he needed, while taking up much less memory space.
This proved to be particularly helpful when shooting in Tuscia, as none of the characters on-screen were portrayed by actors. Instead, Zoppis and Rigo de Righi chose to work with the local villagers and that meant longer takes and less intrusive filming.
“The directors wanted the villagers to feel like they were still in the real world, not in the world of filmmaking. They needed to give them time and space and couldn’t interrupt them or disturb their performances.”
Shooting in Argentina brought new challenges and needs. The practicality of the X-OCN format was particularly vital here, where D’Arcangelo straddled the role of DIT as well as DP.
“When you’re in Patagonia, you’re at the end of the world. You need to see what you shoot at the end of each day, then review and work out what you can improve the next day. This allows you to adjust as you go, experiment and see for yourself what works and what doesn’t.”
The smaller file sizes of X-OCN made the workflow for on-location dailies far more manageable. This was further helped by the ability to choose between three flavours of X-OCN: XT (highest quality), ST (standard) and LT (light). Each day, as shooting began, D’Arcangelo would select the format that best suited the schedule. Longer takes meant using the lighter format, to save even more space without compromising the image quality.
D’Arcangelo knew from the beginning that his crew would need to move fast and save time wherever they could, given the nature of location shooting in both Italy and Argentina.
“The sky moves a lot in Patagonia, so the light can change in drastic ways,” D’Arcangelo remarks. “They’re beautiful, stunning changes and I loved them… The VENICE sensor helped us capture these situations and turn them into a further narrative element.”
VENICE’s built-in ND filters made working in these changeable conditions far easier, cutting down time that would normally be spent adapting the lens set-up. D’Arcangelo’s camera assistants, Simona De Lullo and Juani Guzman, made sure the camera rig was always as light as possible. The entire movie was filmed using just two zoom lenses, for added flexibility—an Angenieux Optimo Style 30-76mm and an Angenieux Optimo 15-40mm. And this all meant that the crew could capture spontaneous moments, whenever the cast were ready to perform or the weather gave them a unique picture.
One day in particular stands out for D’Arcangelo. After beginning to record with the sun beaming down, the tide went out and the evaporating seawater created an amazing, atmospheric fog around the actors. He and the directors quickly decided to incorporate this one-off phenomenon. They finished shooting the scene in the fog, then they were able to reset and shoot the beginning again, this time capturing the heavier, more mysterious mood
While the wide, open spaces of Patagonia provided breath-taking vistas, D’Arcangelo’s favourite shot in the movie was far more intimate and relied on the VENICE sensor’s remarkable low-light capabilities.
For a tense scene in the first half of the film, he used just the light from a flickering candle to film the protagonist in a moment of crisis. Shooting between ISO2500 and ISO1250, he captured a magical, otherworldly feeling and replicated the interplay of light and shadow that the Macchiaioli painters were known for. All without the unwieldy file sizes of RAW shooting.
“The ability to capture so many shades of light, while using up less data, makes VENICE one of the most useable cinema cameras available,” D’Arcangelo concludes.