American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 66

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Darkest Days

The crew films the miners being trucked into the mine before the collapse.

ranean levels. The majority of the cavein was staged inside the Zipaquirá mine.
Almost everything else involving the
trapped men was shot in the smaller
Nemocón salt mine, which provided the
main living space, where the men slept,
ate and waited to be found; the
"Refuge," where provisions were stored;
and the underground portion of the
eventual rescue when, one by one, the
miners stepped into the Phoenix rescue
capsule and rode up to the surface. (The
aboveground continuation of this
sequence, where each man steps out of
the cylindrical pod and is greeted by his
66

December 2015

family, was shot in Chile - and staged
10 miles from the actual site.)
Every character in the movie is
based on a real person - although some
are composites - and whenever possible, real names are used. Antonio
Banderas portrays Mario Sepúlveda,
who acted as spokesman for the group
during the long ordeal; Lou Diamond
Phillips plays shift supervisor Luis
Urzúa; and Rodrigo Santoro portrays
Chilean Minister of Mining Laurence
Golborne, who coordinated the massive
rescue operation.
A former news and documentary
American Cinematographer

cameraman who spent the first half of
his career alternating between National
Geographic specials and covering wars
for such outlets as CNN, NBC and
BBC, the Peruvian-born Varese was
accustomed to hazardous working
conditions, but being half a mile
beneath the Earth's surface, listening to
the constant heaving and rumbling of
the shifting ground - and having only
one exit route out of the mine - could
still be more than a bit unnerving. "One
morning we arrived to find that half of
the entrance to the room where we
stored our grip equipment had
collapsed," the cinematographer recalls.
"Another day, one of the mine-safety
advisers who always accompanied us
suddenly announced, 'Everybody evacuate!'"
During prep, Riggen had asked
Varese to suggest a classic artist as a
visual reference for the film. "The first
painter I thought of was Goya, but I
quickly decided he was too dark," Varese
notes. "His emphasis is very much on
suffering, madness and tragedy, whereas
The 33 is about hope and faith [in the
midst of hardship and distress]. Then I
thought of Caravaggio, who favors
strong, one-directional light but still
allows the background to fall into black.
His canvases became our model for
below-the-ground [scenes]."
By contrast, aboveground scenes
at the burgeoning "Camp Hope" -
where the miners' families maintain a
constant vigil, a steady stream of workers come and go, and the media circus
pitches its tent - were very colorful.
The filmmakers' key influence for these
exteriors was the work of ace National
Geographic
photographer
Steve
McCurry, especially his pictures of
Middle Eastern street markets. Not
surprisingly, day exteriors relied upon
natural light.
The incremental growth of
Camp Hope throughout the film
consisted of five set designs. "It was all
precisely orchestrated from the beginning," Varese explains. The first setup
was simply a pristine desert landscape.
In the second, set a week later, "people



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - December 2015

Contents
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 1
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 2
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Contents
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 4
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 5
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