American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 68

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Darkest Days
Top: Henning's
panoramic photo
reveals the area
where the miners
take refuge
following the
collapse. Bottom:
Steadicam
operator Matías
Mesa trains an
Arri Alexa XT on
Antonio Banderas,
who portrays
Mario Sepúlveda.

more dreamlike and cinéma vérité, with
an almost documentary feel. We stuck
primarily with zooms because they gave
a feeling of 'being down there' with the
miners." The lens package included one
15-40mm (T2.6); one 17-80mm
(T2.2), mainly for use on the
Technocrane; two 28-76mm (T2.6), for
handheld and Steadicam; and two 24290mm (T2.8); in addition to a smattering of Arri/Zeiss Ultra Primes and
Cooke S4s.
Varese operated the A camera
throughout the shoot. Matías Mesa
served as both B-camera and Steadicam
operator in the mines, and Roberto
Contreras assumed B-camera duties
aboveground in Chile. Luis Lattanzi,
who served as 1st AC in both locations,
notes, "We shot 1,280 ASA inside the
mines and 800 ASA on exterior scenes."
68

December 2015

The cameras recorded ArriRaw to
internal Codex XR Capture Drives.
As Varese explains, the film
begins with a conventional look, which
transitions abruptly to a stark contrast in
tone and pacing. "It was two juxtaposed
languages," the cinematographer says.
"The director's vision was to contrast
the constantly ticking clock of the
aboveground [rescue effort] with the
quiet and motionless world of the
miners, where there was no sense of
time, and they were just waiting, maybe
to die."
Aboveground scenes were
captured entirely handheld, while
belowground scenes were shot exclusively with stabilized cameras. Nearly all
of the underground footage was
captured with two cameras - one on
Steadicam and the other generally on a
American Cinematographer

slider or tripod - with a third often
employed on the Technocrane, which
Varese enlisted in lieu of laying dolly
track across the uneven terrain. Only in
the Refuge, where the grips had
installed a wooden floor, could track be
easily laid. "The Technocrane had to be
hand-carried in pieces into Nemocón,
which had no vehicle access," Varese
notes.
One of the thorniest issues facing
Varese and his longtime gaffer David
Lee was how to light the interior of the
mines. "There is no electricity in real
mines, perhaps because laying cable
would be prohibitively expensive," says
Varese. "And there wasn't adequate
ventilation to safely run generators; the
fumes would kill everybody." Instead,
miners rely on rechargeable units such
as flashlights and headlamps.
However, it was clear that the
filmmakers would need to supplement
these sources with movie lights. "The
production had no alternative but to lay
cable," the cinematographer notes. But
laying 1½ miles of it inside Zipaquirá,
and placing transformers every 400' or
so, was an arduous, time-consuming
task that took electrical crews three
weeks to complete, working in shifts,
seven days a week. "We had to cable as
if it was a small town," Varese says. "The
cables were hooked up to an underground high-voltage substation that
shared its power with the nearby town."
"The electric crew worked in
almost total darkness for much of that
time," adds Lee. "Hanging hundreds of



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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