American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 72

◗

Darkest Days

Above: Cast and
crew prepare to
shoot at the
mining-office set.
Right: Varese lines
up a shot.

before we turn off the lights."
Phase two is triggered by the
mine collapse, which knocks out all
lights except the men's headlamps and
their flashlights. For these scenes, Varese
used the actors themselves to light the
action. Riggen elaborates: "Say Mario
has a line to deliver. The other miners
turn to him, and their headlamps
provide the light. [To make sure his face
isn't over-lit], some of the actors look at
his chest rather than his face. In this
way, more of Mario is also visible. Using
the actors to illuminate each other was a
very original way to light."
Obtaining the right headlamps
was a feat in itself. "The actual collapse
happened in 2010," Varese says, "when
72

December 2015

every miner's [helmet was fitted with] a
battery, cable, and headlamp with a
tungsten-filament bulb - nice and
warm and beautiful. When we shot the
movie in 2012, there were no more
tungsten lamps on the market; they
[had been] replaced by cheap LEDs,
which are more efficient for battery life
but have a very specific color spectrum.
It's very ugly and harsh on the skin, and
it's also not historically accurate. So we
had to procure 100 tungsten headlamps
- 33 for 1st unit, 33 spares and 32 for
2nd unit. We found them in Chile, of all
places. The guy said, 'You don't need
those; they're too expensive." I said, 'No,
no, we do!' And he said, 'Okay, but I'm
letting you know we have better ones!'"
American Cinematographer

The bulb on each miner's hardhat
was attached to a cable that went
through the man's belt and connected to
a battery. "My gaffer devised a way to put
a wireless micro-dimmer on each hat,
between the bulb and the battery," Varese
says.
"We had a system that allowed us
to put some of the key helmets on wireless dimmers that I could then control
with an iPad," Lee explains. "The idea
would be that I could dim the helmets
during the shot, as needed, while the
actors moved freely about the set. We
found, however, that we didn't need to do
this as much as we originally thought.
The actors ended up doing just fine on
their own, simply by controlling where
their lamps were pointed."
After three days of constant usage
following the collapse, the batteries
inside both the headlamps and flashlights expire, leading to the third lighting
phase. One of the miners, Edison "Elvis"
Peña ( Jacob Vargas), raids vehicles on
other levels of the mine, confiscating
their batteries and using them to
recharge the miners' lamps. He also rigs
a small lighting station in the main living
area. There, Varese notes, "the light is all
tungsten and warm, reflecting the camaraderie and solidarity of the men. The
real miners had two bulbs, while we used
a dozen of them [to provide sufficient
light for shooting]. We literally went to a
junkyard with our incredible prop
master, Óscar Romero, and got dozens
of used head and taillight fixtures of
every car and truck [that would be
found] in a mine. We used some 120volt-to-12-volt transformers, and
dressed the cable the way the miners
would have."
"We would try and find the more
interesting [lights] and place them
strategically," says Lee. "We would then
supplement with household bulbs
hidden in and amongst the set dressing."
The fourth phase begins when the
exploratory drill breaks through the
tunnel's ceiling. The rescuers send fluorescent tubes into the mine, the only
lights thin enough to fit through the
hole. The stock Cool White fluorescents



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
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 6
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 7
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