Set between the vineyard peppered countryside and electric blue Adriatic sea, Melbourne-based Cinematographer Katie Milwright travels to Italy to film the first ever Italian-Australian co-production, The Space Between.
By Katie Milwright.
Set in Friuli Northern Italy, The Space Between tells the story of Marco (played by Flavio Parenti), a guy who has given up on his own life and dreams to move back to his hometown and look after his ageing father. A life changing event and the chance meeting of an Australian girl, reignites in him a desire to change his life and again follow his passions.
When I met up with Director Ruth Borgobello in January this year, I hadn’t seen her since she’d moved to Italy to start raising money for her film. I’d had the opportunity to shoot a music video for her, we worked really well together and I loved her focus on styling and mise-en-scène. I was thrilled when she asked me to join the team on her feature. I loved the script, and there’s something truly romantic about shooting a film in Italy.
“ I loved the script, and there’s something truly romantic about shooting a film in Italy. “
In pre-production Borgobello handed both the production design team and myself a beautiful document containing scene breakdowns, visual references, notes and shot ideas.
It was a great way to instantly connect with the Director’s thoughts for each scene. When it came to the design of the film, Borgobello had a very clear idea for styling and colour. The colour palette shifts through the story arc, it is mainly realised through wardrobe and set dressing. I needed to stay sympathetic to these colours with lighting and colour balance, when it’s all put together it’s really striking. There’s a sequence by the seaside with Olivia (Maeve Dermody) and Marco walking amongst the ruin of a Castello. The block colours in the cast’s wardrobe, in particular Dermody’s bright red dress, starkly contrast the rambling shapes of the overgrown castle. Setting the characters in such relief of their surrounds keeps your eye with them and on their experience. The landscape is very present in the frame, but never the main focus.
Working well with any Director is about developing trust. I loved working through all Borgobello’s ideas and bringing them to life on set. It’s a really great feeling to have an excited Director as text becomes actual shots. When designing the shots we talked about Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte (1961, cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo AIC), as well as more contemporary films like Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love (2009, cinematography by Yorick Le Saux AFC) and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013, cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema FSF NSC ASC).
We liked the idea of long held wide shots, or framing choices that might favour the landscape more than the character. We were constantly trying to find visual ideas that tell the story of ‘spaces between’, how characters visually connect or separate, the spaces between being as important as any detail. Borgobello roughly storyboarded the whole film which we used as a guide.
I’ve used the ARRI Alexa, which I love, on the last two feature films I’ve shot, but I had also used the RED with the MoVi Freefly, for a few shots on the film Sucker (2015) I shot in Melbourne last year. I really liked the kind of shots we could achieve with this rig. It struck me that The Space Between would benefit from the flexibility of this kind of movement, so the RED very quickly became an option as well.
There are whole sequences in the film along river paths and cobbled streets and I love the way the MoVi moves. The MoVi would inject movement into the film where we didn’t have the time or length of track to lay for moving shots.
I shot some tests with the RED Dragon on the MoVi in Melbourne, and sent them through to Ruth. She loved what I’d put together and agreed to go down the Dragon/MoVi path. I hadn’t used the RED as a main camera on a film since I shot The Wedding Party (2010) six years ago; I was feeling ready to try the new incarnation of the RED Dragon. I mean Jeff Cronenweth ASC and David Fincher certainly make it look pretty sweet.
I had fiddled around with running the MoVi on a Steadicam arm, without the sled, while I was still in Melbourne. I was quite happy with the results. I was able to operate the MoVi for a good amount of time in this configuration. It gets quite heavy and take after take is hard going without some support.
The Steadicam arm ironed out most of the up and down action from walking and the MoVi does the rest.We used the MoVi in ‘majestic mode’ and I operated. Ultimately for me, choosing to use the MoVi also meant shooting the whole film on the RED. We had one Dragon built for production mode and one built for the MoVi.
I had to get a little piece made in Rome to bridge between the Steadicam arm and the MoVi. Of course being Italian made, it was perfect and beautifully machined. I named the piece the ‘Lelio’ after the guy in Rome who made it.
I shot tests in Melbourne and Rome before embarking on the project. We projected our Rome tests at Post facility LVR, and were very happy with the results. We shot the RED in 5K to compliment the Cooke S4 lenses which don’t entirely cover the sensor at 6K. I love the Cookes, I use them a lot, there’s such a warmth to them.
All our gear, camera, lighting and gripping was rented through Panalight in Rome. This is the way of things in Italy, everything comes from a one stop shop. My Italian crew were hard working and enthusiastic. Maurizio dell’Orca (Gaffer), Luca Pagliara (Key Grip) and Fulvio Sabia (Grip) were supportive and very open to working the way that I wanted to. They really got what I was trying to achieve, and got on with the job.
I was also fortunate to bring Pietro Cusimano, from Perth, as Focus Puller for the job. Cusimano only moved to Australia about eighteen months ago and had worked with me on Sue Brooks’ film Looking for Grace (2015) in Perth last year. I felt lucky to have at least one person I’d worked with before on my team, also someone who could speak Italian!
Cusimano trained up on the MoVi in Perth with Michael Elsegood at HD Rentals using Elsegood’s MoVi and RED before he left. We didn’t have a designated MoVi tech, just a very keen camera team, who managed to make this whole crazy idea work. Elsegood did an amazing job running the MoVi as well as doing some exceptional focus between both cameras.
One of my favourite sequences in the film was actually shot in about a thirty minute period, using the MoVi on the Steadicam arm. It’s a scene outside the Fantoni furniture factory in Osoppo. There had been a misunderstanding about the exact planned location for this scene, we had to quickly work out where else to shoot it and, of course, the light was fading.
The Fantoni Fabbrica is an amazing Goliath of a factory. It was designed by architect Gino Valle in 1968, it’s incredible and one of my favourite locations in the film. We shot dusk for dawn for this sequence. The scene is about Marco, our lead character, being dropped off at work in the morning by his best friend Claudio. Unbeknownst to them, it is the last time he will ever see his friend. This is early in the film so I’m not giving too much away. Our plan had been to cover this quite simply in two shots, taking this idea and the exact location we’d found ourselves in, we had to redesign the whole blocking.
“ They really got what I was trying to achieve. ”
We really ended up with something far better than either Borgobello or I had initially conceived. I could reset quickly with the MoVi and the factory at last light looked so ominous and fantastic in the background. Also as Claudio’s car drives off down the road there are huge dark mountains in the distance, we then turn to follow Marco across the road. I find it particularly satisfying when there’s a problem you didn’t know existed
when you woke up that morning, then you’re able to quickly deal with it and make it something you’re really proud of.
Looking back on shooting The Space Between I think we really made some beautiful images that feel very true to the film we set out to make. I’m looking forward to grading with the RED footage and what I’ve seen so far is really terrific.
Thank you Italy for all the delicious food and Prosecco! The way to my heart is definitely through my stomach.
Katie Milwright is an award-winning director of photography working across film, television and documentary.