Dreams: Nicola Pecorini on
At the end of February, cinematographer Nicola Pecorini spoke to
Dreams editor Phil Stubbs about the shooting of The Wholly
Family, a new short film directed by Terry Gilliam.
The short was shot in Naples in mid-January 2011, and is currently
Nicola Pecorini on the set of Tideland, pic by PS
The genesis of this project has been quite peculiar: Pasta Garofalo is an excellent pasta maker - a high end pasta made with a specific wheat. A few years ago, they decided to invest their advertising budget into the making of short movies instead of producing silly spots and then have to spend fortunes in buying air space. I have no idea how good is the "return" of this policy, but I'm certainly glad of their choice. I wish there were more companies that would embrace this kind of approach.
The problem is the kind of exposure that the shorts will get: no-one ever wants to air or screen shorts; they do not fit the TV time slots, and theatres are very reluctant in fitting them ahead of a main screening because it cuts their time short. I remember that in Switzerland it was common to have a short before the main title, and it was great. I hope they still have this great habit.
Nowadays there is the web, but a small computer screen is not exactly the best way to enjoy any cinematographic work, the "silver screen" has to be bigger than life or maybe I'm a dinosaur and destined to rapid extinction.
Back to the genesis: Pasta Garofalo approached Terry back in September . At first his proverbial idiosyncrasy toward the advertising world made him very suspicious of anything commercially-related. But he was reassured that Garofalo would have not interfered in any way in the process, just provide the money: the only condition was that the story had to be somehow related to Napoli.
Personally I insisted for him to take it for two reasons: the main one was that I believe that for Terry working (being on the set, dealing with actors, frames, props, editing etc) is certainly preferable than waiting by the phone for improbable developments on Quixote or whatever else. I believe that it is actually a crime that someone like Terry does not have the opportunity to do whatever he wants whenever he feels the urge, but that's a whole different story; I remember that Fellini - and we are talking Fellini - could not put together anything in the last ten years of his life!
The other reason is that I always thought that a "meeting" between Napoli and Terry could produce only magic.
Terry scribbled a short story, and in November we met in Napoli. Terry did not know the city too well, he had only passed by a few times. We scouted it extensively, crawled in the amazing underground, visited dozens of villas, hospitals and churches, tasted the most extraordinary delicacies and met some absolutely unique characters. By the time we left, Terry was in love with the city. He had fine-tuned the story, located the spaces, written the dialogues and created a quite extraordinary little trip!
We decided to shoot in the second week of January mainly because we needed the "nativity street" of S. Gregorio Armeno to be still "dressed" but not so insanely busy as around the Xmas period.
The budget was quite modest: at first we tried to fit everything in five days but we ended up shooting seven lo-o-ong days including one only for greenscreen and VFX.
Terry - against my advice - insisted on shooting it digitally. He said, "If we don't experiment on these occasions when will we ever?" Good point, but having already worked digitally, I know the limitations imposed by the system and I'm certainly not a fan of the digital tool. For me it's a bit like the equivalent of being a composer and having to use only four notes - a total lack of range. Of course he had it his way! We ended up shooting it with Arri Alexa and Zeiss Ultra Primes with the occasional contribution of a Canon 7D with PL mounted on a Steadicam Merlin.
Next week we'll colour-correct it and then I'll be able to completely analyse the results. I'll finally see it with all the music and the VFX, which were handled by an Italian company.
As I said, the budget was quite limited but we put together an almost regular crew, because some of the locations required extensive rigging to light them.
We shot with two cameras. One always had a slightly longer lens in order to be out of the way. Everything is relative though, and with Terry and me, a long lens means something between a 40mm and a 65mm. The "A" camera was constantly mounted on a MiniJib, either with manual or remote-controlled head.
My crew was mainly from Rome with some Napolitan reinforcements while the art department was all from Napoli. Gabriella Pescucci came with a miniscule crew producing the most amazing results, as always.
Apart from the main three characters, which Terry cast in Rome, all were from Napoli. In fact, the casting process has been one of the highlights of this adventure.
We had a great time, at least I did anyway. Working with Terry is always very challenging - but equally rewarding. The constant growing process, the consistent pushing of boundaries, the "divertissment" is supreme. As I was saying before, it's a crime that Terry is not shooting more. It's actually funny that I could apply to Terry what you were saying earlier about your son: "Playing with him is a joy. Fascinating to watch him learn. He is starting to test us now, as he is developing free will and a reluctance to obey"
I believe we've produced a very fine little story - very funny and yet again with so many layers that multiple viewings are highly recommended. From this point of view, the fact that it will be available on the web is a big advantage.
Many thanks to Nicola Pecorini
Elsewhere within Dreams:
Nicola Pecorini on Tideland
Nicola Pecorini on The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus