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How ‘The 33’ Turned Its Actors Into Gaffers

Shooting and lighting a mining disaster film was no easy feat, but The 33 cinematographer Francesco ‘Checco’ Varese was up to the task. In retelling the story of the 2010 Chilean mining collapse, which led to 33 survivors being trapped underground for 69 days, the crew strived for authenticity. This meant filming in, and therefore lighting, a real mine.

To shoot the scenes after the collapse, Varese relied on the headlamps that each of the miners were wearing. “Checco choreographed each [off-stage] actor so that they knew when to turn with the actor on-screen so the light would hit him, say, in the chest and not the face,” director Patricia Riggen explains to ICG Magazine. “Lou Diamond Phillips, Antonio Banderas, Juan Pablo Raba all had cues from Checco to light each other, which I don’t think has ever been done before.”

Varese adds, “Essentially they all became my gaffers. I worked with them for hours as to how and where to point their headlamps, how to avoid the camera, where the shadows were on Antonio’s face, etc. It was absolutely crazy, but quite effective.”