Which is more challenging: building a comfortably heated house on a remote Arctic island, or making a film documenting the whole project? Director of Photography Giacomo Frittelli battled the elements to create a compelling documentary and a series of web episodes, with a stylish cinematic vision. Planning for all eventualities and adapting to challenging shooting conditions helped to make the project a resounding success, as Giacomo explains.
When Giacomo was invited to join Director Tobia Passigato and the crew of Indiana Production for a film project that would be "challenging" and unlike anything he'd done before, his curiosity was piqued. An experienced cinematographer always on the lookout for assignments that promise adventure, Giacomo jumped at the chance to make a film in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth – Disko Island, off the west coast of Greenland.
The assignment was for Ariston Thermo Group, an Italy-based manufacturer of heating and water heating solutions, launching a worldwide advertising campaign around the Ariston Comfort Challenge. The campaign was created by J. Walter Thompson Italy and produced by Indiana Production. During the challenge, a team of technicians would build and heat a house with an Ariston Alteas One condensing boiler in a remote part of Disko Island, above the Arctic Circle. The house was for researchers from the University of Copenhagen to live in, so the technicians' aim was to bring comfort and warmth to help the scientists carry out their field work in one of the harshest places on Earth.
Giacomo and the film crew's job was to create a compelling documentary about this unique endeavour, in six web episodes to be embedded in the Ariston Comfort Challenge website. Meanwhile, photographer Paolo Verzone took dramatic stills for the ad campaign.
The main challenges came as a result of the weather, which could be unpredictable. As temperatures fell to -30°C, the extreme cold made filming for long periods at a time an endurance test. "Our big fear was the cold, but we were very well prepared," says Giacomo. "I worked with my First Assistant Camera [focus puller] to make sure we had the right clothes, and if we kept moving we could keep warm."
They kept the camera batteries warm by covering them with specially made pouches fashioned from neoprene. “The covers really were very good,” says Giacomo, who explains that they also had a box for the camera and batteries that could be used to keep the equipment warm while out shooting. Battery life was good, he adds – more than powerful enough for what they needed. On one occasion, the crew shot during a snowstorm, says Giacomo, but covering the camera with a waterproof cover meant it was adequately protected.
Working in remote regions meant the crew wouldn't be able to nip off to pick up extra gear, so Giacomo spent weeks preparing for the trip, making sure he had all the equipment he might need. As well two Canon EOS C300 Mark II camera bodies, he took a range of lenses including a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, perfect for intricate close-ups, and three zoom lenses – a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM and Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. Giacomo used Canon lenses exclusively because of their impressive flexibility and the variety of types – with stills lenses, video and cine lenses all using the same mount.
"My key word was flexibility," explains Giacomo. "Flexibility starts from the technical side of things, but in a way that doesn't disturb your vision. You have to understand the best way of achieving a particular result and then know what you can do to reach that (or get as close to that as possible) in the situation in which you find yourself. I chose Canon zoom lenses, for example, to be able to reach [shots] very fast. I wanted to have the best equipment to get the best results."
During the shoot, the crew followed three intrepid boiler installers and a team of scientists as they assembled the house from scratch. The scenes included fast-moving sleighs full of building materials and an icebreaker ship as it ploughed through the frozen sea. Most impressive of all was the breathtaking scenery that stretched as far as the eye could see.
"It was a very beautiful environment," says Giacomo. "I wanted to give a realistic view, [but also to] bring a cinematic style in terms of the photography and colours, and to convey these epic scenes." To achieve his vision, Giacomo also had two cinema zoom lenses (EF mount versions): a Canon wide-angle CN-E15.5-47mm T2.8 L S and telephoto CN-E30-105mm T2.8 L S. Both are light in weight and ideal for handheld shooting.
"I mostly used the Canon wide-angle CN-E15.5-47mm T2.8 L S, which is very sharp," says Giacomo. "For people, medium shots and action, it is the best lens to use. We tried to stay inside the scenes and close to the subjects," he adds. "Sometimes I used two cameras and I'd switch between them."
The Canon EOS C300 Mark II was great for following a subject because of its compact size, portability and quality of output, Giacomo says, adding that he sometimes used this body with the lightweight CN-E14mm T3.1 L F, an EF Cine prime lens, if he wanted an even wider angle.
When he needed to travel light – when filming a subject out in remote places, for example – "I had to bring with me the smallest camera possible," says Giacomo, "and the Canon EOS C300 Mark II gave the maximum possibility." The camera's viewfinder screen came in handy when it wasn't possible to use a video monitor because of limited space – when shooting from a small plane, for example.
One of the main considerations was how to work with the light at any given time, says Giacomo. Because the shoot took place in late spring, the days were shorter than at the height of summer, and it was important to have a good understanding of the way the light changed throughout the day.
"I studied the angle of the sun, when it would rise and set, and from where," he says. "You have a lot of time and colours to play with, and the golden hour is longer than in other places. The light became our timeline in terms of planning." Giacomo also made use of Canon Log 2 mode, which resulted in footage with increased dynamic range, less noise and better grading flexibility, meaning he could achieve the high-quality vision he wanted.
Despite careful preparation, there were inevitably times when Giacomo had to think on his feet and adapt to scenarios as they unfolded, but it was about finding the best configuration for every situation, he says. "Sometimes things changed very quickly, but at other times we could shoot what we wanted in the right place at the right moment," he says. "We became like a family, living together for a month in the same house. It's been one of the best experiences of my professional life in terms of the challenges, relationships, and outcome."
Discover the whole mission and watch the six episodes at www.aristoncomfortchallenge.com.