Live Grading a TV Series About International Drug Trafficking: DITs Andrea Cuomo and Andrea Curiazi on “ZeroZeroZero” 13 min read

In a time dominated by curfews and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, articles about international film productions seem like stories from old, better times. Even if they happened last year. The TV series ZeroZeroZero is a saga about drug trafficking that spans several continents. Such a production requires a high amount of traveling and cooperation between people from different countries. Italian DITs Andrea Cuomo and Andrea Curiazi have been part of this production in 2019 and report to us about their experiences.

First of all, how are you and how is coronavirus affecting you?

Andrea Cuomo: It all looks like a bad apocalyptic movie! We are in quarantine as i think all people in Europe. We only go out for buying food. The film industry is totally stopped for now. In Italy all non essential activities are suspended! Me and my girlfriend are spending time reading, watching TV, and gardening on our terrace. Boring! But I know that this is a lucky quarantine, because many people are in difficulty! I hope that all of Pomfort’s staff are good and safe and all is going to finish soon!

Andrea Curiazi: The situation here is quite dramatic, everything is closed and Rome seems like a ghost town. Like film industry, all the main activities are closed or suspended and we’re all a bit worried about ourselves and our relatives’ health. But we’re also concerned with our job situation. Right now it’s impossible to have an idea on when the film industry will be on again, and as you can imagine for us that is not only a job. It’s a lifestyle and we miss it. Luckily me and my partner are doing well and we mostly spend our time watching movies, cooking, reading and listening to music. We are basically trying to find a sense to this quarantine, taking our time to do things here at home that we’d never have time to do. We keep on staying as positive as possible and hoping that after all this we’ll have a new, maybe small, Renaissance. I’m glad to hear that you’re all good there.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Andrea Cuomo: I am 34 years old, and based in Rome. I’ve been working in the film industry since 2009 and as DIT for 8 years. I started my career, as it usually happens in Italy, attending rental houses. After some work as video assist and 2nd AC, I started to work as DIT, following my interest and my skills. One of my first work was Gomorrah season 1 as data manager. This introduced me to Paolo Carnera, the cinematographer of the first two seasons and for long-time DOP of Stefano Sollima. 

DIT Andrea Cuomo, photo by Rosa Hadit

Andrea Curiazi: I’ve started working as a DIT in Rome, at the very beginning of the profession here in Italy, when a few pioneers of new tech and enthusiasts about the digital solutions applied to audiovisual products had finally the chance to get their hands on the very first RGB cameras. I remember that in my first experiences with ARRI D21 and Red One every day I learned something completely new about our enchanting world. It was funny, everything was being born before our eyes! So I became a DIT pretty naturally, growing as a professional DIT as our occupation grew up on set. 

DIT Andrea Curiazi, photo by Stefania Rosini

You’ve recently worked on ZeroZeroZero. How did the team come together, and what were your tasks for the project?

Andrea Cuomo: I worked with Paolo in other projects as a DIT, so when he asked me to be the DIT of the main unit of ZeroZeroZero I was thrilled! ZeroZeroZero’s production has been a small travel around the world and a great experience that allowed me to work with people of 5 different countries around 3 continents. The shooting started in New Orleans in March 2018, in April we moved to Mexico, then we shot in Calabria where Andrea Curiazi followed a part of the shooting. At the end we moved to Morocco and Senegal.

Andrea Curiazi: I’ve been working on this project only for a month. It was not the first project I shared with Andrea Cuomo, head DIT of the show. We previously worked together on Gomorrah. On that project and on ZeroZeroZero I enjoyed working on a second unit with Andrea. I think we use the same language and we have slightly different gears which, however, meet the same needs for controlling cameras signals and continuity on a never-ending show as ZeroZeroZero. My task on the project was to preserve Andrea’s work starting from scratch when filming a new location. At the same time giving the DPs the chance to work with me exactly in the same way they had previously worked with Andrea Cuomo. I think I achieved my goal, mostly because it’s easy for everyone to work with great professionals.

photo by Rosa Hadit

Which cameras and camera types were used on the project?

Andrea Cuomo: On ZeroZeroZero we used two ALEXA Mini and one ALEXA SXT, Master Prime lenses and one series of Zeiss hi speed used on drone setups. We also used some Sony Alpha 7s II as crash cameras.

Andrea Curiazi & Alexa Mini, photo by Stefania Rosini

During the shoot you worked with Silverstack and Livegrade. How was the decision made?

Andrea Cuomo: I’m a long time Pomfort user. For the first season of Gomorrah we used Livegrade and after that I used it for almost all my projects. Silverstack is my favorite data management software.

Andrea Curiazi: I started working with Pomfort products in 2012. Since then I’ve been appreciating the possibility to build reliable and customizable workflows. It was great to take advantage of the effort to upgrade that Pomfort has shown over the years. Livegrade Pro is a faithful battle companion that allows DITs to find and create the right way to assist DPs and Post during the production, while Silverstack is simply perfect and easy. 

Could you please briefly describe your workflow with Silverstack and Livegrade on this shoot?

Andrea Cuomo: For ZeroZeroZero the focus was to create a lightweight but also a strong and safe workflow. Easy to adapt to all the different and difficult locations that we had. I used Livegrade Pro for on-set grading. We set the SDI camera output to LogC and through my DIT station I did live color grading in order to give a picture with a precise look to all monitors. The way we used to transmit CDL to the data manager was through Pomfort Look Archive, that I think is an easy way to share DIT’s metadata. The data manager station was near set, the guys worked with Silverstack XT. They did all the backups, applied the CDL to all footage, did QC and created the shuttle copy to ship to the post-house in Rome. Attached to original camera files and sound, we’ve also put in the shuttle: stills, reports and CDL timelines for DaVinci, all generated by Silverstack! 

Andrea Curiazi working at his cart, photo by Stefania Rosini

Andrea Curiazi: On ZeroZeroZero it was really important to me to automate all the processes and to facilitate the work of Luce Bertani, the Data Manager, who applied my CDLs to the footage after managing the offloading process. You have to know that I use to move a lot from my tent to the near set lab, when is possible, to double check my work. After a while you can take advantage of a “fresh eye” on a scene, and maybe you change your mind or you find the way to give a better mood to the footage. But it was often impossible on Zerozerozero, due to the location and to the distance between me and the near set lab. Livegrade and Silverstack offered us the way to easily create and share references and to manage different versions, when requested, of the same look during the shooting day. This way we continuously had the chance to check on set the look consistency for a lot of difficult scenes, shot in very different lighting conditions during very long production days.

How does on-set grading influence the work of the DP? Can Livegrade help with creative decisions?

Andrea Cuomo: On ZeroZeroZero I worked with two DPs, Paolo Carnera and Romain Lacourbas. They both use on-set grading as a way to improve the creative development of a picture.

I’ve been collaborating with Paolo Carnera for some years. With him, my job on set is very creative. He has a great experience and knows all the possibilities that digital cameras offer. I think that he uses on-set color grading as an instrument to show his purposes and ideas about the movie to directors. But also as a tool to understand what critical situations are that need to be changed. I learned a lot from him.

With Romain Lacourbas, I quickly had a great human and professional feeling. Even if it was the first time that we worked together. From the very beginning, he involved me in his cinematography view with long conversations about his ideas and wishes. He gave me a lot of references as starting point for our job and he also gave me the freedom to propose my ideas about grading in order to find the final look together.

On set during a night shoot, photo by Stefania Rosini

What LUT boxes and other devices were used, and how many were controlled by Livegrade simultaneously?

Andrea Cuomo: I have two different DIT station setups. One is the classic DIT cart for locations, big and easy to reach. The other one is a lightweight station on a stand that I use when we shoot in very small places (e.g. a camera car). I built one rack with Flanders Box IO as LUT box, one BMD Smart Scope Duo 4k and BMD Ultra Studio all linked at one BMD Smart Video Hub 12×12 that allows me to control video signals up to four cameras and to distribute that. I can control all units with my MacBook Pro using an ethernet connection. I spent some time assembling and programming it but at least I’m very proud of my DIT station. The other setup is made with two Teradek Colr plugged directly to my monitor, usually on a stand, completed by one Teradek Link that allows me to control the unit through WiFi.

Andrea Cuomo and his hand baggage, photo by Rosa Hadit

Andrea Curiazi: I work with Flanders’ BoxIO LUT boxes into my DIT rack case since early 2018. On ZeroZeroZero I had to control three cameras in very uncomfortable locations, so finally I chose to work with two boxes in dual channel even if, that way, the look CDLs created with the DP were slightly less accurate. I’ve also used a lot the fourth BoxIO channel, the “camera free” one, to quickly check log signals, mostly sending them to Divergent Media ScopeBox onto a MacBook Pro or either on my system monitor, depending on the situations. I used to remotely control my hub by creating a LAN or using third parties controllers: this way is really easy and fast to swap from a camera to another sending three different signals to a single SDI cable, taking advantage at the same time of Livegrade’s false color and Scopebox’s waveforms and vectorscopes. So, basically, on my DIT station Livegrade controlled six different signals (three false color log signals plus three look rec709 linear ones) onto four different SDI cables. This configuration allowed me to be as light and fast as possible in a lot of difficult locations, like Aspromonte mountains or in small houses in San Luca.

How did the collaboration between DP & DIT and the post-house look like? How were the dailies done?

Andrea Cuomo: The dailies were made by the post-house in Rome. They received the files with CDL and stills as reference. Our colorist Andrea Red Baracca gave the final check for the dailies, sending us valuable feedback. Our work on set could be the starting idea for the final color grading done by Red.

photo by Rosa Hadit

Could you describe one typical shooting day of this project? And on the other hand, what’s the one special thing you remember in particular?

Andrea Cuomo: It’s difficult to describe one typical day of ZeroZeroZero because we shot in so many different worlds. In rich mansions and in poor neighborhoods, in ghost towns in Calabria, and in the crowded Mexico City. In the Moroccan Sahara and on a vessel under way, in the markets of Mexico, Morocco and Senegal. During this project I grew up a lot. In that adventure, the Pomfort suite was a benchmark and a common language for all my collaborators that worked with me during ZeroZeroZero’s shooting: Andrea, Chase, Christian, Luce and Michele thank you. And thanks Pomfort!

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Big ‘Thank You’ to Andrea and Andrea for sharing their insights on this thrilling adventure with us!

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About the Author
Patrick is a sales and marketing manager at Pomfort. In his communication with customers he always keeps an eye out for interesting use cases and customer stories that might be shared with the readers of our blog for insights into a broad range of productions.