The nature of Swamp Thing – Interview to cinematographer Fernando Argüelles

We present an exclusive interview to Fernando Arguelles, cinematographer for Swamp Thing live action series for the new streaming channel DC Universe, who worked on success tv series as Prison Break.

Before starting, would you mind introducing yourself to our Readers?
My name is Fernando Argüelles, native of Spain, graduated from the Spanish Universidad Complutense of Image Science, also from the American Film Institute.
I am a member of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) and AEC (Spanish Society of Cinematographers).
Most of my career has been in the USA but I’ve shot extensively abroad as well. My work nowadays is in TV episodic, you can find my info and reel at fernandoarguelles.net or IMDB.

During your carreer, you have worked on many tv series, like Grimm, Prison Break, Hemlock Grove. What kind of differences have you noticed while working on Swamp Thing compared to past experiences?
Swamp Thing is a very different show than the rest of my career.  …. is a DC Universe show with a  “superhero” character, never before had to work in a similar visual environment, the whole idea of a supernatural hero living in small town in Louisiana is a very different one than Prison Break for instance ….  which is a very human linear story in different places and prisons.
Visually the atmosphere has to be created with a narrative of darkness, suspense, horror and a supernatural fictional character that  lives deep in the bayou/swamp surrounded by forests most of the time.

In Swamp Thing, nature plays a key role when it comes to the characterization of the characters. How did the location settings influence your work? Did you choose certain colors exactly because of the locations?
Indeed …. nature is one of the key components of the show. One of the reasons I’d like the show/scripts so much was the message about saving what’s left of our planet, forests, natural habitats etc., there is a concealed continuos message in the show about that. Every time there is some attack to the nature of the swamp there is a reaction from our hero trying to save the damage, like cutting an old tree, pollution, etc.
The locations were part of the visual scheme of the show and completely influence my work, in fact part of it.
We had two swamps built in two different stages: one big  where many scenes happened with  boats moving (actual boats), another smaller where Alec’s lab is.
Then several stages with different sets, we also shot in a forest behind the studios where we created pools of water, adding “fake tall cypresses trees” an other vegetation more in tune and accord with a swamp in Louisiana. We also shot in a lake not to far from the studio in the middle of Willmington that had very similar look of a Luisiana swamp, that was for big boat chases and with a boat landing pier.
We had a general indication about the “look” of the show, but when it comes to the particular choices of colors and hues I did choose the colors according to the locations.
The swamps always had a blue/green cast or just cool, depending if it was night or day. Rest of locations has its own colors/hues depending what kind.

Have you used the comics as a reference while working on the series? If yes, what kind of version of the character helped you?
I read the Saga of the Swamp Thing graphic novels from Alan Moore, took some visual notes how he used the green in many places, but we created a different scenario most of the time with more blue/green cast and desaturating the colors hues.

Which choices you made while working on Swamp Thing were influenced by the director, the scrip or the cast?
Any feature film or television work depends in a great part by collaboration in preproduction and production with directos, producers and TV writers.
In TV episodic you have more contact with the show runner and the creators, it was great to work with James Wan (Aquaman) as an Executive Producer, Mark Verheiden as a Showrunner Executive/Producer/Writer, Deran Sarafian Director/Producer and Terry Gould Producer ….  we discuss visual and other issues how to shoot the series. Every director that came to direct episodes had some ideas and we make it as much possible as we could but everything is depending in the overall established visual continuity.
The script has a very important influence in the way you look at every episode, from locations, action, characters, etc.

What tools and technologies have you used during your work on Swamp Thing? Could you describe them to us in detail?
3 Alexa LF cameras with T series Anamorphic Panavision lenses.
Extensive use of Arriflex Sky panels, every size available to light the set in the stages.
Fisher and Chapman dollies.
Movie Bird 45′ cranes.
Oculus head stabilizing system 3 axis, Talon head 2 axis.
Hydroflex underwater casing for underwater cameras.
Sony A7 for small work and underwater shooting.

How did you feel when you found out that Swamp Thing won’t be renewed for a second season?
Extremely disappointed, the crew was great, working hard in a difficult show, the series have great reviews, a very delighted fan base ….. I really believe we had a good show but the real reasons will never know, whether is the cost of $8.5 million  dollars per episode or other reasons unknown to us, have been very frustated news.

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