An Interview With Fernando Argüelles

In another of our ‘Interview With’ series, Steve was lucky enough to chat to Fernando Argüelles, the incredibly talented Director of Photography who has worked on many amazing tv shows including Grimm, Hemlock Grove, Prison Break and more recently DC’s own Swamp Thing! Such a great show that not only was a great story but looked absolutely stunning and that is where Fernando Argüelles comes in….

Steve: Hello Fernando, thank you for taking the time to chat with us, we’re huge fans of Swamp Thing and your work on the show is exceptional! Our readers would love to know more about you and your work, so feel free to expand on any of the questions below 🙂 For you what are some of your standout moments from the show?

Fernando: There were two moments: The first time I saw the swamps being built on the set, and the first time I saw the Swamp Thing character. The suit was fantastic and realistic… In those moments, I was certain we were going to produce a great looking show.

Steve: What do you feel a good cinematographer contributes to a finished film/TV show?

Fernando: A cinematographer offers an essential contribution for the look of a finished show. From the moment the cinematographer receives the first script in pre- production, he/she starts to interpret the words into images. From there, these images and ideas begin to evolve through collaborative conversations with the director, production designer and creators. As the creative vision unfolds, we begin to delve into lighting choices & design, selection of cameras, lenses, cranes, dollies, filters, etc. Many of these decisions are made based on locations, so it is crucial to imagine how lighting and equipment might be affected or manipulated per location or sound stage.

Next comes fine tuning and collaboration with the director during production. A cinematographer will often make tweaks with the director on the spot… often we find those “light bulb” moments when we are fully immersed in the process.

Once we reach post production and the show is locked, we ready for color correction. For me, this is a very important part of the equation, and the Director of Photography plays a very important role.

Steve: How much responsibility or pressure do you feel to bring the director’s vision to life?

Fernando: The pressure is very high of course… everything that has been discussed in preproduction has to then be made into a reality. You have to be flexible enough to anticipate & make changes on the fly if needed, yet, the trick is to do so without losing the integrity of the look. This intensifies more in TV because we often have a different director for each episode, unlike features where the same director is part of the vision from start to finish. In television, guest directors come to the table with their own perspectives; the challenge in this is that it may differ from the way the show has been shot in previous episodes. In this situation, a cinematographer must respect both the new vision of the director as well as the integrity and look of the show as a whole.

Steve: You’ve done quite a lot of action shows, and with Swamp Thing and Grimm, a fair amount of fantasy/horror. are you a fan of the genre?

Fernando: Yeah …. My first fantastic/horror/fantasy show was actually “Hemlock Grove” for Netflix, I like fantasy and surrealism. “Hemlock” was my introduction to the genre … and as long as there is a significant point and statement, as in the case of The Swamp, I am all in. I felt connected to the message & the implicit moral importance of protecting the environment.

I also find that fantasy shows offer a lot of room for visual creation; there is a surreal element that gives a tremendous platform to be imaginative and creative. My mind thrives in a space where creative freedom can evolve.

Steve: Are you a comic fan and if so which ones?

Fernando: I love some comics… I remember reading a lot of them back in Spain when I was very young. I believe I had gotten my hands on Red Ryder a bit before my time, but loved it! Later, I discovered Spiderman, Batman, Thor and Swamp Thing.

I have always had a certain fascination with movies about jungles, forests and swamps. I love I Walked With a Zombie, directed by Jacques Tourner, released in 1943; the excellent cinematography by J. Roy Hunt, ASC features deep shadows and high-contrast photography. With Swamp Thing, I saw the possibility of doing a series set in modern times with visual aesthetics that could be a bit old- fashioned. It promised to be both an adventure and a great creative opportunity.

Steve: Who are your inspirations?

Fernando: Everything that Art has produced in the last 2019 years and before, from the Paleolithic paintings of the Altamira caves to Picasso. Movies, paintings, sculptures, architecture, design, etc., I take inspiration from everything I see that I consider artistic and interesting.

In terms of cinematographers, Carlo Muntuori, Gregg Toland, Luis Cuadrado, Gianni di Vennanzo, Karl Freund, Gordon Willis, Raoul Coutard, Roger Deakins, and many more. Gregg Toland was a genius of composition with wide angel lenses, his b&w cinematography was brilliant & his framing was superb. Gianni de Venanzo was one of the leading cinematographers of Italian neo- realism, working with such director’s as: Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Raoul Coutard was the cinematographer of the “nouvelle vague” in new French cinema of the 60’s. Godron Willis who “The Godfather”, was one of the best American cinematographers, and Roger Deakins is responsible for some of the best visual films of the decade.

Steve: Which recent films have impressed you, in terms of cinematography?

Fernando: Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, Sicario, Phantom Thread; Ex machina has an exquisite framing coupled with a lighting style that really transports us to a different time and space… we find ourselves in a robot reality that feels somehow quite natural and non-contrived. The subtlety of the style is what makes it truly spectacular.

Blader Runner 2049 is a highly stylized visual movie, wherein a unique world is created, the production design and photography are very special.

Steve: With Swamp Thing now over, though we hope it still has life somewhere else, whats your next project?

Fernando: At present I am in Edinburgh, Scotland, believe or not, doing a romantic comedy after Swamp Thing …. Hahaha, quite a change!

Steve: Haha quite a change indeed, thank you for chatting to us and letting our readers get to know a little more about you!

Once again thank you so much to Fernando Argüelles for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat to us here at Earth9, we are massive fans of his work and are very much looking forward to seeing his next projects, so be sure to head over to fernandoarguelles.net and Instagram to keep up to date with all of his projects!

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