The New Pope

Luca Bigazzi sheds light onto darkness for Paolo Sorrentino’s HBO® drama

The second installment in the world of the modern papacy is as elegant and cinematic as the first thanks to director of photography Luca Bigazzi’s careful preparation and handling of multiple RED WEAPON cameras with 8K HELIUM S35 sensors.

Change is prevalent in the Vatican at the start of The New Pope as the Holy See hasten to replace the coma-bound Pius XIII (Jude Law), but for Paolo Sorrentino, series creator and director, and Bigazzi, the modus operandi was one of continuity.

The nine-episode drama, produced by Sky Atlantic, HBO and Canal+, flows immaculately from The Young Pope and introduces, in episode 2, John Malkovich, as the British Pope John Paul III. Also returning are the seductive visuals and cultured lighting design.

The New Pope, from my point of view, is even better than The Young Pope,” says Bigazzi, who earned an Emmy® nomination for his work on the latter. “We were more familiar with the spaces and angles we were shooting in, therefore better prepared to light and frame each shot. We wanted to achieve the same image quality, the same beautiful skin tones and ability to work in natural light.”

It was the unique combination of the RED WEAPON’s lightweight body with the HELIUM sensor’s sensitivity to light which compelled Bigazzi to select the camera for the series, although in truth he has been a religious devotee of the camera since transitioning from shooting film.

“RED is absolutely perfect to achieve our ideas for this show,” he explains. “Paolo works very fast no matter the project, but for a TV schedule we had to achieve an economy of time that would allow us to shoot with as much natural light as possible but also to move from set-up to set-up very fast.”

During the 20-week shoot for which Bigazzi lensed every episode, the crew often clocked-up 80 to 90 set-ups a day.

“If you’re shooting with three cameras, you can forget about applying gels to windows or adding a lot of light to compensate for interiors – all of this takes too long,” he says. “The most fragile thing on set are the actors. They need time and space to move freely and RED’s light sensitivity allows me to be very fast and still use natural lighting. It means I can shoot a wide and close-up at the same time using the same light. It’s something Paolo and I have refined over many years and how we like to work.”

The method is particularly important for a show like The New Pope which features vast sets representing the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Piazza San Pietro.

“I can’t imagine lighting a shot with a single light – we need to light the whole room to achieve the right ambience and scale. I want to use sunlight but naturally these conditions are changing constantly. With this set-up I can be faster than the sun and faster than the clouds.”

Having collaborated on many projects, including the acclaimed features La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) and Youth, the director and cinematographer have developed a shorthand understanding.

Bigazzi recalls, “In preparation, Paolo sent me a short text message about his overall vision for the show which read ‘I am in the Prado [Spanish national art museum, Madrid] looking at all these old paintings, some very dark, others very light.’ This is what he wanted me from me, and I don’t need more than that to understand the theory of working in high contrast. Paolo also noticed that people in the museum looked carefully only at those painting that were darker or lighter.”

Bigazzi found the ability to shoot with two exposures – one for shadows and one for highlights – vital for enhancing both the look of The New Pope and to speed shot turnaround. RED’s HDRx® solution, which records dual exposures within the same R3D file, can decrease the chance of having to shoot at another time of day, use extensive ND filters, or install additional lighting.

“Instead of increasing the latitude of exposure to compensate for burned out windows, I can easily use the camera’s HDRx functions for the same results with better quality of light and faster shooting,” he explains. “If, for artistic reasons, we want to see both the interiors and outside the windows in the same shot, we can do this with HDRx without adding light. This is a revolutionary idea that completely changes the whole approach to lighting.”

To maximize efficiency, Bigazzi relied on a Canon zoom lens for many shots, alternating with a set of Leica Summicron glass, particularly for scenes of high contrast and strong highlights “without flare or distortion.”

The only difference in treatment between this and the first series is the dropping of a Pro-Mist filter. “It gave a very nice effect to the highlights but it would sometimes create problems with reflections, so in The New Pope, we opted to add that glow in post.”

For Bigazzi, the framing and position of the camera can be just as important as light, if not more, in terms of the narrative.

“I like to operate the camera and in an ideal world I’d operate all three myself!” he exclaims. “I can monitor the other two cameras from my position, but it helps tremendously to have such great trust in my two camera operators (Alessandro Brambilla and Luan Amelio Ujkaj). They have worked with me for many years and we communicate very well.”

For his latest feature, Futura, directed by Lamberto Sanfelice, Bigazzi shot with the RED GEMINI 5K S35 which features RED’s dual sensitivity sensor.

“It’s an incredible camera,” he says. “It’s more sensitive to light than the human eye. It allowed me to shoot in total darkness and deliver a quality image that I am very pleased with. I’m so excited by this camera that from now on I will use only this.”

Thanks to Luca Bigazzi, for
sharing behind the scenes
of The New Pope.

Photos courtesy of

RED’s HELIUM 8K S35 sensor delivers 17x more resolution than HD, over 4x more than 4K, and over 16 stops of dynamic range. HELIUM’s unmatched performance offers users benefits such as the flexibility of super-sampling, cropping, and stabilizing in post to produce unbelievable content without compromising their vision.

HELIUM is available in the modular DSMC2 or all-in-one RANGER system.



  • 35.4 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • 29.90 mm x 15.77 mm (Diag: 33.80 mm)
  • 60 fps at 8K Full Format (8192 × 4320)
  • 75 fps at 8K 2.4:1 (8192 × 3456)
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  • 35.4 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • 29.90 mm x 15.77 mm (Diag: 33.80 mm)
  • 60 fps at 8K Full Format (8192 × 4320)
  • 75 fps at 8K 2.4:1 (8192 × 3456)
Shop Now


The nine-episode original series from director Paolo Sorrentino is his second series set in the world of the modern papacy. The New Pope is written by Sorrentino with Umberto Contarello and Stefano Bises.


Watch THE NEW POPE Only on HBO