Welcome Foolish Mortal to the third entry into our #HORRORMONTH on the blog. This week we tackle the subject of shooting horror and how we create the look of some of our favourite scenes in the shorts we have put out there. To check out our tips so far on ‘Writing Horror’ CLICK HERE. Or for my tips on ‘Directing Horror’ last week CLICK HERE. For this Blog Post I (Liam banks) will be joined by Jonno Butler a regular SuperfreakMedia collaborator. I have worked with Jonno on some of my favourite and most successful projects to date. We both share a great passion for the genre and it is always an absolute pleasure getting to shoot a ‘horror’ together.
(J) A lot of the cinematography work I do with SuperfreakMedia is in the horror genre, in this blog I thought I’d share with you a few techniques and break down some shots to show how they were achieved, usually creatively with very minimal kit.
But first, a quick word on what inspires me. I love working in the horror genre as it gives me a lot of opportunity to experiment and make bold choices when lighting and filming a scene. Personally I love watching horror films as a method of inspiration, trying to recreate a look from a great film is an excellent way to practise and hone technique. Some of my favourite horror films from a cinematography standpoint are ‘LET THE RIGHT ONE IN’ (cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema) for its stark, beautiful look, ‘SAW’(cinematographer: David A. Armstrong) because of what was achieved on such a low budget and ‘THE OTHERS’ (cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe) for the masterful use of light and shadow.
(L) With the work we create we pride ourselves on the strong visual palette we try to conjure up within our films. Horror these days can be far too gloomy and desaturated. I’ve never been a filmmaker to shy away from colour, just look at the gallery above. More often than not I will reference Horror films of yesteryear as visual inspiration for the film we have set to shoot. If you want you can take a look at some of the work already out there that appeals to me, take a look at our Pinterest Profile and check out the ‘Cinematography Inspirations Board’ and my ‘Horror Cinematography Inspirations Board’. I always like to include colourful and dramatic chariscuro lighting in any scene that I can. Any opportunity to bring an air of nostalgia to the aesthetic of a film I am directing is a win for me. With the world of short film and especially the world of short horror films being so saturated it’s important to stand out and have an immediately recognisable sensibility. I know that the look of a film really does lie in the hands of a Cinematographer/D.O.P but I am a whole lot more familiar with the world of Directors. Considering the likes of the ‘Auteur Theory’ I think you can say that many Director’s come with their own visual style. Dario Argento, Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright are all genre filmmakers that embrace an exciting and original use of camera work and lighting in their films. I love a Director that understands the importance of great cinematography to heighten the narrative the audience is experiencing. Fede Alvarez is another great Director I admire greatly and although not as brash an in your face with colour and lighting as the aforementioned Director’s his visual style is instantly recognisable and incredibly accomplished.
With each Horror Project me and Jonno try to achieve something new. Whether it be experimenting with a new technique or a different colour palette we try to push ourselves from short to short. Below we summarize some of our favourite shots from the shorts we’ve shot in the last few years.
(L) The Copy-Writer to me is one of the strongest projects, visually, we’ve put out there. Since the first screening we received some great compliments on the cinematography and the look of the film and still do now that the film is up on YouTube.
Going into the project I know that the visual look of the film was a huge consideration. Placing the project in the 1970’s we knew that we wanted a warm filmic look to the horror on screen to add to the authenticity of the setting. Myself and Jonathan conducted a lot of research into the type of camera we wanted to use and still being at University when we shot the project we had access to a whole host of equipment. Writing the script as well I knew that I could place a key emphasis on the use of candlelight to further isolate our lead character Henry in the darkness around him. This is one of the only films I have shot too which allowed for the use of lightning and experimentation with Gobos. This allowed for some incredibly dramatic lighting, creating shadows to conceal our monster and further amp up the tension for our audience.
The Copy-Writer – The Window Shot – Camera used: Sony PMW F3.
(J) This particular shot, although short was key in establishing the storm that played a pivotal role in the story.
The lighting set up for this shot was minimal, it was more about blocking light than setting them up. The actor’s face was lit solely by the candles that he is holding, this was achieved by shooting at an aperture of F2.0 and using a black cloth to black out the room behind him.
The flashes of lightning were created by using a single daylight balanced Kino Flo Diva 400 and the inbuilt dimmer positioned to camera right. This gave the lightning a harsh, almost blue tint.
Finally the rain running down the window was created using a home-made contraption consisting of a short length of PVC pipe with small holes pierced into it, a hose and a water bottle. By holding this above the window and moving it from side to side we were able to create realistic beads of rain running down the glass.
(L) ‘MR CREAK’ has definitely been one of our most successful projects to date, now at over 200,000 views online and with a feature in the works, it has opened so many doors for us. I do strongly believe this is down to how great it looks. I can remember on the day of the shoot, watching the action unfold in front of me, being blown away by every shot Jonno captured. The combination of the eerie blue glow with the torch beam and shafts of misty light created a look and an atmosphere I am incredibly happy with.
We knew going into the project we wanted this project to stand apart from everything else we had created up until that point. Fresh off the back of ‘THE COPY-WRITER’ I think this was our main motivation for filling the short with it’s signature blue glow. We no longer had access to all of the resources we had when we were at University so it really forced us to get creative. Jonno had just bought his GH4 Camera so this offered us a great opportunity to see what it was capable of. The only lights we had access to were a couple of Aperture LED light panels and smaller battery powered LED light packs. We really utilised practical lighting alongside this giving our lead character a powerful torch to sweep about the room. Additionally the thin shafts of light that cut through the darkness were achieved by covering a window in the room with tin foil, pulling back small pin sized holes this allowed the light from outside to stream in through the window. We did shoot the short in a day, during the day time. You really can utilise day light to achieve some amazing results if you figure out a way of controlling it and making it do what you want it to do. Combining all of this with a soft layer of haze from an incredibly cheap fog machine we had a killer look we were all proud of.
Mr Creak – Beams of Light – Camera used: Panasonic GH4
(J) ‘MR CREAK’ was the first short film I shot using the GH4 camera so much of the shoot was actually quite experimental and served as a great chance to test out the camera’s capabilities. Liam and I decided early on that we wanted the look of the short to be totally different to The Copy-Writer, gone is the warm orange glow, in its place; a cold blue.
The torch seen throughout the scene is the character’s only source of light aside from a few pinpricks that seep in through the boarded windows. Because of this we really wanted to emphasise its effect. Obviously the torch on its own wouldn’t have lit the room sufficiently to show the room so extra lights had to be used.
As is common, we worked with a minimal amount of lighting kit, utilising one or two small LED panels and a reflector to illuminate the room and the actress. The beams of light were achieved using a fog machine that was liberally applied before each take. The trick being to waft it around enough to make sure the room didn’t look ablaze but still allow the torch to give off those lovely beams!
Note: The shot above is the reveal of the doll’s house, I used a slider and followed the movement of the actress’ hand; this coupled with the musical score created quite a dramatic moment as the audience sees the house just as the character does.
(L) ‘SANDMAN’ is our most recent project to hit the festival scene and had it’s world premiere at Mayhem Film Festival last Halloween (Read about it HERE). I think that ‘THE COPY-WRITER’, ‘MR CREAK’ and ‘SANDMAN’ all kind of fit into a somewhat twisted sort of trilogy with our central characters in peril from a monstrous antagonist. I think then that it’s almost fitting that ‘SANDMAN’ really is an amalgamation of its predecessors with its warm orange tones and dark shadowy teals.
The key to this short succeeding was to conceal our titular character whilst creating enough of a presence to scare our audience and our protagonist. We really played with shadows and the contrast between light and dark and again Jonno blew me away with what he was able to create.
Sandman – The Stairway – Camera used: Panasonic GH4
(J) The stairway shot in ‘SANDMAN’ has been getting a lot of good feedback from audiences and reviewers, with my personal favourite reaction being an audible ‘no, no, no noooo’ at a screening at the Derby QUAD.
To put it mildly this shot was an absolute arse to accomplish. We wanted the look of the creature character to remain ambiguous for as long as possible so having him fully lit on the stairs wasn’t an option. In order to create the silhouette I positioned an LED light panel at the bottom of the stairs that pointed upwards towards the creature. Getting the angle just right so the actor blocked the light took some time but we got there in the end.
The lights in the eyes were achieved with pieces of circular reflective tape stuck on a pair of sunglasses that the actor wore. Initial tests on the day of shooting showed that they were much too big so we had to cut them down to around half the size.
Next came the task of lighting the reflective tape without showing off the face of the creature. We found that using an iPhone torch was the best option and Liam dutifully stood in just the right spot to illuminate the eyes and bounce the light back into the lens. The blink however was done digitally in case you were wondering!
DON’T BE AFRAID:
(L) I think that those who choose to create work within the genre are often afraid to experiment and utilise colour to their full advantage. Horror doesn’t mean dark and gloomy. When you think of SuperfreakMedia and the Horror Films we create I want to conjure up vibrant images and thoughts of Nostalgia. Carve out your own style and put your own stamp on the horrors you commit to the screen. Your work will be all the better for it. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the resources in the world, just get creative and keep experimenting, that is after all what we do when we work.
(J) I hope this has proved to be a useful insight into some of the shots in SuperfreakMedia’s ever growing catalogue of horror. If you have any questions or want to know more, get in touch!
Cheers for now,
DON’T BE A STRANGER: