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Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets

Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets


Michael Fimognari (Oculus, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game)

In any genre, we want to build a relationship to the characters so the audience will connect to the people they’re watching. In horror, the time allowed for that kind of character development is often less than in other genres, but it’s still critical; otherwise, you end up with the series of false jump-scares and ultimately hollow horror.

The genre also often requires a level of specificity related to darkness that most other genres do not. On every film, there is a long discussion about color, and since no two people perceive color nuance the same, that subjectivity requires a visual examination. In horror, darkness receives the same kind of discussion, because we want to create unease in the shadows, but darkness means something different to everyone. So we go through a similar process of examining tonal value as it’s associated with the level of dread we’re trying to communicate. It’s probably the most tested quality for a project, so when we say we want something in the dark, we test the paints and fabrics and the color of light and skin, and place the level of detail right where we want it to scare the hell out of the audience.

On Consistently Collaborating With Director Mike Flanagan

Whenever I work with someone multiple times, we make ourselves better, we move faster. With Mike, it’s a more elevated and intense version of that experience because we connect on how to communicate character and story themes. We’ve refined our prep into a visual writing phase in advance of locations and set builds; our shot lists go out with scripts, so we do all we can to give Mike and the cast the most time to do their best. Mike is in complete command of what he wants from script to screen, yet also allows everyone’s input and craft to elevate his vision. When we start from a place of such confidence, we discover details that otherwise wouldn’t have time to develop.

Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood in a scene from Gerald’s Game, shot by Michael Fimognari. Image courtesy of Netflix

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