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Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets

Fearful Visions: Horror Cinematographers Reveal Their Secrets


Karim Hussain (Hobo with a Shotgun, Antiviral, We Are Still Here, Mohawk)

The genre provides a freedom of imagination, where you paint on a canvas that can go to extremes, beginning where others would normally stop. And it can also allow the opposite approach: a very naturalistic, organic look that serves as contrast to the intense content. Usually, for me, that type of approach accompanies movies with political or social content—something the horror genre has never been afraid of. Horror has such a broad definition and so many different styles can fit within it, so it’s basically a catalyst for creativity and breaking new ground without limits.

On Choosing a Style—Heightened or Naturalistic

It all starts with the story and the director, and the imagery and techniques that come to mind when reading a script. Since I like to think fast, by the time I’m finished reading a script, I already have a clear idea of the cameras, lenses, lighting and photographic techniques I’d like to propose to the director. Then we meet and discuss, often watching clips from past movies—not to copy them, but to put visuals to a photographic springboard that we can then elaborate on and add something new to, as mere emulation does not interest me. From those meetings, the decision to go either naturalistic, stylistic or a combo of both comes into play. But we all have the goal of serving the story. Just making pretty pictures for the sake of pretty pictures has no interest to me. That’s for commercials, not movies.

A scene from Mohawk, shot by Karim Hussain. Photograph by Michael Wigle, courtesy of Dark Sky Films

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