Scary movies this year have ranged from high-profile reboots to independent breakouts to ambitious microbudgeters, and they all have one thing in common: Cinematography was crucial to their assorted horrific flavors.

Once again, MovieMaker reached out to the artists behind the camera to pick their brains on the techniques and tools that fueled their films’ chilling visuals.

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson on The Endless

 The Approach: Dusty naturalism

How They Did It: For the dusty part: During exterior days, we used tons of artificial dust in the air; our poor production designer was covered in it and probably now has asthma. When possible, we’d backlight it so the particulate matter would be more apparent. For interiors, we hazed the rooms both daytime and nighttime—never strong enough to create shafts of light, but enough to diffuse all our sources and make a separation of contrast between foreground and background. 

For the naturalism part: a lot of handheld camera, shooting mostly wide. The closest coverage was medium close-up, except for a couple of key shots. Interiors were almost always shot with a soft tungsten light, exterior days were warm-to-natural, and exterior nights were silver/white with occasional tungsten. The warmth of the camp was always tungsten, and the unknown of the desert/forest was always HMI (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide) light balanced to white. The opening of the film, where the brothers are living this crap lifestyle, was heavily desaturated and slightly tinted blue. We kept the grade of the whole film very low-contrast.

The Takeaway: All three of our microbudget features, including Resolution and Spring, have had the same lesson: Passion shared by a group of experienced collaborators, and innovation with story rather than leaning on homage, often yield a better movie despite budget limitations.

DP Aaron Moorhead (C) sets up a shot with co-director Justin Benson (R) on the dust-covered shoot of The Endless. Photograph courtesy of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Tech Box

Shooting days: 17

Camera: RED Epic Dragon

Lenses: Kowa Anamorphic primes (40-100), Angénieux 25-250mm with anamorphic adaptor

Lighting: HMIs up to 4K, tungstens up to Junior 2K

Picture post/DI: DaVinci Resolve in 4K, mastered to 2K DCI

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11