Interview with Leigh Janiak

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A honeymoon is in many ways a transformation, the melding of two lives. For some it can mean the loss of individuality to gain to deeper sense of connection to another; for others it simply means a time of hope and promise. The honeymoon phase is a time of deep passion and optimism; our eyes are wide and the world is full of possibilities. Director/Writer Leigh Janiak, with her film Honeymoon, has taken this time of unlimited potential and driven a spike through its still beating heart.

The film follows Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) as they honeymoon at a remote cabin next to a picturesque lake. Soon into the couples stay, Paul discovers Bea in the woods, wandering and alone with no recollection of how she got there. After that night Bea starts to display peculiar behavior and it becomes increasingly clear that something terrible happened to her that night.

Harry Treadaway (Control) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) give fantastic performances as our young couple. This is first film for director/writer Leigh Janiak and she already shows immense talent. Much like Jeremy Sauliner (Blue Ruin) and James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), she is part of a new generation of young film makers who are making deeply personal genre films that are breathing new life into independent cinema.

Leigh Janiak’s lifelong passion for film started with The Goonies, a film she has seen “a thousand times.” At an early age she was making backyard films using her parents VHS camcorder. She attended NYU where she focused on creative writing and comparative religion. After working on numerous short films and experimenting with Super 16 and old-school Moviola editing, she ultimately abandoned her PhD and moved to Los Angeles to pursue film full time. In Los Angeles, Leigh worked at Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, and at Misher Films in both development and production. Leigh and her writing partner, Phil Graziadei, met as undergraduates at NYU. They’ve been friends for over a decade and writing partners since 2005. They’ve written numerous feature films together.

Leigh Janiak was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to sit down with me for a few minutes.

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How are you holding up today?

I’ve got my coffee so I’m doing ok

What’s it like to do all these interviews back to back? It has to feel like speed dating.

(laughs) It’s good. I like it. Its crazy. But sometimes it hard to keep track of what I’m saying. I’ll be answering a question and halfway through I’ll lose track because…

We keep asking you the same questions.

Yeah and you sort of forget where you are in the answer.

I’ll apologize in advance for not having an original take on the question-and-answer thing.

You’ll do fine

How long did the screenplay take to write?

I think we started working on it… We saw Monsters which I think was the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011 [ed note: Monsters was released in late 2010] and that’s kind of what like jarred us into… why aren’t we just making a movie here? It was like, how many years are we just going to write scripts and to what end will that bring us? When I knew that I didn’t want to be very old when someone let me be behind the camera. I think that we started writing Honeymoon mid 2011 and we ended up sending it to our producer by the end of 2011.

Patrick Baker…

Yeah and his wife/producing partner came on board and it took about a year to secure financing. They raised it all through private equity. Which was very lucky for us. And then we shot the film in the spring of 2013. So it was pretty quick for indie in the grand scheme of things.

So then how much control did you have over the final cut of the film?

A Lot. I think that was the great thing about having private equity, you didn’t have these foreign film financing entities or big corporations… I had the support of the producers. I shot a teaser where I laid out my vision for the film and I was able to execute that vision the whole way through and I feel really lucky for that.

There is a clear Invasion of the Body Snatchers influence in your film and while that film was focused on a small town, your film is centered around a couple. Were you using the Body Snatchers story as a way to say something about marriage in same way they were making a film about the cold war?

The Body Snatchers trope… its a film that seems to be made every ten years. We were doing a very intimate Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie. If you look at those movies over time, they’re dealing with some sort of social issue. In our case, it was dealing with personal identity. Being in a relationship and knowing who you are. Look at Twitter, this giant hive mind which is awesome and terrifying. I think that’s where the renewed interest in body horror is coming from. It’s becoming this: What does is mean to be human. But no I wasn’t trying to say anything about marriage. People keep asking me about that (laughs). I’m not married but don’t hate the idea of it or anything.

Kind of going back to where it started. You have mentioned Spielberg or specifically The Goonies being a direct inspiration for you getting into film making. I couldn’t imagine the audacity of a child looking at The Goonies and saying “yeah I could do that.”

(laughs) No…

And I know that Monsters was the one that kicked your ass in gear. Was there a film that made you think “yeah I could do that?”

The time I really wanted to be a film maker… and I know this is silly and cliche but I think I was most motivated or inspired by… I was 13 when Pulp Fiction came out and it was so different. I went to the theater by myself in suburbia and it was amazing, it was telling all these different stories, so yeah Tarantino and Danny Boyle and all of those mid-90’s film makers… I think that was the beginning of the modern heyday of indie film and that certainly made me feel like I can do this or I should try to do this

Sorry to jump all over the place.

It’s fine.

The score for your film was done by Heather Mcintosh.

(Smiles) Yes.

She also did the score for Compliance, a soundtrack that I personally loved. Did you seek her out? Or had you seen Compliance before working with her?

I saw Compliance while we were still financing and I just thought that her score was awesome it gave the film… well you can’t judge what a film would have been like without its score but with that score it was certainly elevated and tonally just made it so uncomfortable and perfect. Heather is just amazingly talented, so yeah I sought her out and was really really pleased and excited when she came on board. We talked about Jonny Greenwood and kind of making it that unease or creeping under the skin of the audience so it wasn’t like hitting them over the head with it.

And her work certainly fits in with your small intimate storytelling, especially with Compliance being such a small intimate film.

Yeah she was awesome.

Although now that I’ve said that out loud I’m not sure “intimate” is the right word to describe Compliance.

(Laughs) Yeah it was very intimate. Quite romantic. When were dropping in temp score it took awhile to find those things that ended up working and Heather just nailed it right away. She found that right balance, it was ominous without being too on the nose.

So, what are you working on next?

My writing partner and I just finished with a pilot and its a limited series, 10 episodes and while we are trying to get that setup somewhere we are working on new feature ideas.

Do you think you will stick with genre pictures?

I consider myself more of a scifi person more than a horror person, so generally all the material I gravitate towards has a science fiction element and I think the horror will come. It’s funny as I’m saying this the pilot we are working is more of a thriller and for sure has more horror elements than science fiction. So who knows?

Thank you so much for doing this, it was really nice to meet you.

You too, have a great day

Honeymoon opens on Sept 12th and will be available on VOD the same day.  Do yourself a favor and check it out. 

Interview with Anthony Petrie

Anthony Petrie is a New York City based artist who works in multiple mediums. His pop art style has attracted clients like Marvel, Paramount, Sony, Bad Robot, Hasbro, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, to name a few. He creates striking images that are far more than a riposte of their subject. His work shows reverence and admiration that resonates deeply with a pop culture obsessed geek like me.

How are you today? 

Peachy!

Where are you from? 

Born: Queens, NY——> For a while: Pawtucket, RI——-> Currently: New York City, NY

How did you discover art?

When I was a kid I had these Super Mario Bros. scratch-off trading cards. One day for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to draw them while I was watching cartoons. I haven’t stopped since.

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Some of your work reminds me of Roy Lichtenstein or the pop-art music posters that have had a resurgence in recent years. What, if any, specific artists continue to inspire your work?

I don’t think I’ve ever been compared to Roy Lichtenstein’s, but I’ll take it. I think just being immersed in the pop art scene, and seeing contemporary artist’s work is inspiring. When you see fellow artists in the same circle progress and try new techniques it drives you to do better yourself. Some of my all-time favorite artists are Robert McGinnis, JC Leyendecker, Mike Mignola, Chris Cooper, Sergio Toppi, and the list goes on and on forever.

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The Sharknado prints you did were great. I loved the play on the Coppertone ad. What gave you the idea of combining those two elements? 

It was a product of a last-minute brainstorm between the folks at Gallery 1988 and I. The idea was just the right balance of campiness and sophistication for Sharknado, tied together by an element that resonated with a lot of people. Those two posters were drawn and magically printed 3 days before San Diego Comic Con last year, where they premiered. I got a text from G1988 at 9pm on the Saturday before Comic Con while I was in the movie theater watching Pacific Rim. They said they needed 2 posters for Sharknado designed and printed before I left for San Diego on Wednesday, which gave me roughly 3 days to get everything done, including printing and shipping. While I was at the movie I started sketching ideas on a napkin, and then stayed awake for the next 24 straight hours drawing those two posters in order to get the separation files to the printer with enough time to print and ship them for the first day of Comic Con. In the end it was really great to have my work be a part of SDCC. As silly as Sharknado was, it had quite a presence that year, and we did a signing with the producer, director, and one of the actors of the movie.

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Do you listen to music while you paint? If so what? For some reason I imagine you listening to Goblin while you did the Shaun of the Dead print.

If I’m working on a poster for a movie, I’ll have the movie on in the background while I work, or movies in that genre. If I’m working on a gig poster, I’ll have the band’s music on. For the most part though, when I’m working, I’ll have a movie on. If I’m on a really tight deadline and I need to stay up and work fast, it’s Deftones or Rise Against. If I’m just sketching, or have some time on a project, it’s Marvin Gaye, Oldies and Country. I don’t have cable, so music is always on in my apartment. I listen to everything. I have Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Awesome Mix Vol. 1 from Guardians of the Galaxy, Bruce Springsteen, Zac Brown Band, Deftones, Alice in Chains, and the Country music station on full rotation right now. I don’t know Goblin, but I’ll check them out.

On your blog you mention that you have an unhealthy obsession with zombies. What is the most underrated zombie film?

I’ll be honest and say that while I love the idea of zombies, I am also not a zombie purist. I really love when movies take the concept of “zombie” and do something different or original with it. The slow-walking, crawling-up-from-the-grave, deteriorating zombies from the old George A. Romero movies are awesome, but they aren’t my favorite. There’s something about fast moving and adaptable zombies that just terrifies me. I might lose some credibility for this, but I really love Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are probably my favorite zombie movies, as I think they really revolutionized this idea that zombies can be created via an “infection” and be fast moving. I think it’s the added realism that really drives that terror home for me. And speaking of slow-moving zombies, Shaun of the Dead is one of my all-time favorite films, not just in the zombie genre. To answer your question though about ‘underrated’ zombie movies: I don’t think anyone ever thinks of Rob Rodriguez’s Planet Terror as a zombie film, but it totally is, and it’s amazing. Fido is a retro-inspired zombie movie that has a Shaun of the Dead kind of humor vibe to it. It’s a movie about a boy and his dog. But instead of a dog, it’s a zombie. Incredible. For all intents and purposes, Return of the Living Dead is simultaneously awful and awesome, but regardless, it has one of the most iconic zombies in it: Tar-Man. And lets of course not forget Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, which really got me started on all things horror and zombie related.

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The Propaganda style used for the Rocky IV print is pitch perfect considering it is one the most jingoistic films I’ve ever seen. Despite my lefty leanings I unabashedly love that silly movie. With that being said you chose a moment when Rocky is being punched for the piece. Is that in anyway a commentary on the film itself or the United States?

Ha. There was no intentional political commentary on that poster, but if that is how you choose to interpret the image, I’m totally cool with that! I think as long as people have some sort of emotional reaction to my art, good or bad, I’ll consider it successful. That particular poster was for a show at Gallery 1988 called “Say Hi to the Bad Guy,” about cult movie villains. To me, the bad guys are always more interesting, so I thought creating art that “celebrates” them was a great concept. Even though the poster is in the style of constructivist propaganda, I do think it has a very Rocky IV sentiment to it. Most of the movie is Apollo and Rocky getting their asses kicked by Drago, who seemed super-human, so making a poster that portrays Drago as larger than life made a lot of sense.

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The Beetlejuice – or Betlegeuse – print is one of my favorites of your film posters. The way you captured the essence of the film without showing any of the main characters is a testament to your ability as an artist. How do you chose a character or a moment to focus on for your posters?

Thanks. For the Beetlejuice poster, I knew from the start that I didn’t want to do something obvious. There are so many other iconic elements from that movie, I thought a bolder statement would be to leave the title character off altogether. I went back and forth on this a lot, especially considering this was only my second officially licensed poster, and I worried this would deter fans. The movie is named Beetlejuice, but I really felt that the story was about Barbara and Adam Maitland, so I wanted to showcase an iconic moment about them. In the end, I did feel like something was missing, so I ended up doing a transparent glow-in-the-dark layer of Beetlejuice which I think really tied the concept together. I try to choose content that best conveys the overall themes or mood of a movie. Sometimes that means the main character, sometimes that means the supporting characters, and often times that means no characters at all. My favorite posters are the ones that “feel” like the movie, but don’t have the characters plastered all over the page. The ones that you have to spend some time in front of that make you think a little bit. Usually this means stripping down all of the most obvious elements, and focusing on more iconic details.

How much freedom are you given when you are commissioned for a piece?

For the most part I’ll have total creative freedom. For some commercial work, licensed work, and “official” projects, there are some caveats that may include: not using likenesses, needing to use specific photo references, or a brief with general art direction. For pretty much everything else, such as gallery work, I’m free to direct my own pieces. If a project comes up that I feel will be too heavily art directed by someone else, I will decline it. It’s tough to do that sometimes, especially if it’s a good opportunity, but I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I’m finally able to say “no” if I need to.

Anthony Petrie can be found all over the internet and prints of his work are for sale through his website. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram or stop by his website and purchase a print. It would make a great gift for that movie geek in your life.

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Twitter and Instagram: @zombiebacons

Site: anthonypetrie.com

Blog: zombiebacons.tumblr.com

Facebook: facebook.com/anthonypetriedesign

Behance: behance.net/anthonypetrie

Interview with Jack Thomas Smith

Infliction - Publicity Photo #1

Interview conducted by Christopher Maynard

From the Infliction press release

Jack Thomas Smith made his feature film-directing debut with the psychological thriller “Disorder.” He was also the writer and producer of that film. “Disorder” was released on DVD by Universal/Vivendi and New Light Entertainment. It was released on Pay-Per-View and Video-On-Demand by Warner Brothers. Overseas, it screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Raindance Film Festival in London. Curb Entertainment represented “Disorder” for foreign sales and secured distribution deals around the world.

Jack Thomas Smith’s most recent project, Infliction, is found footage horror film centered on two North Carolina brothers who go on a murder spree.

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Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Sparta, New Jersey. It’s a middle-class suburban town about 45 minutes outside of NYC. A great place to live. All roads seem to lead back to Sparta. Most of the investors on Infliction are friends I know in Sparta, or friends I grew up with.

What did your parents do? 

My dad has always worked in the corporate field in sales. He worked for years at BASF before starting his own corporation called S&S Industries. He’s very successful and has always been driven.

My mom has worked in the corporate field as well. She’s primarily done accounts/receivable work. My mom’s about as aggressive as they come. [Laughs]

My parents went the traditional route of finding corporate jobs and they provided a great life for my younger brother and I. But they also really loved movies. They had a passion for movies that rubbed off on me. When I was a teenager, my father and I would watch movies together and we’d break them down. We’d talk about what the films meant, what the director was trying to say, the imagery and symbolism in certain scenes. I’ve never been able to mindlessly watch movies, which is a good thing, because I feel this has helped me in my career.

Where did you go to school?

To be honest, I never went to college. I started writing when I was really young…it was just something I loved to do. And then when I was in my late-teens I went to the library and took out a book, “How to Write Screenplays”.  [Laughs] And I followed the instructions. I learned how to structure a screenplay…the plot points, etc. I also learned the mechanics of formatting a screenplay. Once I had that down, I was able to apply the actual story to the proper screenplay layout. And it also helped that I had spent years before that studying films in my living room with my dad and breaking them down as I mentioned earlier… I wouldn’t recommend this route to everyone. But this is what worked for me.

When did you get your first camera and what kind was it?

It was a Super 8mm movie camera and I got it when I was 13. It was awesome. I shot a bunch of horror shorts and comedy shorts with my brother and friends in the neighborhood. It was a great learning experience. I learned the process of getting coverage…and shooting one actor’s lines at a time and cutting it together. In other words, I didn’t shoot an entire scene in one take with the camera swinging back and forth from one actor to the next. I isolated each actor’s performance and cut it together…at least I tried to as best as I could. [Laughs] It was a lot of fun and we still have those old films. Every here and there we watch them for a laugh.

As a writer director you are a storyteller. What made you chose to tell your stories on film?

I’ve always loved movies. It goes back to the first time I saw Star Wars. I was 8 years old when it came out and I was absolutely blown away. I wanted to know how they did everything…from the casting to shooting to the special effects. I wasn’t just a fan of that movie…I wanted to learn how they did everything so I could do it. So I read every magazine or book I could get my hands on about the making of Star Wars (that was long before the internet [Laughs]). Shortly after that, I read “The Shining” by Stephen King and that changed my life as well. I started writing horror stories obsessively. So, essentially, I married my love for writing with my love for films. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to write and make films. I’ve done this ever since…whenever I write a screenplay, I plan to shoot it myself. I never go in thinking that I’ll sell it or that someone else will direct it…I want to have complete control over my vision. So if you watch the two films that I wrote and directed – Disorder and Infliction – that’s my vision 100%.

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Is there a specific film that made you think you could do what you saw on screen?

Definitely Star Wars. That was the first film that hit me as a kid. After that, there were a number of other films that influenced me: Dawn of the Dead (the original); Night of the Living Dead; Rocky; The Shining; The Crow; Goodfellas; Carrie; Scarface; Taxi Driver; Jaws; Halloween; The Fog; The Thing; Apocalypse Now, etc. As you can see, I’m a huge fan of Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter, and George Romero…I love films that make you think.

Your latest film, Infliction, was released on July 1st.  How would you describe it?

Infliction is a disturbing assembled footage film that documents a murder spree committed by two brothers in North Carolina, and the horrific truth behind their actions. It’s brutal and gritty. Very dark. But as you watch Infliction, you’ll find yourself asking who are the true victims here and who are the true criminals.

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Why did you choose to tell your story using the found footage format over conventional narrative?

I shot Infliction as found footage because the story dictated that. In other words, I didn’t set out to shoot a “found footage” film. In the film, the brothers are filming their actions for a reason. The cameras play an important part as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. There are some other “found footage” films where you’ll see people running from a monster and you’re yelling at the screen for them to put down the damn camera and run. I didn’t want to do that with Infliction.  I wanted it to make sense why they’re shooting everything.  And as the film plays out, you’ll see why the cameras are so important to them.

As a writer/director are you protective of your work as a writer?

Absolutely! You have to be. Anytime I write a screenplay, I get a copyright before I send it anywhere. Unfortunately, there’s bad people out there that want to steal other peoples’ ideas and/or screenplays and claim it as their own. I couldn’t imagine doing that. Every screenplay that I write means something to me. That’s why I’m doing it. It’s my passion and it’s what I love to do. But there are people out there that want quick success and they want to take shortcuts instead of putting in the hard work that it takes to get there. Yeah, I’m very protective of my work.

What attracts you to the horror genre?

I’ve always been a fan of the genre. Dawn of the Dead is my all-time favorite horror film. I’ve always loved that rush when watching a horror film…you’re on the edge of your seat…you don’t know what’s around the corner…your heart’s racing because you don’t know what to expect next. It’s a lot of fun. No different than going on a rollercoaster. From a filmmaking standpoint, horror movies are a blast to make. It’s cool watching the effects on set…creating the mood with the lighting and locations.  Plus, you don’t need A-list actors when making a horror film. If you look at some of the greatest horror films ever made – Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre – they were low-budget films without known actors. Horror is the one genre where you can make a quality, marketable film on a small budget.

Your first feature, Disorder, was released in 2006. Is it harder to get your film noticed now than it was 8 years ago?

It is. Back when I did Disorder, most movies were shot on film. So you had to have a certain amount of money to make a movie. There weren’t as many indies being made. Disorder was shot on Super 16mm, which gave it the gritty look I was going for. But today with digital cameras, anyone can make a movie. And the market is flooded with indies. With so many indies out there now, it’s getting harder and harder to get your movie noticed. I was fortunate that [I was able to go back to] my sales rep, Jeff Cooper of Cut Entertainment Group, who handled Disorder and negotiated the deal with Universal/Vivendi, and he was able to secure distribution for Infliction with Virgil Films & Entertainment.

 

Infliction will be available on Netflix, Walmart.com, iTunes, Amazon, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, CD Universe, Google Play, Vudu, Cinema Now, Vimeo OnDemand, and other online retailers.

Interview with Phil Mossman

Interview conducted by Christopher Maynard

Phil Mossman is a composer who has worked with artists like U2 and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and he worked on Stephen Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight and Oceans 11. He was also a member of LCD Soundsystem and took part in the band’s legendary final performance that was captured for the film Shut Up and Play the Hits.  Mr. Mossman is a very busy man and was kind enough to take part in this interview. I contacted him to discuss his work on the film We Are What Are.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. How are you today?

I am building a new studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn and have been waiting for the telephone guy.  I hope it starts ringing once he plugs it in.

Where are you from?

London, England.  

When did you discover music?

Before I was born my Mum was a mod and she got a job with Motown when they did a UK review.  One of her jobs was to lead Stevie Wonder onstage.  When I was 4 or 5 she got me one of those suitcase record players and gave me all her 45s.  Later I got a reel-to-reel and started recording stuff.  I think it all grew out of that.  

When did you start creating your own music and what style was it?

I wasn’t until the UK post acid house scene came along when I thought wow, music is in the hands of the people again.  I was too young when punk exploded and the 80s were all about big studios and record labels which seemed impossible to aspire to.  When Primal Scream’s Screamadelica came out my head exploded.  It had elements of everything that I loved about music; psychedelic, punk, soul, dub, and rock.  My mate Jagz Kooner and I started making tracks in his parent’s garage and later we joined The Sabres of Paradise, which was Andrew Weatherall’s band.  Andrew was responsible for much of Screamadelica so I’ve always been quite in awe of him.  He still makes amazing records.

What film composers, if any, would you consider to be an influence on your work?

I’m going to go with the artist who has had the most direct influence on my life and development as a musician, who is David Holmes.  We worked together for about five years and did our first film together, Out of Sight, directed by Stephen Soderbergh.  David is a force of nature and I miss him a lot.  I would work with him again in a heartbeat; he can whip a session into frenzy like no other.  I also admire Cliff Martinez; his scores have a lot of depth, soul and imagination.

How were you brought on to do the score for We Are What We Are?

The producer of the film, Nick Shumaker, brought me on very late in the game and there was a Sundance deadline so there was a lot of late nights.

The score is a collaboration between yourself and Darren Morris with Jeff Grace. What was it like to work with two other composers on this project?

It worked out great.  As I mentioned, it was an insane deadline so I was happy to share the load with some great talent.  Some of Jeff’s cues had been on the cut for some time, I believe that some scenes were actually filmed with his music playing on set.  I never met Jeff but his work is outstanding.  Darren is an old friend and possibly the most gifted musician I have ever met.  I knew there was going to be a big role for piano so it was a no brainer for me to get him involved.  I frequently cry when he sits at the piano.

The music you wrote for the film, much like the film itself, is both beautiful and unnerving. The opening theme perfectly sets up the tone of the film. The solo piano, while quite pretty, hints that something is deeply wrong with what we are about to see. Did you have a specific emotional reaction you were looking for with that piece?

I love that cue.  Case in point, that’s Darren working his magic at the piano.  The temp music was actually quite ominous.  I suggested to Jim Mickle that perhaps we shouldn’t blow our cover at the top of the film so we focused on scoring the coming of the storm.  The storm plays such an important role in the movie and the way Darren’s playing comes out of the raindrops gives me shivers.

“The Drive to Tire Iron” is an incredibly ominous piece of music that could completely stand alone, but when placed against the scene its truly unsettling. It has this low-pitched drone juxtaposed with a high pitched squeal that feels like a siren. How did you create it? What instruments were used to make it?

That scene is a turning point in the film, where you’re starting to realize that there is something seriously wrong with this guy.  Nothing really happens but there is an incredible amount of tension.  It starts with an eerie whir that is one of those kid’s toys that you spin around your head and it changes pitch how fast you spin it.  The low drone is the OB8 in the DFA studio, which still has character even at such low frequencies.  The metallic squeals are a Waterphone which you bow and the water bends the pitch.

“Frank Chases the Kids” had an almost Tangerine Dream or John Carpenter quality that I didn’t notice until I listened to the soundtrack on its own. While I was watching the film it fit the scene perfectly and it in no way called attention to itself but it really was quite different from anything else in the score. Was this by design? 

I was definitely channeling Assault on Precinct 13 and Tangerine Dream on that cue.  Jim said go big so the challenge was to do that in an interesting way.  I was using a lot of analog synths throughout so I used the power of the MKS80 and a real TR909 to shake some seats.

I love the music in that film. Not the best Carpenter film but goddamn it has great music. The Death Waltz reissue of it is beautiful. What are you working on now?

I worked on Mike Cahill’s movie I Origins this year but right now I’m finishing up the sound treatment for the new studio.  I need to finish it this week.

 

You can purchase the We Are What We Are soundtrack here and you can currently stream the film on Netflix.

Interview with Itay Gross

Itay Gross

Interview conducted by Christopher Maynard

Itay Gross is a cinematographer who has worked on films like Excision and Europa. While his films are varied in genre and style, they are always stunning to look at. Itay has an approach that never feels overpowering. He creates memorable images that service the story in profound ways.

Itay lives in Israel and (if you don’t keep up with current events) he has far more important things to think about than my silly questions. It was truly an honor for him to take time for this interview. He is a generous man who is an incredibly gifted artist.

Where are you from?

I am originally from Israel, born and raised in Tel Aviv.

What did your parents do for a living?

My parents are both dentists.  In fact, no one in my family is in the arts. It’s a voyage I took on by myself.

How did you discover film?

Narratives and stories have always intrigued me and seemed like the most fascinating method of depicting desires, visions and fantasies. When I was 16, I saw Blade Runner for the first time. Looking back, I realize that film introduced me to the art of cinematography and the world of visual storytelling. I was staring at the images, mesmerized by the way Ridley Scott and the Director of Photography, Jordan Cronenweth, had managed to depict this futuristic and postmodern world in such a real and vivid way. I could smell the acidic rain flooding the streets of the mutant city of Los Angeles through the colors projected from the old CRT television set. This significant experience made me see the power and influence of films, and the role of cinematography within the process of visual storytelling. I wanted to be able to bring these kinds of images to life myself, to be able to depict a story in such a vivid and unique way that people would be able to smell it, to feel warm or cold, to feel they were practically there themselves. When I look back at this now, I realize it was a defining moment in my life.

What cinematographers inspired you to pick up a camera?

Jordan Cronenweth
Blade Runner might be Cronenweth’s only film that I like, or love I should say. It changed my life. I saw the images and was mesmerized. All I wanted was to be able, one day, to create such images.

Sacha Vierni
Vierni, who shot most of Peter Greenaway’s films, always amazed me by managing to depict colors in such a vivid and convincing way. The color red in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is the reddest red I’ve ever seen.

Dick Pope
Pope, who shot all of Mike Leigh’s films, has always inspired me with his innovative ways of moving the camera and lighting night exteriors. Naked is, in my opinion, a whole film school of night exterior lighting.

Harris Sevides
Elephant, shot by Sevides, was one of the films that visually influenced me the most. The way he depicted loneliness, solitude, and sadness in that film is like nothing else, and I’m still studying it. His approach to the use of available light is something I’ll always take with me in my career.

Janus Kaminsky
A Hollywood icon. Beyond the unforgettable images he keeps on creating, shooting a film like Schindler’s List at the age of 34 and working with a director like Steven Spielberg ever since, is a career path I’ll always look up to.

Blade Runner is probably the first movie that got me to notice the camera; that shot composition and lighting can be as critical to storytelling as a script. Kaminsky is one of my favorites as well. He has been doing beautiful work for years. One film of his that I think people overlook of his is Funny People. I assume people don’t notice how stunning a film is when it stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen but the film is simply gorgeous. What was your first camera?

At the age of 13 I got my first super 8 Sony home video camera. I was fascinated with it and its endless capabilities (at the time). I started shooting everything with it, and discovering the meaning of a “frame” without any guidance or agenda, just a kid experiencing the magic created by colors, light and optics.

I had one of those Sony High 8 cameras. Me and my friends made dozens of unwatchable zombie/post apocalypse films in my parents back yard. I have a feeling the stuff you were shooting looked much better. Where did you go to school?

Undergrad: NYU Tisch School of the arts – BFA, Major: Film & TV, Minor: Art & Public Policy.
Graduated in 2006.
Grad: AFI – MFA in Cinematography.
Graduated in 2011.

Now I’d like to ask you a few questions about Excision. The look of the film is truly stunning. How much input did you have into the visual style and what did you shoot it on?

First, thank you.
We shot the film on 2 RED MX cameras, and a RED Epic for the high speed and steadicam shots. Richard Bates Jr. (the director) and I worked for nearly a year on the visual language and the style of the film. We watched many reference films together, within the genre and beyond, including paintings and photographs. We categorized the reference films by the visual elements – framing, color, camera movement, blood look/color. I’m a big believer in prep and preproduction, and so we worked closely together on a very precise shot list for a few months, trying to depict the film’s narrative in the most colorful, efficient and radical way and making sure we were telling the story properly. We built the language of the film together. It was a wonderful, efficient and thorough process of teamwork. Richard always came in with his initial ideas for every scene, and we took it together from there. The main theme of the film was to illustrate this vast contrast within this troubled teenager, who yearns for her mother’s approval and love.

We had rules for framing – we wanted to create a world of alienation and solitude for our main character Pauline. For this reason, most of our close ups are center punched with a 50mm lens. Very rarely, we would do an over-the-shoulder type of dialogue scene. We wanted the viewers to feel how disconnected from the world Pauline is.

We had rules for colors – Pauline’s real world is a bit de-saturated and muted, just like her life, faded and lonely. This is completely set apart from her dark fantasies and everything that goes on in her mind. We decided to go with a very unique and radical color pallet for the dream  sequences. The contrast between the turquoise of the set and the redness of the blood created a very different world from Pauline’s real world; this is where she is free.

The fantasy sequences in the film are beautiful and seem to be played for comedic effect early on but grow darker as the film continues. Was this the intended effect of the sequences?

Every dream sequence scene was shot and designed in order to create some form of surprise and elicit a measure of terror from the audience. We really wanted these scenes to be very different in every aspect from the rest of the film. The evolution of the dream sequences relies mainly on the narrative progress in Pauline’s life and mind. The intention was to pull the audience out of Pauline’s real world visually, so the look of these sequences is somewhat unified, but the content of these scenes reflects the progression within the story. I think they all have elements of dark comedy mixed with terror, but as the story progresses, and the audience is exposed more and more to Pauline’s personality, the atmosphere grows a bit more grim as we understand what Pauline is capable of.

It feels to me like the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality in the film give us insight to our protagonist’s mind, but also makes the viewer somewhat complicit with her actions. Because the viewer is made to feel sympathy for her, we ignore her thoughts and possible tendencies just like everyone else in the film. Did you have specific viewer reactions in mind
when you were shooting this film?

We definitely wanted to involve the audience in Pauline’s point of view, and thus, to earn the audience’s sympathy and trust for her, in spite of her troubled thoughts and actions. From the get go, we knew we weren’t making a “horror film” per se. I personally define the film as a “coming of age” story, with dark comedy and horror elements. When we shot the film, we had an idea of when people would laugh or be scared, and we definitely tried to be specific and clear with the feelings we wanted to stimulate in the audience in different scenes. For instance, in the final scene, we knew we wanted the audience to be horrified; it was intended as a climax, and so we worked carefully on every detail in the scene in order to provoke these emotions beyond a doubt.

The scene where Pauline is praying is simple but incredibly effective. How was that shot pulled off?

This shot was quite simple, actually, as you said. We shot it on location in her bedroom. The camera was high up on sticks, at a high angle, and AnnaLynne [McCord] was on her knees on the floor. We wanted to give the notion that this is an intimate moment between Pauline and her “God”. We decided on a somewhat God-like POV angle, and had Pauline looking straight to the camera. This, combined with her very sincere acting, created the authenticity and effectiveness of the shot, I think. In terms of colors, we wanted to create the feeling of a “home”, illustrated by a dimmed warm and soft bedside lamp, juxtaposed with a bit harsher and maybe even scarier blue moonlight coming from the window. Even though it’s not “realistic”, I think this contrast of color is a visualization of the conflicted morals in Pauline’s mind.

Do you prefer to work with digital or film?

I was part of the last generation of film students who shot mostly on film. In my undergrad studies at NYU, we shot most of our films on super 16mm. We even had 16mm Steenbeck editing suits where we cut films, literally, just like they used to. It’s a whole different world, learning the basics of filmmaking and cinematography using these tools. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to be able to explore, examine, and understand its superiority and fall in love with film, just before it started to vanish. In terms of colors, latitude and contrast I think film is still superior to digital. In that sense I’m a bit of an “old school” cinematographer. Yes, of course digital will get to the level of film in every aspect, but it’s not the same. There’s something in the grain of film that is just not the same in digital. I know it might sound very romantic and cheesy, but I think there’s nothing like getting film dailies back and screening them at the end of the day.

You shot a music video for Irit Dekel & Eldad Zitrin that was simply beautiful. The use of reflected light on glass was gorgeous it gave the video a simple but elegant quality that was very impressive. Did you know the group or the director beforehand?

Thank you very much.
I did not know the group beforehand, but the director, Roy Eventov, is a good friend of mine with whom I’ve worked on many projects.
It was a very interesting and challenging project. We shot 10 music videos in 5 days – meaning 2 videos a day (!). It was all based on simplicity – that was our agenda. We tried to extract the essence of every song and depict it in the most visual and efficient way. I learned a lot on this project about the power of simplicity in the art of visual storytelling. Sometimes less is much more.

You’ve shot science fiction, horror, commercials and music videos.  Do you have a specific genre of film that you would prefer to work in?

I just love telling stories using the visual language. No matter the genre, if the story appeals to me, I’d want to tell it using colors and light.

With Secular and Europa you were dealing with special effects heavy films. What is the difference between shooting practical and digital effects for a cinematographer? Are you involved with the design of the CGI elements?

Shooting real effects (special effects or SFX) on set is very different than shooting for CGI (visual effects or VFX). SFX means dealing with the effects from A to Z. In Excision, for instance, we had many scenes that involved blood and blood effects. The director, the SFX team and I worked together on creating these effects, in terms of blood color, blood shape and thickness and amount. We did a number of tests in order to understand what we wanted the blood to look like, as it plays an important role in the movie. Then, on set, you get to the real show, where everything has to fall in place together very precisely in order for the scene and the effect to work together. It’s a very “analog” work method, almost like film vs. digital, and I love it. Another film that relied mostly on effects on set is a new feature I shot that just came out in Israel, called Marzipan Flowers. In this film we did a very unique thing – the film is written as an ordinary narrative location film, but we shot all locations on a digital high end stills camera and then printed them out on huge Xerox papers (30ft by 9ft), in real scale to the actors, and thus created all the locations on black and white backgrounds, whether they were interiors or exteriors, day or night. The sets were built in front of the locations backgrounds, all in in one studio. It became a “one location production”, featuring about 20-30 locations. It came out wonderfully. Now those were some “real” on set effects.

The VFX elements like the ones we did in Europa or Sequlr Quarter #3 were all completely different undertakings. In these films it was all about the pre-production, The director, David Gidali (who directed and supervised the VFX for both films), the production designer and I had “pre-visualization” (pre vis) for every effect and element we wanted to bring in later on, meaning that we visually illustrated the scene with all of its elements, including the actors and set elements. We had to understand all of the effect’s features in order to fit it correctly within the scene, and/or on a modified green screen or green element it was going to appear on or replace.

It’s very delicate and precise work, as any mistake can affect an entire scene on set. It’s fascinating to see all the elements come together at the end and become a magical image on the screen.

Again I want to thank Itay for doing this interview. Please check out his work at ITAY GROSS | CINEMATOGRAPHER