From conception, my feature Against the Night, about a group of friends who sneak into an abandoned prison, was always going to be a down-and-dirty movie.
We cast all local actors, and I was going to shoot it myself to keep the energy up and the budget down.
Because of the low-light aspects of the film, I never really considered another camera besides the Sony a7S. I had seen enough camera tests on Vimeo to get a feel for the latitude, and had always envisioned doing something that was not only cost-effective, but something a studio movie wouldnt let you get away with: namely, shooting with only flashlights.
Ill be honestwe cheated a little bit with one LED panel light for the scenes that were intended to take place in complete darkness. That didnt come without its own set of challenges, however. Trust the hype, flicker is a real problemand we would have been in real trouble without the Flicker Free plugin for Adobe After Effects. This did add some extra time to the post schedule, but it we only needed to do work on about 15 percent of the shots.
The first time I took a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphiaa historic former prison thats now a U.S. national landmarkI thought the place was begging to be the set of a horror movie. The hub-and-spoke Gothic architecture and decaying walls were scary enough; the only thing that was missing was the human experience (oh, and a script and all that other stuff).
When I cracked the story, I went on several scouts to flesh out the screenplay and start the permitting process. I found that filming inside the Penitentiary was pretty much just as difficult as filming inside the Philadelphia Art Museumno running was among the many ground rules. This seemed like a tough sell for a horror movie, since having my characters power-walk away in fear wouldnt really work for this project.
Fortunately, Amy Cutler, Phillys best location manager, suggested Holmesburg Prison. Not only was Holmesburg another abandoned hub-and-spoke prison in the same city (in operation until 1995), it was much more film-friendly than ESP, and film-ready! There were no exit signs above every door, no placards hanging on the walls; just chipped paint and splattered blood from another movie that had been shot there (so we were told).
First, I consulted with our producer, Arielle Brachfeld, as well as co-producer Hank Braxtan and cinematographer Will Barratt, who shot all the Hatchet movies and the 2010 feature Frozen (the ski-lift one, without Olaf). Will even came in and did a day of second unit for me when we had a big effects day with actor Frank Whaley.
There are only two scenes in the film for which I used a tripod. The rest of the time I used a SHAPECage and a SHAPE Offset Shoulder Mount for the Sony a7S, with counterbalance weights to make the shots seem like they were floating, not shaking.
I used only one Rokinon35mm T1.5 Cine DS lens. Even my sound guyRob Zogby, who is an all-around filmmaker in his own rightthought I was crazy. Rob often encouraged me to change the lens or to use my matte box or follow focus, but I didnt have the heart to tell him I had neither. In retrospect, I wish I had used a matte boxsome scenes have a little too much flair for my taste, but I was perfectly happy riding the barrel on my own. Who has time to switch lenses, anyway? The aperture range really let me push the camera as far is it could go and any grain thats in the film is there on purpose.
I used an AtomosNinja Assassin 7.1 4K monitor, which I also recorded to, and an Israeli Arm to position the monitor right in front of my face, so I could see myself missing focus over and over again. Some scenes are even a little more lit than I would have liked them to be, because it was just too hard to hit my marks in low light.
The entire camera department consisted of film students. Nick Furer was our DIT from Drexel University who helped me feel confident that we were actually making a movie. Christian Buffo was my gaffer from Temple University, and we really hit the jackpot with him. Not only does he have a great eye and improved most of my setups, he was patient enough to Hollywood (i.e. hold by hand) the light panel everywhere we went. I dont think we even had a light stand on set.
Actor Frank Whaley as Detective Ramsey in Against the Night
The rest of the lighting team was the cast. They were patient enough to repeat takes for me as a director and a cameraman, and they also literally lit every scene. As natural as I hope it comes across in the movie, this was a challenge in every scenario. Simply pointing a flashlight at another actor isnt a great way to light someone. It was a constant cat and mouse game with the prison walls to get just the right amount of bounce without it appearing as though the actors were one step away from putting some diffusion on a flashlight, pointing it at the ceiling.
Im sure youre dying to know what kind of flashlight we used. It was a Husky 1000 Lumen Virtually Unbreakable Aluminum Flashlight (the actual name). Its the best film tool you can buy at Home Depot for $20. And I believe it to actually be unbreakable. (We tried). Christian was always by my side, toying with where the flashlight should be pointed while I talked through the scene with the actors. Theres no doubt it was a challenge, but once we got into a rhythm it was really fun to discover what we could do to make something a little creepier. If there was a group of characters in a scene, we would play with how many of the flashlights should face a certain direction and when it was appropriate to confront someone with a beam of light dead on.
Whenever anyone was outside they were under the sodium vapor lights of Philadelphia, which was fun, but didnt give a lot of latitude in post. Our color timer, Michael Banks, worked a lot of miracles but when we played with the street lights we just kept getting pushed back to where we started. The lesson learned there is to just embrace it, especially since sodium vapor lights are disappearing from cities every day.
The other huge factor in this movie is the film within the film. Found footage has gotten a bad name over the years. Although none of the footage in this movie is found, I believe it can still be a great technique to help tell a story. I made a documentary about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro where the host was using a handycam as a personal diary, and I dont recall anyone referring to it as found footage. (Did I just come up with another idea for a movie?)
For the found footage in Against the Night, we used the SonyFDR-AX53 4K Handycam. Its the best 4K camera with night vision on the market, and this movie truly couldnt have happened without it. There is much to be learned in the world of consumer night vision. For instance, sometimes you have to cover the infrared light because youre just seeing too much. Blood doesnt show up especially well in night vision. Without too much of a spoiler, we did encounter some of these issues. It seems as though anything thats white might be a better alternative for those scenes. In some cases, we resorted to shooting the image clean and color-correcting it to night-vision green in post.
In the end, there was a lot of trial and error to get the right set-up. Yet the prep we put into it paid off and allowed us to shoot extremely quickly. We were done with principal photography in just under one week, and the reception that the film has been getting is tremendous. I dont think anyone on set looked at the film student standing next to me, holding a panel light, and thought that the film would end up playing in New York and Los Angeles and here we are. It couldnt have happened to a better crew and cast (or rather, actor-gaffers). MM
Against the Night opens in theaters September 15, 2017, courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.
- 'Us': Jordan Peele switches horror spotlight to a black family - March 22nd, 2019
- 1980s horror movie poster logos and typography. - March 13th, 2019
- Aquaman Spinoff Horror Movie The Trench Is In Development - March 9th, 2019
- The Best Scary Horror Movies On Netflix Now In 2019 - February 26th, 2019
- The Ape Man - Wikipedia - January 29th, 2019
- Top 15 Horror Movies to See in 2019! | Arrow in the Head - January 10th, 2019
- The 10 Best Horror Movies of 2018 - vulture.com - December 26th, 2018
- Best horror movies: scary films to stream or buy in 2018 ... - August 24th, 2018
- Amazon.com Horror Movies & Films on DVD and Blu-Ray - July 26th, 2018
- Box Office: 'It' Is Now The Highest-Grossing R-Rated ... - July 22nd, 2018
- | Reviewing the Hell Out of Horror Movies. - July 16th, 2018
- Arachnophobia (film) - Wikipedia - June 24th, 2018
- The Last Horror Movie - Wikipedia - June 19th, 2018
- Horror Domain | Horror Movie News, Trailers, Reviews ... - June 18th, 2018
- 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time - September 20th, 2017
- Sorensen: Horror movies don't deserve bad reputation - The Daily Iowan - September 7th, 2017
- 'It' is a waking nightmare, curated from a catalogue of horror-movie tropes - Washington Post - September 7th, 2017
- 'It was like something you see in a horror movie': Irma survivors tell of devastation - The Guardian - September 7th, 2017
- Rough flight 'like a horror movie': Etihad Airways passenger - The West Australian - September 7th, 2017
- /Answers: Our Favorite Horror Movie Villains - /FILM - September 6th, 2017
- Review: 'It' doesn't clown around with horror-movie clichs - Seattle Times - September 6th, 2017
- Horror Movie Magic: The CGI that has made films even scarier - SYFY WIRE (blog) - September 6th, 2017
- Letter: Don't star in a (traffic) horror movie - Mountain Xpress - September 6th, 2017
- Thelma Trailer: Norway's Oscar Submission is a Horror Movie - /FILM - September 6th, 2017
- Stephen King's 'It' Arrives at a Terrifying Time for the Movie Business - Variety - September 6th, 2017
- Darren Aronofsky's 'mother!' Early Buzz: A Delirious, Divisive Horror Movie Designed to Attack Its Audience - /FILM - September 6th, 2017
- Can 'It' Reverse the Trend of Terrible September Horror Films? - Film School Rejects - September 6th, 2017
- Annabelle 2 Beats Get Out as 2017's Biggest Horror Movie - MovieWeb - September 5th, 2017
- Police warning over 'killer clown' craze set to return after horror movie IT released - Coventry Telegraph - September 5th, 2017
- Beautiful Diana, trapped in a horror movie: Mallick - Toronto Star - September 5th, 2017
- Sequels and Lies: What Hollywood's Disastrous Summer Really Means for the Future of Movies - The Ringer (blog) - September 5th, 2017
- 'Killer clown' craze set to return as remake of horror movie IT is released in UK - Metro - September 3rd, 2017
- It movie early reviews: This clown horror film is frighteningly good - The Indian Express - September 3rd, 2017
- 'The bedroom was like a scene from a horror movie' - Mum speaks about terrifying condition that almost killed her ... - Independent.ie - September 3rd, 2017
- Horror News Network's Fall 2017 Horror Movie Preview - Horror News Network - September 3rd, 2017
- 'Friend Request' Trailer: Witches and Social Media Team Up for a Horror Movie - /FILM - September 3rd, 2017
- 'The bedroom was like a scene from a horror movie' - Mum speaks about terrifying incident that almost killed her ... - Independent.ie - September 2nd, 2017
- Netflix's Little Evil puts a new comic spin on the evil-kid trope - The Verge - September 2nd, 2017
- Horror on Netflix: September 2017 Additions - 1428 Elm - September 2nd, 2017
- Horror Movies and Video Games Get the Goosebumps Cover Treatment - Dread Central - September 2nd, 2017
- Why Are Horror Movie Characters So Dumb? | Screen Rant - Screen Rant - September 1st, 2017
- Couple produces horror film for festival - Newnan Times-Herald - September 1st, 2017
- Reading Stephen King's It is an exhausting way to spend a summer - The Verge - September 1st, 2017
- Run-of-the-mill horror film 'Temple' delivers the same old evil spirits - Los Angeles Times - August 31st, 2017
- 'It' horror movie can't scare real-life clowns - Fox News - August 31st, 2017
- Brooklyn Horror Film Festival screening Kane Hodder documentary, Steven Yeun-starring Mayhem - EW.com - August 31st, 2017
- With 'The Shape of Water,' Guillermo del Toro Realizes a Lifelong Monster Dream - Variety - August 31st, 2017
- It's like something out of a horror movie - Crowborough Life - August 31st, 2017
- It took four years to restore horror classic Suspiria watch an exclusive clip - EW.com (blog) - August 31st, 2017
- Fall Movie Guide: 35 Superhero, Scifi, and Fantasy Movies to Look Out For - Gizmodo - August 31st, 2017
- The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - IMDb - August 30th, 2017
- 7 scary Irish horror movies - IrishCentral - August 30th, 2017
- 'mother!' TV Spots & Viral Site Offer New Clues to Darren Aronofsky's Mysterious Horror Movie - Collider.com - August 30th, 2017
- Stephen King 'Bans' Trump from Seeing His New Horror Flick - Fox News Insider - August 29th, 2017
- 10 Feminist Horror Movies That Will Make You Appreciate the Genre in a Whole New Way - MarieClaire.com - August 28th, 2017
- Hudson Valley Won't Be 'Quiet Place' During Horror Movie Production - Greenburgh Daily Voice - August 28th, 2017
- A Tribute to Tobe Hooper, Whose 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' Was, and Is, the Horror Film of Its Time - Variety - August 28th, 2017
- Purga, the new Mexican Netflix for horror movie lovers - Vallarta Daily - August 28th, 2017
- It remake tipped to make 38million in biggest September opening weekend of all time after critics hail the horror ... - The Sun - August 28th, 2017
- All of the Clues that 'AHS: Cult' Features Your Favorite Horror Movie Villains - HarpersBAZAAR.com - August 28th, 2017
- Only Clowns Can Attend This Special Screening Of Horror Film 'It' - HuffPost - August 26th, 2017
- 'Red Christmas' Review: Australia's Latest Horror Export Isn't Much of a Present - IndieWire - August 26th, 2017
- This Is a Golden Age of Low-Budget Horror - WIRED - August 26th, 2017
- IT movie: BIG NEWS on Stephen King horror's box office - how many people will it terrify? - Express.co.uk - August 25th, 2017
- Mother!: everything we know about Jennifer Lawrence's insane, top secret horror movie - Telegraph.co.uk - August 24th, 2017
- Exclusive: Spooky 'Temple' Clip Teases a Paranormal Predicament - Collider.com - August 24th, 2017
- Thai-set horror film 'Ghost House' adroitly keeps the audience on edge - Los Angeles Times - August 24th, 2017
- Todd Tucker: The Terror of Hallow's Eve is a horror movie with a message - 1428 Elm - August 24th, 2017
- Horror movie fans connect at Peter Vullo's 'Thursday Night Terrors' - Buffalo News - August 24th, 2017
- Brutal Beauty: 10 Visually Stunning Horror Movies You Can't Unsee - Collider.com - August 24th, 2017
- 'One of the best horror films of recent years' is showing on TV on Wednesday night - JOE - August 24th, 2017
- How to Become a Horror Movie-Worthy Exorcist IRL - Inverse - August 22nd, 2017
- 10 sci-fi, fantasy and horror films featuring a total eclipse - SYFY WIRE (blog) - August 22nd, 2017
- 17 films to catch at Horror Channel FrightFest 2017 - Den of Geek UK - August 22nd, 2017
- FearFest are hosting FREE horror films at a spooky drive in - Gloucestershire Live - August 22nd, 2017
- The 'Stranger Things' Kids Meet Famous Horror Movie Villains In 'Slasher Things' - UPROXX - August 22nd, 2017
- Here's How Real the Exorcisms and Demons Are in Horror Movies ... - Inverse - August 22nd, 2017
- The truth behind horror movie Annabelle: Creation, a real-life tale of demonic doll's reign of terror ending in 'man ... - Birmingham Mail - August 22nd, 2017
- Stranger Things Meets 1980s Horror in the Excellent Mash-Up Slasher Things - Gizmodo - August 22nd, 2017
- This horror movie is 20 years old this week, and proves that sometimes film critics get it very wrong - JOE - August 20th, 2017
Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero