Deep Fried Interview: Big Bad Wolves cinematographer Giora Bejach
When the duo of writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado released the 2010 horror film Rabies, it was heralded as the first fright flick in the history of Israeli cinema. Keshales, a former movie critic and film school professor, and Papushado, his former student, cranked out Rabies in 17 days in a single state park location using no film lights.
To get an idea of how far the tandem has come with their second horror effort Big Bad Wolves, look no further than the participation of Giora Bejach, one of the top cinematographers in Israel whose credits include the 2009 war drama Lebanon.
Bejach spoke to Deep Fried Movies about dipping his toe into the genre pool for Big Bad Wolves’ story of a disgraced cop and a grieving father who kidnap a suspected child killer. The film – which Quentin Tarantino labeled the best of last year – can currently be watched via Video on Demand.
Considering how rarely horror films have been made in Israel, what attracted you to Big Bad Wolves?
My first meeting with Navot and Aharon was (when they were doing) additional shooting for Rabies and I asked to see the rough cut. I loved their cinematic approach. You could see and feel their passion. When they came to me with their next project, I read it and from the first reading I knew I wanted to work on it. The script was fascinating with a delicate balance between the horror and the humor.
Did you enjoy the experience of working within the horror genre?
Working in the horror genre can be enjoyable if the script is good. (Shooting) a good story, no matter what the genre, is an enjoyable experience.
What was your camera and lens package like on Big Bad Wolves?
The film was shot with an Arri Alexa in ProRes 4444. I like the Alexa’s sensitivity to light, the richness of color and the softness on the edges. I lit most of the film using practical lights and I used Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses. Those lenses produce beautiful lens flares and a clarity of color.
Big Bad Wolves has an unusual mixture of brutality and comedy. How did you visually differentiate those two divergent tones?
One of the stylistic choices we made was to shoot with wide lenses. They help create fear but on the other hand can be very comedic. So I could change the framing of the actor or the height of the camera and immediately the atmosphere changed from comedy to horror or vice versa.
The majority of the shots in Big Bad Wolves feature some sort of creeping camera movement. What method did you use to move the camera?
To create those creeping movements I moved the camera on a jib arm, using it to move in and out without compromising the frame.
Can you talk a little bit about the film’s overall aesthetic? In addition to the multitude of slow camera moves, the compositions are very formal.
Aharon and Navot told me “make it look like Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil meets Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Then add the flavor of Tarantino and the feel of the Coen Brothers.” So Mr. Kim gave us the creepiness. From Mr Leone we took the framing. The Coen Brothers gave us the shooting and lighting. And finally Mr. Tarantino gave us the joy and the humor. I know it sounds eclectic, but it seemed the best way to tell this story: some creepy, some funny and some suspense.
What was your approach to the color palette of the film?
The directors didn’t want any yellow in the frame. They said it is too cheerful for this kind of movie. The color red is shown only in a few frames. I was left with a palette of few colors: brown, blue, green and grays. This palette creates the gloomy atmosphere designed for the film.
Below Bejach discusses a few frames from Big Bad Wolves.
The opening credit sequence features children playing hide and seek in slow motion, creating a sense of foreboding in the children’s game.
We shot at 120 (frames per second rather than the normal 24 frames per second) in the opening scene to create a poetic feeling of creepiness from the very beginning.
A tracking shot down a hallway that follows Big Bad Wolves’ suspected child killer.
This shot is one of my favorites. I used only the candles with no additional lighting. (The ability to shoot with that limited amount of light) is one good example of why I chose the Arri Alexa and the Ultra Prime lenses.
A wide shot in an unfinished greenhouse where a character believes his daughter may be buried.
The greenhouse was a challenge. I had to think through it over and over. It was a large open space and I wanted it to look special so I decided to try to use the practical lights that where already hanging in the greenhouse, but it was too dull and too dark. So instead I asked our gaffer Avi Satat to hang 40 florescent bulbs and then we put a 1.8K par light on a cherry picker to give a rim light for the beginning of the scene (before the greenhouse lights are switched on).