Five Frames with It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis
I recently interviewed It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis for Filmmaker Magazine – a piece you can read here – and had so much good stuff left over that I decided to post a bit of the overflow. Continue onward as Gioulakis walks us through the specifics of how he created five of the film’s memorable frames.
The Shot: It Follows’ protagonist Jay (played by Maika Monroe) is introduced with a long, slow voyeuristic zoom as she climbs into her backyard pool in the suburban outskirts of Detroit.
Gioulakis: This was a way to introduce Jay with a camera movement that adds a certain kind of tension and foreboding. We initially went to set this shot up and realized that the lighting was just not going to be right for the shot that we wanted – we would’ve gotten camera shadows everywhere – and so we pushed it back to another day. I think we had storyboarded some version of this shot (in preproduction), but once we saw the location (director David Robert Mitchell) and I loved that above ground pool so we changed the shot.
The Shot: A creeping push-in to the back-seat sexual act that transmits the titular “It” from one person to another.
Gioulakis: We built a 10′ x 10′ softbox on an 80-foot condor and I think we had unbleached muslin diffusion and two blondes and a 5K inside the box. That softbox was mounted on the condor and positioned overtop of the car. For the dome light inside the car, we created our own dome light with LiteRibbon from LiteGear. They’re this company out of L.A. and they make all these awesome LED ribbons of different sizes. I made a little kit of them that were 2″ x 6″ and maybe a quarter-inch thick. So they’re super thin and you can dial in the color temperature too. They’ve become kind of indespensible. Marc-Antoine Serou, our gaffer, just taped it up there to light inside the car and then we cheated the position (of our “dome light”) a little bit in the name of cinema. Then I think we had another light pushing through diffusion from the right side of frame edging them through the back of the car window. And we put a few par cans hitting the trees to get a little bit of detail out of the background.
The Shot: Following the tryst in the shot above, Monroe is knocked unconscious and taken to this abandoned building.
Gioulakis: We tried to have as much depth of field as possible so that your eye will be able to scan as much of the frame as possible. We just had to beg and plead with our production people (to get big enough lights to illuminate these large spaces) and they made some really amazing deals happen with local vendors that were able to get us the tools we needed. For this shot, we again used our softbox above the car and then we had two Arri T12’s lighting up the facade of the building with some par cans hidden around to pick out some of trees and the foliage on the right side of frame. For the trees on the left side of frame, we had a 20K raking across to do most of the work.
The Shot: Monroe wakes to find herself tied to a wheelchair. The camera is rigged to the chair, which eventually goes in motion as Monroe’s boyfriend (played by Jake Weary) pushes her through this abandoned structure. (Though most of the film was shot on Arri Alexa, a Red Epic was used here due to its smaller size.)
Gioulakis: We shot this at the abandoned Packard Plant. It looks great, but it was a huge space and we really did try to light 360 degrees as much as possible. From the angle in this frame, the only thing inside the structure was a Source Four that we kind of hid on the ground and then we had someone with a cue to dim the light and then move out of the way so when the camera turns around the light is not there. So when we flip around there’s an electrician with that light hiding behind a column. This was one day when we actually had a rigging crew. We were able to hire a few guys to come in and pre-rig or else this shot woudln’t have happened. The Packard Plant, I don’t know how many acres it is, but it’s a huge facility that is just completely in shambles and it’s incredibly dangerous and hard to work there. So this wasn’t one of those locations where it was like, “Okay, let’s all run around and try to get this.” We had a 20K up on a condor doing most of the work with a bunch of units on the ground lighting the background and some blondes lighting the cemetery in the background. Then we had a couple par cans again just picking out other pieces of the building from outside.
The Shot: Because the camera is rigged to that wheelchair, the actor is basically the camera operator once he starts pushing Monroe.
Gioulakis: Exactly, (Jake Weary) was operating and he had to hit marks for where he needed to stop and where he needed to turn. And he did an awesome job. And then the shots where we’re facing forward and shooting from (Maika’s) perspective, I jumped behind the wheelchair and pushed her around.
The Shot: A Dutch tilt push-in that serves as Monroe’s POV as she hears footsteps approaching her hospital room door.
Gioulakis: We shot this scene with shift-and-tilt lenses just to kind of give it a little more of a wonky feel. Shift-and-tilts are cool for specific things. It’s just another tool to have in the arsenal. This was the only time we used them on the film.