“I actually still use my light meter on everything….Being part of that transition from film to digital, I still can’t let it go and totally trust the monitor.” 

Less than two months after wrapping the last Scream installment in Wilmington, North Carolina in late 2020, cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz found himself right back in the coastal city lensing Scott Derrickson’s new horror film The Black Phone. Based on the short story by Joe Hill, the movie finds a teenager attempting to escape a serial kidnapper known as The Grabber (played by Ethan Hawke) after he’s locked in a soundproofed basement prison. Hill also has a connection to Wilmington – his father, Stephen King, had four adaptations of his work (Firestarter, Cat’s Eye, Maximum Overdrive, and Silver Bullet) shot in the city in the 1980s.

Jutkiewicz employed Arri Alexa Minis for The Black Phone with Hawk V-Lites as his main lenses. He supplemented with Zeiss Super Speeds for a night exterior drone shot and Lensbabies to show the disorienting effects of The Grabber’s sedatives. Super 8 film was used for dream sequences. Check out my full interview with Jutkiewicz over at Filmmaker MagazineA few excerpts can be found below, beginning with Jutkiewicz’s breakdown of the lighting scheme for Hawke’s basement cell.

Jutkiewicz: A big thing that Scott and I talked about was that, because we are spending so much time in the basement, we needed to make it dynamic and not feel like it’s the same every time we’re in that space. I believe that there was a line in the script that said, “The only light in the room is coming through the single tiny window at the top of the wall.” I thought about that for a little while and eventually pitched Scott, “What if there are lights in the basement, but The Grabber controls them from outside the door?” Scott really responded to that idea and Patti Podesta, our production designer, built these great fixtures around the room. It was a way to introduce a different look to the space, but it also adds to The Grabber’s control over Finney. 

To differentiate between night and day, we went with a warmer, sodium streetlight look at night, which felt right for the period and for the mood of it. Then day is more true white, slightly cooler light and I would play with the position of the sun based on the time of day of the scene or where the action took place. We just tried to find ways to make it feel different every time that we were in there.

In terms of the units, we used SkyPanels outside of the window for the sunlight. We couldn’t really get enough light in just through that window without making the window itself seem crazy bright, so we also used Astera tubes hidden in the rafters. We’d play them at 5600 to extend that daylight or, if it was the sodium night look, we played them warmer. Above all of the practicals, also hidden in the rafters, we had little tungsten Fresnels that were probably 300 watts with some opal on them to extend the light from the practicals. Overhead, we had bleached muslin for ambient bounce, though we didn’t use it all the time. We only had one fixture in the ceiling and that was specifically for a shot where Ethan comes in and Finney says, “I’ll scratch your face” and The Grabber looks up and goes, “This face?” Scott wanted him to be in this hard, overhead light for that moment.

Lastly, I had the art department make little 2’ x 2’ squares from the same material as the set walls and used that as either a bounce fill or an eye light. I’ve found before that by using grey bounce instead of white bounce you can get an eye light or a fill without really spreading the [bounce light] all over the room. It just has a different kind of feeling to it. I would also put little Leko slashes on the floor or on the wall for eye lights in certain places.

And here’s Jutkiewicz on shooting with Super 8…

Filmmaker: Scott Derrickson first started making movies as a kid on his dad’s Super 8 camera and also used it for the home movies in Sinister. It seems to be a format he has a lot of affection for. You use Super 8 in The Black Phone for a few dream sequences.

Jutkiewicz: From the very beginning, Scott was like, “We’re shooting the dreams in Super 8.” I think it’s even in the script. That was how he saw it and was locked in when I came on board. I was happy for the chance to shoot film. We tested a couple of different speeds, all negative film—50D, 250D and 500T. We used a combination of 250 and 500, depending on how much light we had. A lot of it was day exterior, so we were on the 250D quite a bit.

Filmmaker: Is contemporary Super 8 any cleaner or less grainy than what Scott had in mind from the older stocks he grew up with?

Jutkiewicz: Oh, it was plenty grainy. (laughs) Obviously, we color graded it, but we were happy with the look coming out of the camera. There was not any lack of graininess and dirtiness, even though it was negative film as opposed to reversal stock. 

Filmmaker: How was it exposing Super 8? Had it been a while since you relied solely on your light meter? 

Jutkiewicz: I actually still use my light meter on everything. It’s something that I got used to, because I learned on 16mm film and my first couple of features were on 16mm. Being part of that transition from film to digital, I still can’t let it go and totally trust the monitor. I think that also goes back to the early days of digital, where the monitors were just not that great. That problem doesn’t exist as much anymore, thankfully. You have a DIT, their monitors are calibrated and what you’re seeing on the monitor is pretty much what you can expect it’s going to look like when you get into the DI. But I do still use my light meter a lot just to roughly set levels before getting the camera up. The Super 8 was a little nerve-wracking at first, having not shot film in some years and going back to when there was no monitor. It really was just setting the exposure based on the meter. It took a little bit of getting used to again, but once I did there was something so freeing about it. It reminded me of making the earliest movies that I did on Super 16 with a tiny crew. There’s no video village, just your eye on the camera.

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