The Shot Behind the Shot: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Behind the scenes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

A few set-ups from the new film adaptation of the popular 1980s kids horror anthology books written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

Directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) and produced/written by Guillermo del Toro, the movie attempts to faithfully recreate Gammell’s unsettling monsters via practical effects (meaning actors in ghoulish costumes) rather than CGI. Below you’ll find the movie’s take on The Red Spot and The Dream.

To hear del toro and Øvredal talk about the creation of each monster, check out this story from Vulture.

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Behind the scenes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Behind the scenes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Behind the scenes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

The Shot Behind the Shot: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (2019)

Behind the scenes of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

(Above, photo by Andrew Cooper) Shooting an action scene from a fictional Rick Dalton flick in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. The behind the scenes pic is featured in the August issue of American Cinematographer magazine, which includes interviews with DP Robert Richardson, colorist Yvan Lucas, and gaffer Ian Kincaid. The story is currently only accessible in the print edition, but if you’re interested in such things I highly recommend subscribing. A two-year digital subscription is only $50.

Here’s Richardson on the film – his sixth with Tarantino – from the American Cinematographer piece:

“It’s about mortality, about the recognition of when we slowly begin to fade from a place in the spotlight to somewhere else. [It’s also] a celebration of a time period in Hollywood that was shifting – as Quentin has said, it is his love letter Hollywood.”

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The Shot Behind the Shot – Glass (2019)

I missed the final chapter of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy in theaters, but as of yesterday Glass is now out on home media. Here’s a before-and-after VFX shot from the film, which – like Shyamalan’s previous two efforts The Visit and Split – was self-funded by the director.

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The Shot Behind the Shot: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff (1985)

Behind the scenes of The Stuff

(Above) Behind the scenes of a practical effect from The Stuff (1985), a sci-fi/horror satire about a deadly dessert written, directed and produced by the late great Larry Cohen. Cohen passed away Saturday at the age of 77. Though he never quite received the plaudits of George Romero, Cohen also specialized in B-movies laced with social commentary. Here’s Cohen on the subtext of The Stuff, from an interview with Diabolique Magazine.

Diabolique: Some of your films from the ‘70s and ‘80s reflect New York as a corrupt, dangerous place. Were there any notable events that occurred in the city back then that had an impact on you?

Cohen: It wasn’t just New York. Things were going on all over the country and the world that I wanted to try and deal with in my films.  Take The Stuff, which was about products being sold on the market that kill people. There are still so many products like that being sold today. In those days you still had cigarettes being advertised on television. Nowadays it’s not cigarettes, but it’s medication that’ll probably kill you just as fast.  As a matter of fact, every time they advertise a different pill of some kind they have a disclaimer afterward telling you all the side effects — like death. So, The Stuff was an allegory for consumerism in America and the fact that big corporations will sell you anything to get your money, even if it’ll kill you.

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The Shot Behind the Shot – Chinatown (1974)

On the set of Chinatown

American Cinematographer recently shared its original story on 1974’s Chinatown, which was penned by the film’s director of photography John A. Alonzo (The Magnificent Seven, Scarface, Harold and Maude). Alonzo took over for Stanley Cortez two weeks into filming.

Here’s Alonzo on pulling off the film’s final long take, which was shot handheld and included putting a hat on the camera to disguise its shadow:

“A shot like that isn’t easy to pull off. First of all, there’s no room for the assistant to follow focus, because the camera is surrounded by the actors and extras. There’s no place to put lights on them, because when you have a camera that is that close, with a 40mm lens and an actor who is two feet away from you, your own camera would cast a shadow on the actor if you put any lights behind it. To solve the lighting problem, I mounted the little Obie light next to the lens, ran the wire down to my feet and taped it so that Earl Gilbert could keep his eye on it constantly and keep it up. We pre-checked the exposure wherever possible.

The next problem was that of following focus. Well, relying on my experience as a documentary cameraman, I asked permission of the union and they allowed me to operate the camera on that shot myself, because I can do that sort of thing. The next problem was what to do about the damned camera shadow. Roman came up with an idea. He said: “Put a hat on the camera. You’ll see a shadow if you look at the picture closely, but it will look like a hat shadow.” We put a hat right over the Obie light, so that any lights that hit me as I was panning around, cast a shadow that looked like somebody’s hat.

The scene was shot in very close quarters. The actors attacked. I say “attacked” because that’s literally what they did. They came right at the lens and I whipped down to Faye Dunaway, then I whipped up to John Huston, who was crying over the death. I panned over to Perry Lopez, the detective, then panned over to Nicholson, who said a line, then panned back to Lopez. Roman has since put a cut in there, but originally it was intended to be the one continuous shot. Lopez said: “Get out of here, Gittes.” As Nicholson’s partners took him away, I followed them slightly, then walked to my right and climbed onto the platform of the Chapman crane. They released it and I started going up in the air. The whole thing was hand-held and I couldn’t have shot it at all in sync-sound if it hadn’t been for the Panaflex. It’s an amazing shot, if I say so myself, and I wish it could have been used in its entirety instead of being cut.”

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The Shot Behind the Shot – Spike Lee’s patented “double dolly” from Malcolm X (1992)

Malcom X Spike Lee double dolly shot

Few directors boast an instantly recognizable signature shot, but Spike Lee and his “double dolly” are among that select company. The technique involves placing both the actor and the camera on dollies – allowing them to glide along the dolly track in unison. My favorite of these shots comes courtesy of cinematographer Ernest Dickerson in Malcom X (1992), as Denzel Washington (in the titular role) is propelled toward the fateful rally where Malcolm was assassinated in February of 1965. The scene is accompanied by Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. The Civil Rights anthem was released as the B-side of the single Shake only 11 days after Cooke himself was shot and killed under suspicious circumstances in December of 1964.

“I’d cut the sequence without (the Sam Cooke song) and then Spike brought the song in and we added the music and everything fell so gorgeously and emotionally together (that I didn’t adjust the edit). It floored us and spooked us. If you look at it, you’d definitely think I cut that sequence to that song, but I didn’t.” – Barry Alexander Brown, from a 2019 interview in Filmmaker Magazine

A montage of Lee’s double dolly shots…

Further reading…
Spike Lee breaks down his signature visual flourishes for the NY Times
The unlikely story of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come from The New Yorker

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