BEREAVEMENT is director’s Stevan Mena’s latest movie, a layered and complex horror film, both in plot and style, which recently won Best Film and Best Director awards at the Long Island International Film Expo. The film’s cinematographer, Marco Cappetta, recently offered to write an exclusive piece about his role as the film’s DP. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and field some questions that fans often ask him about his career and his professional relationship with Mena. We at Icons of Fright thank him for this piece, which you will find only on our site.
How did this collaboration with Stevan Mena come about?
I submitted my reel to an online job posting. Stevan was very impressed with my work, particularly the cinematography of DARK HEART. We started talking on the phone and we hit it right off; we both had similar ideas and taste in movies. I rented his first film MALEVOLENCE and I realized that Stevan was very talented and that made me really excited about the possibility of working together. Reading the script for BEREAVEMENT pretty much sealed the deal for me, as I’ve never read a horror script with such depth and character development before.
What were the early steps of your collaboration?
I made extensive notes on the script, we talked a lot on the phone and wrote e-mails, bouncing ideas around. Stevan is based in New York and I live in Los Angeles, so in the beginning our collaboration was long-distance. I really liked the cinematography of MALEVOLENCE, so I wanted to use that film as a reference. However I also wanted to create a new visual style because BEREAVEMENT is a completely different film from MALEVOLENCE and works very well as a stand-alone film, although it’s technically a prequel. Budget considerations were also relevant in our discussions since BEREAVEMENT had a budget roughly ten times larger than that of MALEVOLENCE and we knew we could accomplish things on a grander scale.
What was the visual style you envisioned for this film?
As I studied the script, I realized that BEREAVEMENT deals with two separate story-lines, one following Allison (Alexandra Daddario) and the Miller family, the other one telling the tale of Graham Sutter, so it felt natural to create a visual distinction between these two worlds. The Millers live in a pretty country house surrounded by idyllic wheat fields that go on forever, so I photographed their world with a very warm, painterly look. I shot the arrival of Allison and Jonathan Miller (Micheal Biehn) to the farm at sunset’s “magic hour” over two consecutive days. The scene has a golden glow reminiscent of DAYS OF HEAVEN that makes the Pennsylvania countryside look absolutely gorgeous. Most of the exterior work followed this aesthetic approach.
Sutter, by contrast, lives in an abandoned slaughterhouse, a maze of dark catacombs filled with the ghosts of his tormented past. In this world, I went in the opposite stylistic direction, creating a foreboding and claustrophobic environment, where the unseen – shrouded in darkness – is as scary as the horrible events that the audience will see, since it is in darkness that our imagination gives shape to our deepest fears. As we descend deeper into Sutter’s underground lair – a visual metaphor for Sutter’s descent into madness – I drew inspiration from the journey into madness of APOCALYPSE NOW, creating a psychedelic “chiaroscuro” look with deeply saturated colors. I imagined the catacombs as the belly of a living beast, a scary place that has its own “heartbeat” and its own “breath,” and I represented these elements with flickering and pulsating lights, which are consistent with the faltering electrical system of the slaughterhouse; while the warm, pulsating lights are motivated by the flames of off-screen furnaces. On an emotional level, the large areas of darkness punctuated with pulsating lights create a truly horrific environment for the characters and the viewers. The juxtaposition of the Millers’ world with Sutter’s – environments that are polar opposites – creates a powerful contrast that is visual as well as emotional.
What were the main challenges you encountered while shooting BEREAVEMENT?
We had many challenges. Some were typical of the horror genre, while some were unique to this film. We were shooting in a very isolated area of Pennsylvania and we had to do a lot of night work, which is always exhausting. We spent two months on location. When I arrived, it was very hot, and by the end of the shoot it was freezing cold and we had snow on the ground, so working nights was very tough. As it is customary for horror, we had numerous mechanical effects to contend with and these effects are usually very time-consuming and complex. Our main location was a real abandoned slaughterhouse, which was very hazardous. We had rusted meat-hooks hanging from pulleys, sharp-edged machinery, broken glass — the building was basically falling apart. The whole crew had to get tetanus shots before the shoot. One day a huge slab of concrete fell from a ledge and smashed just a few feet away from our camera cart! I am amazed that no one got hurt during the shoot.
Another tough location was the infamous catacombs, which was a set built in the basement of a large barn. We thought this location was going to be relatively comfortable; however, the wrong type of dirt was used to cover the floors. Once dozens of people started working inside that set, the powdery dirt kicked up a fine dust that made the air un-breathable, so we had to wear respirators for weeks. The dust would also get inside our cameras and all over our equipment… it was a real nightmare! As if these challenges weren’t enough, our cast included three child-actors as well as a trained dog and even a mouse! If you know anything about filmmaking, you know what I am talking about…
How did you and Stevan work together on set?
Stevan is a very talented director and a great guy to work with. I usually get hired because of the visual style I bring to a project, so I enjoy a lot of creative freedom when I shoot a movie. In any case, I discussed most creative issues with Stevan in pre-production, so that once we started shooting we had a good visual plan laid out. On set, directors are usually very busy working with actors and keeping the eye on the big picture, so it’s good to have agreed on stylistic principles beforehand. I am happy to have had such a great creative input on BEREAVEMENT, because I was able to contribute many personal touches to this film.
In which format did you shoot BEREAVEMENT?
We shot the film on 3-perf Super 35, using two Moviecam Compacts, Zeiss Ultra Primes lenses an
d Kodak film stocks. Stevan and I are huge film fans, so when he pitched shooting 35mm to me, I was very happy to oblige. Over the years I have shot a lot of 35mm film. I love its texture, color reproduction and dynamic range. We finished the movie with a Digital Intermediate at Technicolor in New York with colorist Tim Stipan in a Lustre DI suite. While I have shot with many high-end digital cameras with great results, I felt that film was the right choice for this movie.
Overall, how was your experience shooting BEREAVEMENT?
It was a fantastic experience, although a strenuous and physically taxing one. In the end the fatigue and the cold go away and the images stay forever. I am very grateful to Stevan for allowing me to make such a significant contribution to his film.
— Marco Cappetta
Cinematographer Marco Cappetta has created images for feature films, commercials, music videos and TV. His films have been released by The Weinstein Company, New Line Cinema, Anchor Bay, and Lionsgate, and have aired on Showtime, HBO, PBS, Comedy Central and The Sci-Fi Channel. He has lensed projects for Walt Disney, Warner Brothers Records, BMW, the New World Symphony, the U.S. Department of Labor and National Geographic. His work has been highlighted in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, the L.A. Weekly, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News.
His official website is www.cinemarco.com