Quantcast Will Barratt interview - HATCHET, SPIRAL

Will Barratt!!!
Ever wonder about the technical side of movie making? How director's are able to get their vision up onto the big screen? Well, often it's the close collaboration with a film's cinematographer that contributes to the overall look and feel of your favorite genre movies. This month, we're proud to present a FRIGHT exclusive interview with Will Barratt, the director of photography on Adam Green's HATCHET (available on DVD Dec. 18th, 2007!) Read on for our first educational cinematographer profile! - by Adam Barnick, Robg. 12/07
First and foremost, the question we ask everyone – What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first film (or films) that really had an impact on you and actually scared you? –

That’s easy. 13 years old… babysitting for a neighbor. THE EXORCIST aired on Network TV. I slept with the light on for 10 years. Still love it, and can’t watch it.

Who are some of your heroes/mentors, people you look up to in cinematography and why? Any still photographers you’re an admirer of?

After college, I took Masters Classes up at a small school in Rockport ME. This place kicked my ass, and my first DP instructor was Michael Hoffstein (The Fall Guy, Drop Zone, and Acapulco Heat). He grew up in the studio system, and knew his stuff; he taught me the most about cinematography. I also studied with Rob Draper (Spitfire Grill).

Daniel Pearl has to be a hero that comes to mind… Texas Chainsaw and Redeux (and of course the original) – I love his color choices, camera placement, and the crazy sometimes unmotivated light… it’s really nice! Stills? Horst and George Hoyningen-Huene you know, the cover of Vogue magazine in the 1930’s. Hard Hard light, lots of shadow…. Nice stuff.

How did you get into commercial production?

I’ve always had a camera in my hand, and didn’t really choose my career. But after college ( University of Mass Amherst) I moved to the “big city” of Boston in 1991, and had the ability to type 55+ words a minute so… I took temp jobs. Scored a gig as a temp for Cablevision answering phones etc… funny stuff. Anyway, I got promoted from secretary to TV Producer in about 6 months! (thank you cable TV) I stuck with it for about 9 years before I got out on my own. Won some Emmy’s for network spots, and now I’m totally into feature film.

Can you talk about when you first met Adam Green? He told us a few funny stories from your early days about “borrowing” equipment from your job and running off to do short films. Care to elaborate on the early days with Green?

It was Green’s first day. Time Warner Cable Advertising in Malden Massachusetts. He was my intern from Hofstra University, and we were driving up to Nashua NH to shoot some used car dealership when he leaned over and said, “You’re not planning to do this forever, right?” I hadn’t really thought about it, but that’s when we started planning to shoot our own films – using all of the company’s equipment. We did Columbus Day weekend (an experiment in blood, and creative deaths – just to see if we could pull it off) and Coffee and Donuts, a feature / comedy too. We’ve been shooting together ever since. It was funny, while working for the cable company; we actually put our ArieScope company logo on the door of our office for a while, till we were forced to take it down…

What film stock did you use on Hatchet, and can you tell us how/why you decided that?

I shot Hatchet on Fuji 500ASA stock, and we shot the whole film in 3 perf format, (film’s usually 4 perfs). Fuji is more affordable than Kodak, and the producers wanted to save money any way they could… our budget was sooo tight.

How would Adam describe how he wanted the film to look, or how did you both come up with the look of the film? Was it tightly storyboarded?

Green had this film completed in his head a long time ago. I mean, he had every scene, every shot, perfectly planned before we ever rolled camera. We watched other films together and talked a lot about how scenes would play out. Texas Chainsaw Redeaux kept coming up as a style and color palate we really enjoyed, as well as classics – Friday the 13th 2 & 7. We hired a storyboard artist to sketch a couple of the most complicated deaths, so we could share with the crew. Most of the time Green acted out the storyboards for everybody… pretty funny to watch. Then he started hauling ME into it too.

Did you always intend a certain lighting scheme for Victor? I haven’t seen the film since Tribeca, but I noticed in the trailers how many shadows are strategically placed so he’s more of an unsettling, shadowy presence (even though I remember getting a real good look at him at points in the movie.)

Oh yea, totally. There are only a couple of shots where you can really see Victor’s full face. That’s on purpose, but it’s also because we didn’t have very many lights on the SET!! We really wanted to keep Victor spooky looking, but I think he’s scarier in his actions than just darkness… he moves fast, appears out of nowhere, and is just brutal… kind of like an animal… love that guy.

There’s a lot of texture and shading on everyone with the lighting for such a tight-budgeted film (thoughts?)
Through the entire film, I had to place the lights exactly where they would do the most work. Even with the 500ASA film stock, you need a lot of power to light up a night exterior, and our light package was really limited… mostly only 4k’s (4,000 watt) lamps all rigged with frames up on condors. My gaffer, Richard Ralston and I came up with a really cool color palate for the lighting. We came up with a formula for the back lights / moon light.
It’s not just bright blue… we added green to pick up the greens in the potted foliage, and the rest of the lights had a different blue/green mix on them. I think it made the film look different than a standard night for night movie. One thing that was kind of funny was that in front of EVERY light I had my Key Grip, Rick Tucker rig some kind of tree branch, a bush, or something… I wanted the light to always be obstructed in some way, giving you the feeling of thick forest. – It was always someone’s job to “Go get more branches!”

Did you get a lot of time on location to plan, to help disguise the fact that you’re in Palmdale and not the Bayou?

The one thing we never have in film-making is time. I have to say that our production designer, Brian McBrien was the reason the dessert up north looks so green and lush. Every bush, all the plants in the water, the Spanish moss, even some large trees were all in POTS! All real plants, but trucked in. Then, certainly with planning and blocking the shots, we gave the illusion of a thick Louisiana swamp. There were a couple of real swamp shots though… it’s when the “scare boat” is zooming through the water, and you see both banks. That’s really Louisiana and we spent 1 day on it.

One of the things that struck me on the festival circuit was how this always screamed “theatrical” when I saw it. I’m wondering if you can tell us ways you looked to make it more obviously intended for the big screen- I see a lot of films of various budgets that feel much more intended for DVD or home even though they’re widescreen, have production value, etc.

Well, first we fought really hard with the producers to shoot FILM, and not HD or other digital formats. There was talk about shooting 16mm, but Adam and I shot a test for the investors, and clearly 35mm was the only choice for this film. Second, I chose to shoot the entire film on Steadycam, there was no dolly and no track. This gave us a real unique fluid motion to every shot… I think there are only 6 or 7 lock offs in the whole thing, but that nice motion gives you a sense of a bigger “theatrical release”. We rented a crane for a couple of shots also, the whole time just trying to get as much cool stuff on the screen as possible.

Please give us a bit of a working dynamic you’d have with Adam and the crew each day on Hatchet- could you take us through a setup, step by step from your point of view?

Well, Adam and I were staying in the same condo during the shot, so Adam and I would wake up, run through dailies (though we got them 3 days late), and we’d threaten to do a shot list. We only actually wrote down a shot list 10 times or so… most of the time Adam would tell me the shot list right there on the set, 4 or 5 shots ahead… every now and then when the crew was setting up for a scene, we’d step back and Adam would walk through, and act out the next group of shots. I’d take it to my crew, and so on, and so on. The thing is, Adam and I have been shooting together for 10 years, so I know exactly what he’s going to need, how he’s going to shoot, what its going to look like, before he even tells me. We always end up on the same page at the end of the day… it’s really rare that a Director and DP can work like that. That close collaborative relationship always filters down through the crew, the cast… everyone. All of the sudden we were a big family on set, and that made us shoot better and faster. Everyone had creative ownership of Hatchet, because Adam and I gave it to them.

The lack of hours during the night shoots made you compress your shoots into about half the time you needed, I’ve heard. Were you and the team able to do it all in 8 hour days due to simplicity, or having a large crew? Tons of prep? Fill us in!

HA, yes. We figured out 3 days in - that our shooting hours were less than expected, due to shooting all nights, and in May! I have to say that it was Adam’s clear leadership on the set, and the crew’s ability to move fast, and my commitment to sometimes “getting it done” instead of taking the time to make it perfect that got this film made. It also helped that Adam wrote the screen play. I remember one night where we were in real trouble… the sun was coming up, we were really behind, and he started ripping pages out of the script, taking out pieces of dialogue, pasting things in to other places… the kid’s a friggin magician.

We did NOT have a huge crew; we did try to keep it simple though – when I put a light down, it stayed there… I didn’t have the luxury of tweaking and moving the lights around. I just made the commitment to stick to my first decisions. That helped a lot.

Can you talk a bit about the amount of preparation that went into shooting SPIRAL? What were the biggest differences/challenges compared to HATCHET?

I had less prep for Spiral than Hatchet. I really understood where the film was going, what it was going to look like, how it was going to be shot, etc. Really, for me, Spiral was a lot easier, technically, to shoot. No latex effects squirting blood all over the place, lightning strikes, burning monsters, big props, boats, rubber animals, mostly daylight scenes, etc. We shot Spiral on Kodak 500ASA stock, which opened up the shadows for me a little too.
Thankfully, I was able to bring the Hatchet camera crew to Portland for Spiral too and that made my job a whole lot easier… these guys are the best at what they do. I shot the whole thing on steadycam again too. I had a small skateboard dolly / track system but I really love how we got the camera into crazy places for weird angles, and voyeuristic shots. It’s different from hatchet, long single 360 degree shots, building the tension.
When we screened SPIRAL with Adam Green, he really gave all the credit to you as to why the movie looks as good as it does. How much input did you have into the shoot for SPIRAL? How much changed from the script to actually being on set? Were you able to add more to specific scenes once you were there and looking over the locations?

Well, thanks to Adam for that. Technically, yes, I had complete creative control over the look of the film.
I supervised most of the Digital Intermediate coloring, and together (Adam, Joel and I) the whole thing came together. Most of the coolest shots in the movie came from the collaboration of Adam and Joel, sometimes the coolest shots came “on the day” and were not totally planned before. One of the coolest shots in the movie is a single 2 minute complete 360 degree angle as the main character freaks out in his apartment. It was originally a 180 degree shot, but wow, the 360 looks so cool! A lot of the time the conversations were, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if…” – and then it was my job to figure how to pull it off, again with limited crew, and extremely limited time.
SPIRAL is a more character driven film. It focuses heavily on the relationship between both Joel Moore’s character and Amber Tamblyn. I often felt I was intimately a part of their budding relationship. And it was easy to get caught up in the world of Mason because of the multiple scenes of him painting and even the jazz music. How do you go about preparing capturing such intimacy with these characters?
There’s actually a formula for it, usually when you want two characters to appear intimate with each other, you bring a piece of the character into the other’s shot… I mean that if you’re looking at Amber’s face, you’ll see a little Joel in there, and visa versa. It’s subliminal, but it works. Also keeping the camera tight on their faces, showing their emotion, showing them grow together. The actors receive all of the credit there… their performances help you feel their relationship grow.

Can you compare shooting spots for Fox sports to a film shoot? Do you still go back and forth or will you concentrate on theatrical features now as ArieScope Pictures expands?

Right now I am totally focused on shooting theatrical features with Adam Green, and Cory Neal (Producer, Hatchet / ArieScope Pictures). I still love to shoot for TV, but shooting features is so much more dynamic. I get to dig in, visually, to tell a character’s story over time. TV tends to be really fast pace, sort of “get it done now”… that certainly happens in features, but you have more battles to choose from. I do plan to shoot the World Cup Skiing / Snowboarding championships this year – it’s a nice change of pace.

Can you speak about lighting/Working with film vs. working with video? You’ve shot smaller stuff like ArieScope shorts, and now Mall World in HD… do you have a preference of one over the other?

I’ll always love film, but now with all if these new tools becoming available, I’m always happy to embrace them all. I went through Sony Certification when the big HDCAM F900 camera was introduced, and I continue to keep up with my camera engineering education every time a new one comes out. To me, it’s all about the glass in front of the camera. If I have a really nice set of lenses, I don’t really care what’s on the back of them. I can light my way out of anything. You know, there’s always the right tool for the right job.

Lighting wise, I always have to light video more carefully. I use softer sources, I keep stuff dark …if you don’t, it ends up looking like a soap opera…. … not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Do you have a fave of the ArieScope shorts you did over the years?

I still love “Oh Sherrie” the best, and certainly “Columbus Day Weekend” also. I think Oh Sherrie was the first short that really worked… Green and I hit a stride in it that really shows on the screen… it’s funny, sick and twisted. I guess I always base my favorite ArieScope Short on the number of disclaimers I have to tell before I let people view it!

Other SPIRAL interviews:
HATCHET interviews:

Special thanks to Adam Green!

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