In 2022, we saw the return of a franchise that we thought had gone away with a bang. Scream V, also known as Scream, reintroduced a new generation of horror lovers to Ghostface along with some familiar faces. Among that cast and crew were newcomers who were already making a name for themselves in the genre.
After forging a successful partnership on Ready or Not, director of photography Brett Jutkiewicz reunited with Radio Silence Productions — the production collective of co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and producer Chad Villella — onScream. He then followed the team to the franchise's next big scream to the mean streets of New York City to shoot Scream VI.
Jutkiewicz stepped away from the visual continuity of the previous Scream films in Scream VI to establish a franchise sequel that is completely its own thing. No one is safe in this film and Jutkiewicz's cinematography highlights this through the claustrophobia of the small, intimate, and crowded spaces of the largest city in the United States.
Cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz sat down with No Film School over Zoom to talk about joining the Scream franchise, how he changed the visual language of Scream VI, and how he overcame the most technically challenging set up in the film.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: Brett, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk about your work on Scream VI, congratulations on it being out for everyone to watch now in theaters. Can you talk to me a little bit about how you started your journey on the Scream franchise?
Brett Jutkiewicz: I met the directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin on a movie called Ready or Not that we did together a few years ago. That was our first time working together and I had a great time working with them on that movie, and we got along really well and kind of our styles meshed pretty well. When they got the call to do Scream V, they called me and were very excited to tell me the news that they would be directing the next installment in the franchise ten years after the previous one had come out. They asked me to come on board, so it really started with Ready or Not, and then progressed through Scream V and now Scream VI.
NFS: What is it about working with these filmmakers who specialize in horror that really excites you when you come to their films from a cinematography standpoint?
Jutkiewicz: I hadn't done too much horror before shooting Ready or Not with them. I had done some kind of thriller, horror-adjacent kind of things, but nothing that was really true horror. So, I think credit to them for being able to see that I could do it and trusting me to be a collaborator in that process. What's really nice about it is just that they are true collaborators with both me as a DP and everybody else on the crew and the cast. Working with them is like working as a family truly.
In terms of cinematography approaching a horror film, there are elements to it that are slightly different than maybe a nonhorror film. You're a little bit more conscious of how the audience is going to experience this moment and what you want them to feel in a specific moment, whether that's through a jump scare or through building the tension and then finding that release or in the case of Scream, often it's a little bit of a misdirect. You think that something's going to happen and then it doesn't, so there's a lot of discussion in terms of those particular moments in the film and how to most effectively kind of enhance the experience of the audience watching that and to bring that element of creepiness and thrill to the specific moments.
But broadly speaking, it's really not too dissimilar from any film. I look at what's going on in the scene. What's the kind of emotional content happening? What are the characters going through? Then, I try to find ways to express that through the visuals and create a heightened experience for the audience that's watching the film, something that connects to the emotion of each scene.
'Scream VI'Credit: Paramount PicturesNFS:Scream VI is quite different from all the other films, including Scream V, which you worked on. It's more intimate, it takes a look at the trauma experienced from the last film. You're in a completely new setting, it feels very different, very unique, very itself. Can you talk to me about your approach to this film's specific visual language that differs from your previous film?
Jutkiewicz: For me, that really started when I first read the script and saw that it was set in New York. I was very excited. I'm from New York, it's where I live, and so it was very exciting to think that Ghostface was going to come to New York and we were going to be able to have this very different kind of look for the franchise. That really was the impetus for the first kind of discussion about how the movie would look.
I really wanted to represent the kind of the rawness and the grittiness of New York City. There were interesting things to play around with. There are always crowds in New York and there are always people around, so it's not this isolation of a suburban home, and the threats coming from outside. It's the threat can be coming from anywhere. I thought that was a really interesting take, and so for the look of that, one thing that I pitched to the directors early on was changing the lenses that we had shot the previous film on, going with a different look.
The previous film and all of the previous Scream films were shot on anamorphic lenses, which are beautiful lenses that had this fantastic texture to them, but I thought changing that up for this by going with lenses that feel a little more kind of present, a little more true to how the eye sees the world. We shot on some spherical lenses, which are just a little bit kind of more immediate in how they render the image. We really kind of put the audience in the perspective of the characters, put them in the spaces a little bit more. To me it's subtle, but I think you can feel it. We really wanted Ghostface to feel very threatening. When we see him in these spaces, it really feels like we're putting the audience in that perspective of the characters in that kind of tense, scary moment. That lens change was something that I pitched to the directors early on. We did some testing and ultimately decided to go with it. So I think that kind of sets up a slightly different look for this film and for the franchise in general.
Beyond that, we definitely wanted to embrace the darkness of the city streets at night. Over the years, New York has been getting more and more well-lit at night, but there are still those streets that are just inherently kind of a little creepy at night, quiet. You could definitely sense that there could be something lurking around any corner. We talked a lot about taking some liberties with the realism and letting the visual style be a heightened naturalism so it fits in the real world, but there is this element of just kind of letting things be a little outside of reality when they needed to be in order to heighten the experience of watching the film.
It was playing with shadow and playing a lot with the color of the light on the night exterior, for me, just trying to represent what I get from the feel of being in New York and trying to stay true to that.
NFS: I'm very curious about what light you chose for the street lights.
Jutkiewicz: I tended to go for the warmer sodium-vapor style street lights, which are now often being replaced by newer LED lights in New York. I think it just has this quality to it that even if it's not necessarily representative of all of New York, it feels like New York to me. We tended to go for the warmer sodium lights for most of our streetlight sources.
Samara Weaving as Laura Crane in 'Scream VI'Credit: Paramount PicturesNFS: The threat of New York feels very claustrophobic, and I think it's the lenses that really capture that.
Jutkiewicz: We wanted to feel like the experience of the characters in the film is similar to the experience of people in New York, where you're not necessarily always walking by some sort of landmark. You're in these small apartments, you're in the kind of rundown bodega and you're on the subway, which is not always a pleasant experience, but it was kind of intentionally, like you said, intentionally a little claustrophobic. When Ghostface breaks into these spaces, because they're smaller, he commands so much presence. It let us really be creative with how we were staging the scenes. In the bodega, it's a small space, so there are not a lot of places to hide. It's very much true to the size of what it would be in real life. So figuring out how to block that scene in a way that's still tense and scary in a space that's both fairly brightly lit and also very small was a fun challenge.
That scene in particular was a great collaboration of everybody, both the art department in working with them in advance to position everything exactly where it should be to create this cat and mouse game and my lighting team as well, and giving me control over that space to change things as we went and to create an environment that was easy to move around for the characters. We didn't have to do a lot of kind of lighting shot to shot. We really wanted them to be able to move how they wanted to move and not restrict them in that space.
NFS: That approach to being able to move everything around, was that the inspiration behind the choice to shoot everything either on a stage or on location, with as little VFX as possible?
Brett Jutkiewicz: Yeah. Tyler’s and Matt’s style, in general, and their intention going into things, is really to do everything as practically as we can and rely on visual effects as little as we can, which I think is also how I like to work. We get a lot of things that feel a lot more real and have that texture that you can't necessarily always get with visual effects. I think an example of this is the latter scene between the two apartments. At some point, there was some talk of, “Well, when we're kind of overhead looking down, could that be green screen below them? Can we do that on the stage?” Ultimately, we decided to do that on a real location. That scene is a combination of both a stage build and an actual location.
Everything that's wide from below, looking up everything that's overhead looking down, that's on an actual location, five stories up from the ground. We had our amazing stunt team crossing the ladders, and they were all harnessed in and those things, the wires were removed in post by the VFX team. Things like that were very helpful to us, and the visual effects team did a great job and had a lot of work to do, but it was just the approach of let's try to do everything as practically as we can.
Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter and Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter in 'Scream VI'Credit: Paramount Pictures
NFS: You feel the danger more too when it's practical, so I really love a good practical effect always.
Jutkiewicz: I think so too. The subway was a build as well. That was all shot on stage, both the interior of the car and the platform were on stage.
NFS: I've never been to New York, so I need to know if the lights actually flicker as they do in the film. Or is that just the drama of movie-making?
Jutkiewicz: It's funny that you asked that. At one point when we were doing some takes and playing with the lights flickering, I kind of whispered to Matt and Tyler, I was like, "I think maybe we're going a little too far with a flicker, this is not really how it happens anymore." I think in the past they tended to flicker more, and they still do now, but it's usually pretty brief and not as extended of a time with the lights off as it is in the film, but they were like, "No, no, no, it's great, we love it, we love it." So, we leaned into that, it's just another kind of example of, let's stay true to reality to a point, but let's create a fun experience for the audience. They don't flicker quite as much as they do in reality, but we just felt like it was right for the theme and created that tension and created that creepiness and allowed us to play with how Ghostface pops up in front of Mindy and all of that throughout.
NFS: For that subway scene, when the lights are off, how do you light Mindy so that the audience can still see her?
Jutkiewicz: The lighting of the subway scene was probably the most technically challenging lighting of the shoot because we had to create the illusion of movement when the frame car wasn't actually moving, it was sitting on the stage in Montreal, and we went through quite a number of different ideas of how to achieve it.
We had talked about, can we do LED screens out the window, which is something that's commonly done now for moving vehicles, but ultimately decided kind of the most simple and elegant and effective solution was to do it all just through the lighting. When the subway's in motion, it's basically an array of lights. We hung about 70 feet of lights on each side of the subway car, multiple rows of lights that my gaffer, Eames Gagnon, and his team programmed to chase in sequence so that when the lights are moving, it gives the feeling of movement in the train.
But it was an enormous technical challenge and just a big team effort between Eames and his team and David Dinel, my key grip, and his team to rig all of that. That was kind of our starting point, and so I knew that when the lights went out that we would still have that light coming in from outside to be able to see a little bit. I think in Mindy's case, I don't think we added anything. We let the lights go off and just do the exterior lighting giving us just a little bit of information for her so we could still make her out, but also let it go dark and let it be what it really was.
'Scream VI'Credit: Paramount PicturesNFS: I was also listening to the Dead Meat Podcast, and I heard that some of the B-roll of the shoots of New York is a lot of stock footage but that you were actually able to go out towards those final days of production and capture some B-roll of people out on Halloween in New York. Can you talk about that experience of going to get that footage and the sheer luck of it being Halloween time?
Jutkiewicz: I was fortunate that I happened to be in the city during Halloween while they were still editing the film. It was just me and an assistant that went out on Halloween and went to a few different places in the city and grabbed some stuff just on the fly, and a couple of them made it into the film, but yeah, it was fun to go out and see.
I think what was interesting is when we were making the film, I think everybody was like, "Would there really be this many people out in costume on the streets just walking around?" Then, me going out actually in New York on Halloween and seeing it really is just a crazy amount of people in costumes walking around the streets, it's funny how much it kind of actually did represent the real feeling of New York on Halloween.
NFS: What is your approach to B-roll? Do you use the same camera? Are you trying to match the stock footage that's kind of been chosen for the film?
Jutkiewicz: In this case, we didn't use the same camera just because it was such a small, quick pickup. It was just a little bit easier to use a slightly more compact, lighter setup and get it around and grab these shots. I definitely worked with our colorist at Company3, Mitch Paulson, to make sure that everything fits together. I knew our main unit photography was on the ALEXA Mini, and this was on the Sony FX9. I had used them both before and I knew that we could bring them into the same world just matching in color, so I was definitely trying to match the vibe of the film, but it was shot on a different camera.
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers in 'Scream VI'Credit: Paramount PicturesNFS: Do you have any advice for any cinematographers?
Jutkiewicz: The most important thing is just to shoot as much as you can, whatever it is, on whatever camera you have access to, whether it's a DSLR or an iPhone or still photographs. Walking around the world and trying to capture the way the light is hitting something or an interesting... whatever's interesting to you, it's just the more you can shoot and observe and just be thinking about light and framing and things like that, just get out there and try to do as much as you can.