September officially marks the end of summer and the beginning of the fall holiday season. A season that is ushered in by cooler temperatures, pumpkins and horror movies. This year is no different, with releases such Warner Bros. The Nun 2, 20th Century Studios’ A Haunting in Venice and Neon’s It Lives Inside.
Another title worth mentioning is Quiver’s That’s A Wrap, which sees a masked killer appear at a film wrap party and slowly begin to pick the cast members off one by one.
The masked killer is no stranger to the horror genre, thanks to films like Scream, Friday the 13th, Valentine, and Halloween, but what audiences might not realize is that the art of lighting such a figure can be quite complex.
Cinematographer Marcus Friedlander learned this firsthand on the set of That’s A Wrap.
Friedlander explains, “I’ve always been a huge fan of eyelight, but I learned how critical it is to work with the actor behind the mask in order to really get their eyes to pop. Working with our actor, we would not only land marks on the ground, but also give the actor marks for their chin direction and eye direction as well. Masks can photograph so flat if you try and light them like a human face. But if you instead treat the mask, and the human eyes behind the mask, as separate elements, you can create some really magical moments where the audience connects with the eyes of the killer, especially on closeups.”
Read Marcus’s full interview below discussing the making of That’s A Wrap.
THAT'S A WRAP Official Trailer (2023) Horror Moviewww.youtube.com
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: What led you to become a cinematographer?
Marcus Friedlander: I knew from a really young age that I wanted to make movies. However, it wasn’t until I got to high school that I fell in love with the art of visual storytelling, instead of just the idea of “making movies.” That being said, I didn’t know what I wanted to specialize in, so I made a handful of shorts in high school where I wrote, directed, DP’ed, edited, etc. and learned a ton of painful, but important, lessons about how difficult and unforgiving filmmaking can be. But, I also learned about the value of story over substance, and the importance of having a rock solid script before starting production.
Then, I went to film school at Cal State Northridge, and initially enrolled as a film production major. But once I started getting consistent on set gigs, I realized my time would be much better spent if I switched majors to screenwriting instead.
I’ve said it many times before, but that switch was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. Learning production is obviously vital, but learning how humans work, and, how the world at large functions is significantly more important in my opinion. I highly recommend to anyone who wants to become a filmmaker, that you spend your formative academic years learning basically anything but film production. Instead, spend your time learning, writing, film criticism, art history, psychology, sociology, communication, world history, natural sciences, geometry, physics, statistics, cultural and religious appreciations, etc.
The more you know about the world, the significantly better filmmaker you will become! But you also need to temper that theoretical knowledge with the practical. So while I was in school, I was also lucky enough to work on set doing low budget music videos, shorts, commercials, etc. So, when I was ready to make the jump into the highly competitive world of cinematography, I felt like I had a good all around base to build up from!
Marcus Friedlander on 'That's a Wrap'
NFS: Can you talk about the look of That’s A Wrap?
Friedlander: The look of That’s A Wrap is heavily inspired by Dario Argento and the Giallo movement, with a hint of American Horror Story: Hotel thrown in as well! We went for strong, contrasting, color washes, sprinkled with wide angle Steadicam shots through hallways. The look is intentionally very punchy and attention grabbing, which I think works so well for a genre film like That’s A Wrap!
NFS: That’s A Wrap was shot on location at Wolfpack Studios in Burbank, California. What were the benefits for you of shooting in a confined space?
Friedlander: The major benefit of shooting in such a confined space was the speed with which we were able to move. The script was written intelligently to take advantage of the space, so we didn’t have to move too much on a daily basis. But, there was one shooting day where we had to move through basically the entire studio in order to shoot a sequence that needed to be shot in order. I think we shot on 5 different sets in that single 12-hour shooting day without really breaking a sweat.
NFS: Were there any cons about shooting at Wolfpack?
Friedlander: Every studio has its own minor cons here and there, but Wolfpack was great to us, nothing worth mentioning!
'That's a Wrap'Credit: Quiver
NFS: How would you say the cinematography in a horror film is different than other genres?
Friedlander: I’ve staked my reputation on the fact that storytelling, regardless of the genre, is more similar than it is different, which is why I’ve felt so comfortable genre jumping for most of my career. I jokingly say that the only difference between a rom-com and a horror is how much fill light you use, but there’s a lot of truth said in jest.
As a cinematographer, regardless of genre, I’m still making sure the audience connects with the main characters, that every story beat is clearly expressed, and that the look/tone of the film is maintained from start to finish. However, if I had to answer specifically, I’d say that there’s a lot more freedom in horror films than in most other genres. Meaning there’s a lot less rules of what you “have” to do, so it’s a lot easier to justify putting a camera in an interesting place, or having some funky lighting setup, so long as it’s feels unsettling or horrifying. Whereas in a rom-com, for example, there’s more of an accepted standard that you are trying to replicate.
NFS: It has often been said that by positioning the camera low to the ground and shooting upward, cinematographers create a sense of vulnerability and helplessness. This technique makes the viewer feel smaller in relation to the environment, enhancing the feeling of being at the mercy of an unknown threat. Do you agree with this?
Friedlander: While I mostly agree with that statement, I don’t think it’s right to say a low camera pointing up automatically says anything by itself, because, in filmmaking, it’s never about just one element, it’s about how all elements combine to express the idea. A camera pointing up, still needs lighting choices, a focal length choice, and choices from the actor in front of the camera.
All of those choices combined can make an upwards shot look powerful, or weak, or, beautiful or frightening etc. Think about the differences in lighting and performance in a shot of a loving mom looking into her baby’s crib, or a shot of a horrible monster looking into the same crib. You’d probably have a wider angle lens and warmer tones for the mother, but a longer lens and darker, colder tones for the monster. The same angle could be used to tell either story, so long as all the discrete elements come together to tell the same story!
'That's a Wrap'Credit: Quiver
NFS: What advice would you give to cinematographers first starting out in the business?
Friedlander: If I could give one piece of advice to starting cinematographers, it would be to never stop being curious, inquisitive, and observational.
Filmmaking is a very auto-didactic art form, and the filmmakers who are constantly pushing themselves to learn something new, will eventually rise above the filmmakers who are happy knowing with what they know. The second you stop learning, is the second you stop being a good filmmaker. So keep learning more about filmmaking, but make sure you never stop learning more about the world!